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Parents Have the Hardest Time Evangelizing and Here’s Why

When traveling, by far the most common question I get comes from parents of older children.

“How do I reach them?” is how it’s often put to me.

Who are they talking about?

They are talking about their kids who had been raised in the Faith, and since going off to college (or generally leaving home) had left that same Faith behind.

Previous attempts at reaching their children had only added to their frustrations.

“I was convinced that my son just didn’t understand the Faith, so I learned apologetics,” one father told me. “But once I began sharing the reasons for our Faith, he just tuned me out.”

A mother put it in a similar way.

“I thought my daughter’s problem with the Church had to do with all of the scandals, so I began to slowly share the good news about our Faith—the stuff that no one knows about and is rarely reported on. But she just acted like what I was saying was somehow irrelevant.”

Parents feel the pain of poor evangelization greatest because it is not just a stats thing or a challenge of the Church in our time (as important as that is). To parents, it’s about their little one, someone that they have raised and taught to pray. You can’t get much more personal than that.

And yet, invested though these parents may be, they still have the hardest time evangelizing their own grown up children.


After all, these parents are in it for the right reasons and they are willing to put in the hard work.

So what is going on?

Well, the answer has a lot to do with love.

Love is the key.

Parents feel the pain of poor evangelization greatest because it is not just a stats thing or a challenge of the Church in our time (as important as that is). To parents, it’s about their little one, someone that they have raised and taught to pray. You can’t get much more personal than that.

After years of both studying evangelization and doing it “on the ground,” so to speak, I have come to believe that there's one fundamental reason why parents (more than any other demographic) have a difficult time evangelizing who they want to evangelize most—generally, their children.

It has to do with the form that their love takes.

That may sound strange but bear with me one moment.

The ancients quite wisely pointed out that there are four kinds or forms of love that we can and should experience with others. These are: friendship, affection, passionate pursual, and sacrificial love.

These forms of love are essential when we discuss evangelization because they create the foundation and support that our words build on. When employed together by an evangelist (that means you), the forms of love say with one accord, “I love you and I mean it.”


Because, by virtue of their vocation, parents are masters of two of the four forms of love.

Huh? Why would that be a problem?

Let me explain.

Parents are REALLY good at these two forms of love.

1. Sacrificial love:

When a dad says that he would die for his kids, we believe him because that’s what good dads do. They sacrifice themselves for years not only to get their children what they need but also what they want.

And when a mom says that she would die for her children, we believe her too because she showed that willingness the moment the child entered her womb.


2. Passionate Pursual:

Parents passionately pursue their children from day one. And as the kids grow, how we parents pursue our children simply changes to meet the needs of the child, but the pursual never really ends.

Over time, “Did you brush your teeth?” turns into “Did you practice your piano?” or “Did you study for your test?” And eventually, “Did you go to Church?”

But because parents are really good at these two forms of love, there is a tendency for them to assume that the other two forms of love are not as important to practice when it comes to the evangelization of their adult children. They mistakenly believe that they can continue to evangelize just as effectively using sacrificial love and passionate pursual as they had done in the past. But therein lies the problem.

Adult children expect from their parents this kind of interest in their faith life because they equate it with “mom and dad just being good parents, big deal.” And because they expect it, their parents’ attempts to evangelize may appear as less genuine—though of course that isn’t necessarily the case.

And it is difficult for parents to understand this.

After all, they think back to the times when sacrificing and a passionate pursual were enough to obtain the results that they wanted—whether it was in school, in extracurricular activities, and yes, even in faith formation. They were ok with being the “bad guy” sometimes, if it meant that their child was flourishing.

You see, what we have between parents and their children is the reversal of the common evangelizing scenario we often find among coworkers, friends, or even strangers where we often use our friendship and natural affection for others (with no strings attached) to surprise them with persistent and sacrificial love. And because these latter forms of love are so surprising to find among friends, our actions go right for the heart, they go a long way in bringing others to Christ.

But parents begin in the reverse.

Parents try to reach their adult children with persistence and sacrificial love (as they always have) without ever really engaging their kids on the level of friendship and that no-strings-attached form of affection.

So what now?

Does this mean that parents cannot evangelize their adult children effectively?

Not at all. It simply means that they must now begin to evangelize in new ways. It means that what they need is not to show more of the same kind of love, but to spark a new kind of love—to surprise their kids, maybe for the first time, with a love they had not known before from mom and dad.

It means looking at the Faith as a companion as well as a guide.

It means being excited for any effort their adult kids are making in the Faith, no matter how imperfect or different these may be from how they were raised.

And it means a new beginning, not with the aim to erase all of the wonderful moments that led up to this one, but to evangelize with a new kind of hope. Your kids can come home to the Faith again, and with God’s grace they will.

in Christ,


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