Outside-In or Inside-Out?

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One pretty corner of Twickenham

For just about everyone, everywhere, September is one of the busiest times of year. I’ve always found it quite exhilarating… (okay, so I was one of those geeky kids who loved nothing better than new stationery for the return to school). Everyone seems pretty refreshed coming back from summer, there are still some beautiful sunny days to enjoy, and the new crispness in the air seems to be calling us “back to business.” And yes, we are definitely hitting the ground running in the parish. But underneath all the busy-ness, we are still doing a lot of “big picture” reflecting – our vision for the parish, breaking this down into a strategy, all the time considering how various approaches will impact our strategy from the outset.

One of the big questions we have to ask ourselves is, where do we start with evangelisation? The image below is used famously by Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Church where he says that his church’s purpose is to move people from the outer circle (low commitment/maturity) into the inner circle (high commitment/maturity). As Catholics, bearing in mind the thresholds of conversion, we might say this is helping people move from “pre-trust” (in Christ, in the Church) through to fully-fledged discipleship.

From Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church

From Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church

Rick Warren notes – and I think this would be an automatic approach for Catholics who are keen to start evangelising – that the traditional wisdom would be to form a core of mature disciples first, with the intention that these will then move out to evangelise others. But, he advises,

Grow the church from the outside in, rather than from the inside out.

In other words, don’t delay to evangelise outside of the parish. Don’t wait until you have well-formed disciples who can explain the faith perfectly. I think Pope Francis expresses this, too:

… indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. (Evangelii Gaudium, 120)

Does this make you slightly nervous? To be perfectly honest, it has me shifting awkwardly in my seat. As we set off for our first Alpha last Tuesday, welcoming around 20% non-Christians – including atheists, agnostics and Buddhists – I found myself inwardly questioning (and laughing at God’s enormous sense of humour). For years I have been writing, teaching and generally banging on about catechesis. And here I was in a room full of agnostics, alongside their hosts and helpers – recent alumni of Alpha themselves and full of ardour, joy, enthusiasm – who on the whole could not tell the one end of the Catechism from the other (indeed, one of them asked me the other day what the Catechism was). I admit, I had a laugh at the divine messiness of it, knowing that our only option was to cling mightily to the Holy Spirit.

What would happen if we took the other approach? What would happen if we invested much more time and resources into the 20 initial people who went through Alpha? Rick Warren suggests that, by the time you have adequately “discipled” the “core”, they have often lost contact with the “community” and may even be afraid of interacting with the unchurched. I think that’s probably true. If we want to make evangelisation absolutely upfront and centre, we have to make it part of our fledging disciples’ DNA right from the outset… even before we’ve had chance to introduce them to the Catechism.

There is a strong impulse to take the opposite approach because we see how little people are formed (even the ones at the core) and we are desperate to sort it out. We see all the various incongruent lifestyles and we think some good catechesis will sort it out. We want to hammer out the basics that we know people are not consistently living (Sunday Mass attendance, Confession, Friday abstinence) at every opportunity we have, (and believe me, we have just about every kind of ignorance you can imagine here – I would say we have just about seen everything…). But, I am becoming convinced that, by far the more effective approach, is to win them by attraction. Draw them into a contagious web of relationships, fascinating discussion and on point hospitality. Only on encountering Jesus and learning to entrust themselves to him will they be in the least bit interested about what he has to say about their life.

I know this will make some people uncomfortable, maybe even prickly. But I would add – significantly – that this approach will only work if you have a longer view about how you really are going to disciple people into the core. This worries me about parishes that I see starting Alpha. Not many have a robust follow-up plan, and I think this is – I’m just going to say it – enormously irresponsible. If Alpha is the start of a clear evangelisation process, then you are inviting people into an ongoing process of deeper evangelisation and growth. Because you know that sooner or later they will be catechised, and more importantly, ready and hungry to hear it, you can relax a bit.

In the meantime, however, you will have all kinds of funny, incongruent scenarios. Yes, I’m pretty sure our parish will soon be full of budding disciples who might bring a friend along to an event at the church, although it hasn’t yet sunk in that they have to go to Mass every Sunday. Or enthusiastic new volunteers who happily invite everyone to a BBQ on a Friday. And a whole host of moral issues that I won’t even mention. You know what I’m talking about.

“Making disciples” – there’s a holy, glorious messiness about it, and really, it is the only way.

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6 Responses

  1. Liza says:

    I like outside in but if we see our journey as a every single layer needing evangelisation/conversion to Christ we have the right humility to really be transformed by Christ. Maybe inside can be attentive to outside and learn, and outside to inside and learn, and we will all journey together! Is that naive?

    • Transformed in Christ says:

      Hi Liza, yes I get what you are saying. But on the ‘outside’ (i.e. the community) people will not have heard the redeeming message of Christ. This is the most precious thing the Church has to proclaim to them. So we can’t pretend that what ‘they’ can offer ‘us’ is equal in value. What can be more precious than salvation? And yet, together, we are entering deeply into this mystery. We never finish being ‘evangelised’, even in the ‘core’. I hope that makes sense. There is a “false humility” when we say that the Church has just as much to learn from the world as the world from the Church, because it is simply not true.

  2. Quoting Rick Warren now,…. . It is now clear that the wheels are coming off the New Evangelisation bus, and that the New Evangelisation ended with the Benedict papacy.

    You started well Hannah, and the Transformed in Christ resource is good (though now largely being overlooked for ‘Chosen’), but like others you have lost the plot and are ditching the authentic Catholic faith for Protestantism.

    If you fail to understand that evangelisation starts with the liturgy (and the grace that flows from this) then you might as well go back to basics and start again.

    Catholicism is not about creating ‘social club’ parishes with weak discipleship that sidesteps church teaching. Neither is it about discipleship that leaves parishioners stuck perpetually in the kerygma straitjacket. Real Catholicism is hard, and maybe it is about time that you came to deal with this reality. There is more to Catholicism than the (baby phase) kerygma message

    After just seeing a serious New Evangelisation initiative use the words #parishplanting I knew immediately that the New Evangelisation of Pope Saint John Paul II was over. Ditching the faith for protestant initiatives is not what the New Evangelisation was originally about when Pope John Paul instituted it all those years ago.

    By the way, you need to speak to those young Catholics that are attending your parish that are going to Mass, and then popping off to a praise and worship services at denominational churches (which has been highlighted on the internet). Maybe it is time for you to earn your money and tell them that the Church does not allow that, and then give them the correct teaching on why this is so. Alternatively maybe you want them to be stuck in the ‘kerygma stage’ for the rest of their lives?

  3. I read this once again to see if I had got it wrong, but no. Christianity has been going for 2000 years. You have a typical protestant/charismatic mindset.. You think that Christ’s Church has got it wrong for 2000 years and ‘you personally’ are going to put all sorts of initiatives and theories in place to fix it. How could ‘poor little old God and His Catholic Church’, been doing it wrong for all these years without you there?

    If you are the best that the New Evangelisation has to offer then the New Evangelisation is finished.

    The next thing you will be doing is making a mathematical formula to show people how the Holy Spirit has changed and is working now.

    My goodness… even the liberals evangelise in their own way, but not that you could see or appreciate it.

    How did God manage before you came along?

  4. Transformed in Christ says:

    Hello Linen on the Hedgerow,
    Quite a few accusations there…! Not sure I can respond to them all.

    “Catholicism is not about creating ‘social club’ parishes with weak discipleship that sidesteps church teaching. Neither is it about discipleship that leaves parishioners stuck perpetually in the kerygma straitjacket.”

    I have never said anywhere on this blog that I believe in “stopping short” at the kerygma (cf. CT 21). I have always argued quite the opposite. The vast majority of what I have written about is catechesis, and as you know, I have written a catechetical programme which has been criticised for being “too” heavy on catechesis – but never too weak. So these accusations amaze me. It seems to me you are putting me “in a box” along with a whole host of other approaches to the New Evangelisation you disapprove of.

    There is no need for me to defend what I have written, but for information:

    I have been in the parish for 6 months, and my parish priest for 1 year. No – we have not introduced catechesis for adults yet, because it is early days. Yes – we are starting with the kerygma, because every catechetical document says that this is the place to start. Go back to Catechesi Tradendae and the General Directory for Catechesis as well as Evangelii Gaudium. We are following exactly the Church’s guidance. Where do these documents state that evangelisation starts with the liturgy? I have missed that. Of course, reverent and beautiful liturgy is a must and is part of renewal of any parish.

    Following initial evangelisation, we are planning a full process of discipleship and catechesis in the Church’s teaching for adults in our parish that will be ongoing, and cover every dimension of the Church’s life and teaching. What is “weak discipleship” about that?

    I am really not interested when Catholics want to tear each other apart when, let’s face it, the need to evangelise is huge. I won’t be engaging any further.

  5. St. Irenaeus wrote:

    “One should not seek among others the truth

    that can be easily gotten from the Church.

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