Are We Seeing Conversions In Our Parishes?
By Andy Dejka, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis
The religious landscape in the United States is undergoing serious changes. The “religiously unaffiliated” are now the fastest growing religious group in the United States. In 2014, Pew found that six times as many people are leaving the Catholic Church as are joining it. And over the past 30 years in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Mass attendance has declined by 34% (43,000 souls), despite 30% growth in the overall population (228,000 souls). All this points to an urgent need for conversion – the radical re-orientation of one’s entire life that follows an encounter with Jesus.
How can we prioritize conversion in our parishes, families, and workplaces? Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. There is no perfect program, no one-size-fits-all process. Conversion means falling more deeply in love with God, and love is rarely the result of meticulous orchestration and preset timetables. However, in the work of effective evangelizers, we often see certain patterns and themes.
Here are 5 you can start doing this week:
- Accompany Individuals
How are you building friendships with people in your parish? With your neighbors? With your co-workers? Take the initiative to have meaningful conversations with the people you encounter. Love them, hear their stories, discover their passions, and ask about what they are searching for.
- Gather a Small Group
Be a catalyst for gathering people into a small group. The intimacy of a small group helps people experience the love of God in a more personal way. It enables deep relationships to form, which increases honesty and vulnerability. People shed their false personas and share from the heart. It is an ideal format for grappling with the big questions of life.
- Pray with Scripture
Let Jesus do the heavy lifting. Jesus is the most fascinating person to have walked the earth. He healed lepers, forgave his enemies, walked on water, and raised the dead. Go straight to the source, and introduce the seekers in your life to the mystery of the God-Man in the pages of Gospels. Thirty minutes of lectio divina on the Sunday Gospels, followed by discussion and application, will transform many lives.
- Proclaim the Gospel
Tell the joy and wonder of knowing Jesus. Explain what he has done for you and the difference he has made in your life. This is not rocket science – simply share from your own experience about the love of God in Jesus Christ. As Pope Francis put it, “Jesus Christ loves you, he gave his life to save you, and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”
- Invite a Commitment
Every engagement begins with a proposal. Once a person has heard God’s profession of love for them, they need to know how to respond. Ask a question like: “Would you like Jesus to be the center of your life?” or “Do you want to learn how to follow Jesus more closely?” If they accept, continue to walk with them regularly to help them deepen their commitment.
Evangelizers also discern if/when particular conversion-oriented programs can be used effectively as tools to help bring people to faith in Christ. Here is a comparison chart of several programs we have identified as “conversion engines,” which have borne good fruit and may be worth your investment. Consider whether one of them is a good fit for the mission to which God is calling you.
Finally, remember that while God commissions us for the work of evangelization, he is the one who changes hearts. And first and foremost, we must give him our own. As you get on your knees to pray, ask the Lord for the grace of deeper conversion, of loving him more intentionally and surrendering more fully to his will. Invite him again to be the center of your life. Follow him, and he will make you a fisher of men.