May 19, 2023

2023 Evangelization Supplement

‘Keep it simple’ when either starting or jump-starting parish evangelization teams

By Natalie Hoefer

We’re all called to evangelize, the Church teaches.

While true, that “all call” can become “no call.”

“There’s an old saying that evangelization is everyone’s job,” says Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis. “But a lot of us have experienced the reality that, when something is everyone’s job, it quickly becomes no one’s job.”

Parish evangelization teams can turn that tide, he notes. His office created a guidebook for starting—or re-igniting—such teams (see here for link), and the Office of Evangelization is “more than happy” to work with parishes in building their evangelization efforts.

Archdiocesan coordinator of evangelization and discipleship Anita Bardo says those efforts are “steeped in prayer.”

“The first step, when someone thinks they want to start an evangelization team, is discerning from the Holy Spirit,” she advises.

“I think there can be a risk of, ‘Well, we need this, so I should do it.’ You have to know you’re working through the urging of the Holy Spirit.”

After discerning a call to start a parish evangelization team, the next step is reaching out to your parish priest.

What evangelization is—and isn’t

It starts with a simple conversation—no plans, just discussion, says Bardo.

“First, ask if there is already a team you can join,” she says. “If not, then discuss what you discerned about to start a team.

“Once that conversation happens and the decision is made to pursue forming a team, that’s when you announce the effort to the parish and consider what to look for in potential team members.”

The announcement “doesn’t have to be a huge splash,” says Ogorek. “It’s OK to start small with simple goals.”

One goal is for team members to first learn what they will eventually help parishioners learn: what evangelization is and what it is not.

“Some people confuse evangelization with proselytizing,” says Bardo. “They think evangelization is yelling on a street corner or forcing your views on someone else. That is not what evangelization is!”

Rather, she says, evangelization is simply “telling your faith story.”

And what does that look like?

“Talk about what was your life like before you encountered Christ,” says Ogorek. “How did you encounter him? How did you come to a deeper awareness of the role that Jesus plays in your life? And how is your life different now? Then ask if they’d like to hear more.

“People can argue about teachings. But nobody can argue with your witness, because it’s just your story. That in some ways is liberating, I think. It should give us encouragement to share our witness.”

Once team members understand what evangelization is and are comfortable sharing their own stories, it’s time to develop a plan to engage parishioners and take the good news throughout your parish’s boundaries.

While there is no one-size-fits-all plan, Bardo and Ogorek recommend starting small.

“A good place to consider starting is by forming discipleship groups,” always under the care and support of the evangelization team, says Bardo.

These groups start with parishioners who have been prayerfully discerned and invited to be trained as leaders, who then invite a limited number of people to grow together in faith.

“We are called not only to know things about Jesus, but truly to know him, deeply and personally, and to become like him,” notes the archdiocesan guidebook on evangelization teams. “Discipleship groups are centered around coming to know the person of Jesus, and when we experience an authentic encounter with him, the living Word of God, we are transformed.”

After a time, members of a discipleship group go on to create their own group, and so on, creating a multitude of disciples.

‘The primary purpose is love’

Parish evangelization leaders don’t have to go it alone. The Office of Evangelization’s guidebook can be printed from their resource page, and the staff is just a phone call or email away.

But it can also be beneficial to learn and discuss ideas in a group setting with other like-minded Catholics.

To that end, the office offers an annual workshop on creating or jump-starting parish evangelization teams.

The most recent one was held on April 29 at St. Agnes Parish in Nashville. Nearly 40 people from 15 parishes in central and southern Indiana participated.

“Some who came were inquiring about what an evangelization team even is, as well as how to get started,” notes Bardo.

“I really felt like it fleshed things out better,” says Terry Thixton of St. Patrick Parish in Salem. Creating a team “just seems much more doable.”

Thixton, who is helping her parish start an evangelization team, appreciated the “suggestions for recruitment, traits for good team members and hearing ideas implemented by evangelization teams in other parishes.”

During the workshop, participants practiced sharing their witness story.

“I’ve been shy about sharing my past not-so-great things,” she recalls. “But it seemed like in the eyes of the people I was sharing with, there was empathy and compassion.

“When someone tells about dark parts of their life, I think they’re very brave. I’m reminded that God is very merciful. I think if we all gained that courage to share from our regular experiences, that our evangelization would be planting a seed.

“I really loved that they said the primary purpose of evangelization is love.”

Thixton says she is “very grateful” for both the workshop and those from the Office of Evangelization who presented it.

“I just got an email from Anita sent to the participants saying, ‘Let’s have a webinar and share what we’re doing,’ ” she says. “I like having a community of evangelization teams. You learn from each other, and you come to not feel like strangers.”

Like Thixton, Kathy Sleva of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford was especially struck by the sharing of witness stories during the workshop.

“That is where the inspiration and excitement came from for me,” she says.

Sleva described the different steps and advice discussed during the day. But amid the practical tips and suggestions, one message stuck with her.

“Anita Bardo was especially emphatic about keeping it simple, and don’t assume that you have to be the best disciple to bring others to Jesus,” she says. “We’re all on a faith journey, and we all have a story to tell. You don’t have to be a saint to become a disciple or to bring others as disciples to Jesus.”

‘Don’t overthink it’

Ogorek offers these final words of advice for those starting or reinvigorating parish evangelization teams.

“Don’t overthink it,” he says. “It’s really pretty simple. You can start doing some simple basic evangelization activities in your parish pretty easily. If you’re paralyzed or at a loss for ideas, you’re probably overthinking it.

Sometimes that paralysis “is the work of the enemy,” Ogorek notes. “That’s why prayer is such an important part of all these efforts. They have to flow from prayer and be peace.

“And then, before too long, we’re offering prayers of thanks to God for the work he is doing.”

(For more information on forming or redesigning parish evangelization teams, contact Anita Bardo at 317-236-1466 or

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