You all, I love you. But I need to say this out loud:
Stop using Covid19 as an excuse to not do evangelization.
I get it. It’s so tempting. Of course we don’t want to expose anyone to physical harm. We likely agree that the restrictions put in place in our towns and churches are necessary for the common good. So…following that line of charity toward others, science, and prudence…you decide to hold back on evangelization, because it is so relational and embodied (and scary and new and energy-sucking and we hate doing what we don’t know) it must be sacrificed to Covid19 safety protocols. Right?
Wrong. Absolutely wrong. “Go and make disciples of all nations” doesn’t have an asterisk at the end, that says “to be done only when times are good.” This is the heart of the mission of the first disciples, and of every disciple. And nothing else in the Church makes complete sense unless we are proposing Jesus Christ and fostering discipleship. Yes, let’s be safe and encourage medically safe practices. But we CAN evangelize in this pandemic. This is where creative evangelization comes in.
I looked at the booklet I wrote (101 Ways to Evangelize)—just to double check—and easily the majority of the ideas in there are doable with Covid19 protocols or virtually. It may be a 60% majority, to state it conservatively. So it’s possible that your planned way, your preferred way, your comfortable way is not possible now. But a LOT of other ways are.
May I make three suggestions?
Focus on family. If we’re all contained with family right now, it seems right to give them our best selves and attention. Deliberately begin praying for family members to return to the faith. Practice sharing your love for God. Ask them why they don’t practice, ask to hear their side. Brandon Vogt’s Return: Drawing Your Child Back to Church is a sensitive and excellent resource for people who want to make a plan to offer the gift of faith again to a family member. (Currently available as an ebook, 2nd edition paperback coming out soon.)
Focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, especially those needs effected by the pandemic. Here’s a theological truth for you: people yearn for God. But they don’t always know that they yearn for God. What they DO know are their felt needs: a need for peace rather than stress, a need to have enough food and money to pay rent/mortgage, a need for health, a need to talk to someone. Offer outreach and ask about those needs. There may not be a lot you can do for material needs, but you can at least point people in the right direction. However, you have something very important you can offer that no social service can: you can offer Jesus Christ through listening, offering to pray with the person for that need, and inviting someone to the sacraments of grace. This is not rocket science: I’m talking about phone calls, and possibly more deliberate meetings and outreaches. But people need to know that God is bigger than their problems, and wants us to give all of those to him.
Focus on inviting people to a first proclamation of the gospel. This often is a process like Alpha (or ChristLife or Life in the Spirit seminar). All of these have ways to offer the process online, and I have to admit Alpha has created some incredibly creative ways of offering hospitality and conversation online (through Zoom or something similar). Since March, people have been asking some big questions and our felt needs have only grown. The time is ripe for inviting people to consider Jesus—and from the “comfort zone” of their own homes makes it easier for them to say yes. What is the harm in trying? At minimum, one of these processes maintains community bonds. At maximum, people meet God in a fresh and powerful way that changes their lives! What prevents anyone from doing this?
Covid19 is not an excuse to put a hold on evangelization. Covid19 is the fertilizer of fields “white for the harvest.” Choose one and go. Make disciples.