Evangelizing doesn’t have to be awkward, program participants discover
June 29, 2023
Ashley Crnkovich wanted to share her Catholic faith with others and help lead them to Christ.
But she lacked confidence, she said.
Crnkovich, of St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, thought she didn’t have the skills to be comfortable having those conversations.
Susan Vonderfecht, of Christ the King Parish in Omaha, had questions: “How do you share without being pushy? How do you respectfully enter into those conversations with people?”
A recent workshop at St. Gerald, Reach One More, aimed to help people like Vonderfecht and Crnkovich.
The course – originally created by Christ Community Church in Omaha and tweaked by St. Gerald to add Catholic teaching – taught participants how to make discipleship and sharing the Good News a natural, normal thing.
About 65 people registered for the class, held once a week for six weeks during April and May. Since then, other parishes have expressed interest in offering the program. St. Gerald plans to offer the class again next spring.
Students learned that sharing their faith can be “practical, down-to-earth and doable,” said Jenny Wiswell, director of evangelization and discipleship at St. Gerald.
“I think the biggest thing that I took away was it’s not our jobs to change hearts,” Vonderfecht said. “But it is our role to allow God to work through us, to be praying about people who are in our lives and then allowing Him to show us opportunities to have conversations.”
Crnkovich said she has felt called to reach out to others.
“It’s been something that’s been on my heart,” she said. “It’s like, OK, I have this relationship with God, but how can I go about sharing it with others? That’s obviously what we’re all called to do. … More specifically for me, I’ve felt called to it at work. But how do I have the confidence to do that?”
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
In most cases, evangelization involves a long-term commitment and building a relationship with someone, Wiswell said.
“It’s about how to lead someone into an intentional relationship with Jesus,” she said. “But it’s after the fact that you have really built your own relationship with them, how to make the invitation when it’s time.”
According to Wiswell: “It’s not just like walking up to someone and saying: ‘Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ It may be a process that takes a long time of meeting with someone over meals and learning about their story and helping them understand.
“But it is definitely geared toward having an intentional conversation about faith and about being able to share the good news of Jesus.”
“It doesn’t have to be necessarily a faith conversation to start,” Vonderfecht said, “but just to talk to my neighbor, talk to the person sitting beside me at the airport or wherever, to just be more willing to say hi and start a conversation, and allow God to use that if needed. And if not, that’s OK.”
“You’re learning about their lives,” said Father Marcus Knecht, associate pastor at St. Gerald, who helped lead and develop the St. Gerald workshop with Wiswell. “You’re learning about the process of evangelization.
“But you’re also at the same time really learning how to listen to the Holy Spirit and how to grow in your courage of making an invitation to someone to not just attend something at church, but to have a conversation about their relationship with God. And that can come at different stages in your relationship with someone.”
Participants said they learned to listen better and have better conversations with family members and strangers.
At first, there were mindsets to overcome: Evangelism is too daunting. There’s too much pressure to get someone to convert. Spiritual conversations are difficult to start. What if I can’t answer questions? How do I relay the Gospel message without being awkward?
The class broke down those concerns by offering alternative perspectives: We join God in reaching people, allowing Him to show the way. Evangelization involves leading people one small step at a time. You don’t have to have all the answers. Conversations can naturally move to spiritual topics when the right questions are asked.
“When you give people little, attainable goals, they tend to experience greater success,” Wiswell said.
“We tend to put too much pressure on ourselves,” she said. “So if you look at it from a different perspective – and that’s what this workshop does – it says I am capable of doing this.”
After the workshop, people felt that they could take those little steps and eventually be able to share the Gospel through the friendships they developed, Wiswell said.
PRAYER LEADS TO OPPORTUNITIES
Vonderfecht said she has found herself less fearful “of just talking to people around me because it doesn’t feel like there’s as much pressure.
“My job is not to convert. It’s just to talk, to get to know people, and if God wills it, to enter into those deeper levels of conversation.”
As she prayed for certain people, Vonderfecht said, opportunities opened up for deeper conversations with them. “It wasn’t me initiating it. It just happened. So I felt that it was God answering prayers.”
“Something I found really helpful was learning how to ask questions and just letting other people talk,” Crnkovich said. “People do want to tell you about themselves and why they feel the way they feel.”
Asking questions was an approach Jesus often used to win hearts.
Students in the workshop learned to ask introductory questions like “How’s your family doing?”; life questions, such as “If you wrote a book or song, what would it be about?”; spiritual questions, such as “How would you know if God was trying to get your attention?”; and invitation questions, like “Are you ready to become a follower of Jesus right now, or are you somewhere along the way?”
Asking outright, “Do you believe in God?” could be awkward, Crnkovich said.
“Sometimes if you go right into a question like that, it can seem a little unnatural. But the way they presented it, you can start with kind of basic questions then work your way into deeper questions.”
Class participants learned to listen for what people are really longing for in spiritual conversations.
“People are actually interested in talking about faith, but they don’t want someone to just come and tell them all the answers,” Wiswell said. “They want to be heard.”
Crnkovich said she’s still practicing asking good questions, listening carefully and asking follow-up questions. But in general, “I feel a little bit more comfortable bringing up my faith.”
She said one easy way to bring up faith topics has been to mention a church activity she’s involved in, like a Bible study. “I feel that’s an easy way to bring up or start a conversation about faith,” saying, for example: “I’ve got this thing going on through my church.”
Many of the people she felt called to pray for and evangelize were co-workers. “I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity,” Crnkovich said, “that this is one of the first steps.”
“I’m working at a new place right now, so part of it is getting to know people a little bit more.”
Students also practiced sharing their own stories of faith, how God is working in their lives and re-telling the Gospel in a personal way.
“You can learn to tell the story of Jesus, especially within your own context,” Wiswell said.
The final goal of all the lessons was to eventually invite someone into a deeper relationship with God. That could start with an invitation to join a small faith-sharing group, a parish mission, a program like Alpha, a ministry to serve the poor – or an invitation to prayer and surrendering one’s life to Jesus.
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