I have been wondering for some time what communities like the Jehovah Witnesses would do in a world where COVID becomes more or less a permanent fixture of life.
After all, going door to door is the primary way that they have built up their numbers all these years, a fact that, by and large, has been far too often ignored by parishes wishing to increase their own flock.
Be that as it may, since the pandemic started and the lockdowns began to change our lives, I have felt most strongly that the Jehovah Witness (JW) community would be forced to face their new reality in unprecedented ways. For surely, if they thought that people were hesitant to open the door to them before, I can only imagine how few would open it now.
I suppose the real question I had in my mind was this: Are they, as a community, able to shift, to move with the current crisis, and to adapt their methods? Or has the door to door approach in and of itself become something of a hallowed tradition?
To put this in a way more in step with current Catholic verbiage, we might say: Will the JW community continue to have a missionary mentality or will they, like so many other communities of faith, take on a mentality of maintenance?
This question was answered in a bit of correspondence I received just a few days ago.
Plans are good. Strategy is necessary. And obviously, as I established last week, relationships are a fundamental building block of evangelization.
In a neat, handwritten letter, one of their community members had written a personal message to me. The tone was friendly, personable, and eager to share something of the good news, as they know it. There was also no indication that this was going to be a permanent form of communication; rather, the letter was worded in such a way that I, the recipient, felt somehow missed even though we had never met—a problem they assured would be rectified as soon as we could meet face to face.
Now, for the really important question:
Why would a Catholic Lay Evangelist, whose mission it is to reach the baptized, spend so much time (if any), reflecting on the movements and evolving methods of non-catholic entities?
Well, the simple reason is that I, along with anyone else infused with the Catholic mission (i.e. all of us, the baptized) should be deeply interested in what works. Plans are good. Strategy is necessary. And obviously, as I established last week, relationships are a fundamental building block of evangelization. But above all of that, there are some things—some methods—that work better than others. When the landscape changes or the rules of the game seem to be in flux, it is important that we Catholics employ any and all emerging best practices.
Sure, sometimes we might be surprised or even deeply concerned by where we find those practices, for proponents of the culture of death, for instance, often utilize the newest and best methods to promote their cause. But there can be no doubt that we must adapt and make these best practices our own. How could we not?
Today the handwritten letter might work. Tomorrow street preaching could suddenly draw great crowds. The point is that while we might have to change our approach, our mission remains the same.
And we have no excuse—none—to neglect the mission because a door won’t open.