Pretend for a moment that I want to achieve some kind of goal, such as getting in the best physical shape. Following the advice of some late night advertisements, I buy a new, shiny piece of equipment and I begin to exercise multiple times a week. In effect, I have started something, and I hope you will agree that this is very, very good.
If, however, in four months time I look exactly the same or worse than before, we would have to admit that something is still askew. We wouldn’t blame the exercise. We couldn’t point to a lack of effort. What then? Well, what if I told you that despite having started to exercise, I had continued to eat all of the junk food that I wanted? Candy, pop, pizza, chips, you name it; I ate it.
My guess is that your assessment of my situation would be quick and correct. You might say, “Patrick, you are not in the physical condition you wanted to be in because though you have started to do something wonderful, you still have not stopped doing what is destructive.”
It is the same with evangelization.
Though we may start something good, if we never get around to stopping any of the clearly opposing destructive habits, then we’ll have an impossibly difficult time reaching our goal.
When you look at the evangelization efforts of a parish or a parish ministry, you’ll notice that their most common course of action is to focus on doing things. And that’s wonderful, especially if the things they are doing bear good fruits and are successful in reaching the people of the parish. With some guidance, such as the kind I offered in last week’s article, “The One Percent Rule,” any parish can easily learn to grow and flourish.
A far more neglected area of focus, however, is that of not doing certain things—of eliminating the behaviours and ways of speaking that get in the way of a parish’s or a group’s evangelizing efforts.
Though we may start something good, if we never get around to stopping any of the clearly opposing destructive habits, then we’ll have an impossibly difficult time reaching our goal. This is precisely the kind of problem many parishes and groups contend with.
The solution is rather simple, and it’s what I like to call the start-stop policy,
a method that any pastor or ministry could implement today with immediate and long term results.
While the one percent rule is an effective way to kickstart evangelization when there is little or no unifying plan for the entire parish, the start-stop policy is a useful system for creating and measuring a collaborative effort to achieve a set of evangelization goals. All it takes is some very transparent discussions between the pastor and his support team of ministry leaders.
For example, during a sit down session with the representative of every ministry, the pastor might say: “This year I want you to identify one habit, any one positive habit that will help you and your members to evangelize in and through your ministry, and I want you to start it as soon as possible. At the same time I want you to identify one negative habit that you do as a ministry; that is, any behaviour you already do as a ministry that you believe gets in the way of reaching people, and I want you to work very hard on eliminating it. I want you to write down what you are going to start and stop doing and send it to me so that we can support you any way that we can.”
We can very well imagine the kind of notes that the pastor would receive.
The choir master might say something like:
Start: having a choir practice once a week.
Stop: turning down members’ suggestions for new songs.
The head of the ushers might say something like:
Start: learning the names of at least four people who come in every Sunday so that I can welcome them more personally.
Stop: leaving so quickly after the vestibule is cleared, recognizing that someone might be lingering to ask a question or seek spiritual guidance; we want to be the friendly faces the parishioners can recognize.
The head of the cleaning ministry might resolve:
Start: saying a prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament before attending to my duties.
Stop: listening to music while we clean. We too are missionary disciples and we want to be present to those who come in between services if only to pray for them while we do our work.
Of course, the examples could be multiplied, but you can already see how powerful implementing this kind of system could be. And though this goal-setting discussion with the pastor or the leadership team might realistically only happen once a year, following-up every few months would hardly be an added strain on anyone’s time. Just a short e-mail or a quick phone call to check in would suffice.
“Hi Joan,” the pastor might say in his brief email. “How is the bereavement group doing with its start-stop policy? Any way we can help?”
Maybe trying out this novel start-stop approach will take some getting used to, and a bit of trial and error will certainly be normal. But when souls are at stake, it’s worth going the extra mile and trying something new, wouldn’t you agree?