A Process of Evangelization in San Miguel of Guatemala

This essay makes a contribution to the sociology of evangelism or evangelization by first clarifying the basic concepts of proselytism, church growth, conversion, and spiritual transformation. The essay will use the example of a Guatemalan parish, which uses the SINE program (Sistema Integral de Nueva Evangelización). SINE was created by Fr. Alfonso Navarro of Mexico in the early 1980s.[1] The SINE program is followed by more than a thousand parishes in Central America, Mexico, and the South of the United States.

Let me begin with a question of terminology. Evangelism is understood as the desire to evangelize, while evangelization is taken as the process, strategy, and structure of evangelizing. This distinction was formulated by the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974.[2] In practice, many Protestants use the term evangelism as both the desire to evangelize and as the process of evangelizing, while Catholics often use evangelization for both. For the purpose of clarification and scholarly ecumenism, I will use evangelism as the desire to evangelize and evangelization as a structure, in reference to both Protestant and Catholic forms of evangelizing.

Much of the content and structure of SINE was borrowed from the Charismatic movement including the initiation retreat and the weekly meetings in small groups. While the charismatic movement is a lay organization independent of parishes, Fr. Navarro created a lay structure centered around the parish under the leadership of the pastor. For this reason, the SINE program has the potential of renovating whole parishes when used in a systematic fashion. At San Miguel all pastoral activities and meetings are integrated into the official pastoral plan of evangelization which is supervised by a full-time assistant to the pastor. Nothing happens without the input and support of this office of pastoral planning.

Terminology for Evangelization

One cannot analyze evangelization without discussing the basic notions of conversion, rebirth, spiritual transformation, charismatic gifts, and personal vocation. Contemporary sociology tends to ignore them. These “enchanted” dimensions of religion are essential to the social construction of individual and social life, and I will for this reason use them without apology. Let me review two sociological theories of parish numerical growth. The first set of theories emphasizes ideology or theology. Dean Kelly (1972) has successfuly shown that conservative churches are growing, a thesis strongly supported by empirical research. But liberal evangelical churches are growing too, as shown by C. Kirk Hadaway in his analysis of the National Surveys of U.S. Congregations of 2005 and 2010. Other research has shown that churches can also grow due to the faithful’s spiritual satisfaction (see J Thomas and D Olson, 2010:619–639). San Miguel is an example of these forms of growth. The second set of theories emphasizes practices, namely strictness (usually in reference to drinking, dancing, gambling, etc.). These theories are equally well documented, yet strictness becomes problematic when identified with negative rewards, penalties, and prohibitions (Iannaccone, 1994). Growth can also be related to strictness if understood as high level of commitment in the perspective of a theology of God as love. This is the theology of San Miguel where there are no prohibitions (e.g., of drinking) but high levels of commitment. In the U.S. Church since Vatican II, participation is less motivated by punishment and fear, and more by positive rewards and self-giving.

Related to growth and strictness is the problem of free riders introduced by Finke and Stark (1992: 253–255). Free riders are an obstacle to church growth because they “draw upon the group for weddings, funerals, and holiday celebrations, but who give little or nothing in return.” Iannaccone made the problem more explicit by treating churches as “clubs” where free riders decrease the value of membership by consuming more than they contribute. The problem of free riders, however, seems mainly a by-product of the rational choice theory which identifies churches as clubs or firms—which they are not; in most churches the so-called free-riders are as welcome as the wealthy members who pay for high cost weddings or funerals with no negative effects for the church. Iannaccone asserts that in order to increase participation, churches, like clubs, must use negative rewards, namely “prohibitions [that] can serve as a screening function, discouraging the less committed members [from joining]” (1992: 275). Both the strictness theory and the rational choice theory emphasize cost much more than positive rewards, thus reflecting religious traditions that instill fear of God and hell more than love of God and neighbor. On the positive side, both theories emphasize the importance of religious commitment analyzed in terms of cost. Kelly’s thesis of church growth due to high commitment, that is, high spiritual expectations rather than just prohibitions, is still valid today and needs further research. Rational choice raised the question of rationality in religion, which is central in Rick Warren’s strategies of church growth and in San Miguel, as we will see.

As few people have cars, people have to walk to the stores and to work, hence everybody knows everybody.

Two important contributions to sociology, namely a pluralistic definition of membership and a new conception of spirituality, came not from sociological research or theory, but out of the experiences of two churches, the Saddleback Church in Southern California and Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church is a book about rational strategies for church growth. Instead of a uniform membership as described in the rational choice analyses, he points to a pyramid of commitments: there are the unchurched and the regular attenders, the committed, and the core members. Instead of filtering out the free riders, Warren wanted to bring free riders in. Instead of the negative sanctions or prohibitions, he proposed a rationale for increasing spiritual growth: “We bring them in as members, we built them up to maturity, we train them for ministry, and we send them out on a mission.”[3] Most of the book consists of rational strategies to be used in the religious market. “A good salesman knows you always start with the customer’s needs, not the product”[4] and this applies to spreading the Good News. “Money spent on evangelism is never an expense; it’s always an investment.”[5] As in business, the advertising budget for evangelization should be cut last. Warren recommends to “rigorously apply” every part of his plan, namely “programming, scheduling, budgeting, staffing, preaching, and so forth.”[6] This is an plan of rational choice at the level of church leadership rather than individual religious decision-making.

The leaders of Willow Creek drew their conclusions from extensive surveys taken every three years since 1992. The findings are presented into two short books, Reveal and Follow Me by Hawkins and Parkinson.[7] Over the last sixteen years attendance at Willow Creek had increased by 50 percent and participation in small groups by 500 percent;[8] then came the shocking finding that increased church attendance and participation are not related to spiritual growth! Apparently people come to church because they like it, and in the process the institutional church becomes the center of their spirituality. Quite different is a spirituality that is Christ-centered. It is measured by a four-point Lickert scale ranging from “My faith is not a significant part of my life” at the lowest level to “God is all I need in my life. Everything I do is a reflection of Christ” at the fourth level of “Christ-centeredness.” As people move from level one to level four, their spiritual attitudes, activities, and practices drastically increase as shown in the graph.[9] The authors analyze various catalysts of growth which vary from stage to stage,[10] yet the Bible remains “the most powerful catalyst for spiritual growth,”[11] that is, when the Bible is read in relationship to one’s life rather than as a routine. My research, as shown below, would confirm these findings.

There is one catalyst that is missing in Willow Creek’s research, namely the born again experience. Altar calls are not very common at Willow Creek, or they were not significantly related to growth. In the charismatic renewal and SINE, on the contrary, the retreats are for most participants the occasion of a spiritual rebirth or conversion that makes them Christ-centered within the few days of the retreat. Conversion is a major dimension of evangelization which now needs to be defined.

There are two extreme conceptions of evangelism/evangelization, namely proselytism and spiritual transformation, yet the two are always somewhat related. Historically, proselytism referred to the conversion of Gentiles to Judaism. Today it is often understood in Protestant evangelism as the effort of “saving souls.” This trend is illustrated by the tendency to quote statistics about the number of people “saved” or baptized. Thus Billy Graham is said to have addressed an audience of 2.2 billion people over a lifetime and “saved” 3.2 million. The practice of proselytism seems to justify the general claim of rational choice theory that churches seek “to secure market share[s] in competitive religious markets”;[12] they do so mainly by “saving souls.” The claim of “secur[ing] market share[s]” is unjustified, however, in light of the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit corporations. Churches are nonprofit organizations like social, recreational, and educational institutions that seek to serve the needs of customers, not their own; for them to expand their market share beyond a certain optimum would lead to decreased quality of services. Only for-profit corporations seek to increase markets in order to increase profit. Although the image that churches are firms seeking to increase market shares is inappropriate, religious competition is real. All churches are competing in the “religious market,” but this competition is for quality of services and spiritual satisfaction rather than just gaining members.

In most cases, evangelism seeks spiritual transformation as outlined by contemporary theories of evangelization and mission; thus evangelism needs to become evangelization. On the Protestant side, the pioneer was Donald McGavran, a missionary in India, in his Bridges of God (1955). His ideas led to the creation of innovative evangelization trends like the Megachurches, the Church Growth and the Church Planting Movements (see J. M. Terry and J.D. Payne, 2013). On the Catholic side, Aylward Shorter introduced a “new mission paradigm” in Evangelization and Culture (1994), seeing missionary work as the interconnected effort of all members of the church rather than a centralized endeavor. In Transforming Mission (1991) David Bosch changed the focus of missionary work: “Mission is not about the church, but about the Reign of God.”[13] Its purpose is not just to attract new members but to transform them into citizens of the Kingdom.

Let me summarize what has been learned. As shown in Warren’s description of the Saddleback church, there are many levels of commitment which require different strategies to foster growth to the highest levels. Church growth is the result of high expectations and achievements rather than prohibitions. The ideology of capitalism of increasing market shares does not apply to nonprofit corporations like churches and educational institutions. Regular church attendance fosters church-centeredness while spiritual growth is impelled by Christ-centeredness. Evangelization is more than proselytism; it requires spiritual transformation for the Reign of God. These principles clearly apply to San Miguel.

* * *

The church of San Miguel is one of the 87 parishes of Guatemala City. It is located in a sprawling area of slums and permanent structures at the fringes of the capital. The parish was founded in 1988 and covers an area inhabited by between 100,000 and 150,000 people, but it has only one priest. In 1991 the pastor created a pastoral plan of evangelization that emphasized small Christian Base Communities; the term “evangelism” is not used there. Fr. Lucas, the current pastor who was appointed in 2005, has continued this pastoral strategy.

In 2011 there were 122 small communities (versus 150 in 2015) and 110 pre-retreat groups (versus 132 in 2015). When I asked Fr Lucas how he initiated such programs, he said, “It’s simple: just go from house to house and invite people to join.” Skeptical and puzzled by this reply, I decided to visit small communities and interview participants. I will successively describe the small communities, the retreats, and the evangelization strategies.

The Small Communities

The first community I visited met in an apartment building. There were eight people at the beginning, and eleven at the end. The meeting was both informal and structured. It began with a spontaneous prayer initiated by the leader, and all participating in turn. Then there was a Bible reading, each member reading one verse. Later there was a discussion about the topic of the day, followed by prayers of petition. At the end all recited the Our Father while holding hands. It ended with the kiss of peace, snacks, and refreshments. All communities follow this order.

What I missed as a participant but learned through interviews was the part of the meeting that is closed to outsiders. The SINE meetings have two characteristics created by Fr. Navarro: edificación mutua (mutual help) and teachings. At each meeting, about one hour is dedicated to mutual help, when all members share with others the joys and sorrows of the week. These confidences are covered by the promise that no one will reveal them to outsiders. Mutual help allows all members to unburden themselves of their problems and also learn about others. All participants I spoke to considered this part of the meeting most beneficial.

This weekly interaction creates a strong bond among members. Not only are members committed to meeting every week, rain or shine, but they are usually faithful for life. These communities are not closed islands: they meet once a month with other communities in the neighborhood or the whole parish for a teaching; they also meet once a month for a neighborhood open-air Mass, and once a month for a Mass with all other communities. They are also involved in common practices of evangelization.

One small community will be in charge of building an altar; another community must bring benches and seats for over 100 people; another is in charge of the musical instruments and the electronic equipment.

What is also special to SINE is the teaching program that spans over more than ten years. Fr. Navarro has published short booklets to be studied, each during a whole year. The titles are suggestive of the progression: Vida Nueva, the new life of first year beginners, Pueblo de Dios on the ecclesiology of the people of God, Seguimiento de Jesús (third year) and Caminar en El Espíritu (fourth year) on basic principles of spirituality of following Jesus and walking in the Spirit, Están en el Mundo and No Son Del Mundo (fifth and sixth year) on the lay vocation in the world and the church, and Misión en la Iglesia and Misión en el Mundo on the mission of evangelization in the church and the world. At San Miguel this ten year plan seemed inadequate to Fr. Lucas because some of the communities had already been in existence for eighteen years. For this reason, he is writing his own program, producing two or three booklets each year, and these booklets are made available through photocopies to the 1000+ community members.

Part of the SINE plan is to divide parishes into districts or neighborhoods; there are nine such districts at San Miguel. Moreover, seven of the nine districts have their own neighborhood church. One of the first decisions of Fr. Lucas was to empower the lay organizations by making them autonomous and democratic; this applies to the community churches, the small communities, and the district community organizations.

Each of the seven neighborhood churches is autonomous with its own lay ministers and its own agenda. Each one celebrates the Sunday Eucharist using pre-consecrated hosts. In each of these churches, there is a permanent team of Eucharistic ministers, conveners, lectors, musicians, singer, ushers, etc. There are also lay preachers. The lay preacher at the church I visited explained to me that he had completed the first year of classes for lay preachers in a three-year program. Each neighborhood church takes care of its needs materially, financially, and spiritually, visiting the sick and presiding over funerals. Fr. Lucas can only visit them and celebrate Sunday Mass once a month because of the large size of the parish.

All small communities are equally autonomous. They are directed by a coordinator, a sub-coordinator, and a treasurer elected for one year, thus encouraging co-responsibility through the rotation of the leadership responsibilities. There are also district coordinators with an elected advisory council. Their responsibility is to supervise the small communities of their district, and plan district events like the monthly teaching meeting and the monthly outdoor Mass mentioned above.

The Retreat

Catholic retreats and parish missions are similar to the Protestant Revivals, the tent crusades, and the altar calls: they are the occasion of a “personal encounter” with God. This expression needs clarification. According to Toenies, relationships are personal in the face-to-face encounters in Gemeinschaft (villages) and impersonal in the business transactions of Gesellschaft (societies). All relationships function on a continuum between the two extremes of Gemeinschaft where everybody knows one another personally and Gesellschaft where one is mainly an anonymous face. In a retreat or revival, one’s relationship with God may suddenly change from impersonal to personal when one discovers the personal dimension of God in relation to one’s personal self. In a retreat, according to my interviews, one moves from the impersonal relationships as in a Gesellschaft (in which God was objectified instereotypical images) to personal relations as in a Gemeinschaft (in which God transcends these cultural objectifications). What also changes is the identity of the self, from social persona or “Me” to the deep self in the “I” in Mead’s typology. Such a transformation is usually described as a born again experience or spiritual rebirth.

There is a striking difference between the Catholic spiritual rebirth at retreats and the Protestant born again experience. According to Evangelical theology (e.g., in Billy Graham), God is both just and merciful. In God’s justice, all humans deserve eternal damnation, but in his mercy through Jesus Christ, they achieve eternal life and the forgiveness of all sins, simply by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. In this experience one passes from damned to saved in one moment and forever. In the SINE (and charismatic) retreats, God is presented first as love inviting one personally to follow Christ. Sin and reconciliation are a secondary theme, not the main one as in Protestantism. In this process a triple transformation takes place: God is discovered as personal in Jesus Christ; the self is transmuted from religious conformity to personal identity (from “Me” to “I”); and one’s priorities in life move from the values of the secular world to those of the Kingdom. All my interviews tend to exemplify these transformations. To be brief, I will only quote two.

When growing up we were presented with the image of God as judge: if you do something wrong, the earth will open up and hell will swallow you. Over the years, the Lord has shown me the ways of a loving God. In October 1989 I was blessed with meeting the risen Lord in a retreat at this parish. That’s when I discovered that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Since then it has been 25 years of journeying in a new way with the help of my small community of ten. We meet every Monday, no matter what.

In the process this female moved from from guilt and fear to love, and in her enthusiasm became involved in evangelization:
For the last 20 years I have worked in the pastoral team of mission and evangelization. We are the ones who go from house to house in groups of twos to bring the Good News of the Lord. We share with them a line from the Gospel and we reflect about it with them. For instance: ‘Listen, I am at the door and I knock. If you open the door I will come in.’ I give them my testimony, how for many years I have been walking a life of service in the church. We will have difficulties, but we will live them differently, because for us there is hope, faith, and love.

This interview illustrates the triple transformation mentioned above. First, the overcoming of the religious stereotypes of one’s upbringing—in her case overcoming the example of her grandmother “full of the fear of God, always saying the Rosary.” Second, this sudden transformation happened on a given day in October 25 years ago, when her personal identity and her images of God changed suddenly and forever. And third, God and his Reign became her first priority in life. One more difference between the Protestant born again experience and the Catholic spiritual rebirth is that the SINE retreat is followed by ten or twenty years of constant learning.

My second example is that of a businessman in an impeccable business suit receiving me in a plush business executive office.

My wife went to a retreat and she was changed. It was unbelievable! I knew her and could see how much she had changed. I became curious and decided to attend the following retreat. It has been the best experience of my life. The retreat began with a talk about the love of the Father. I could then have left and would have achieved the purpose of the retreat. It touched me so much [choking with emotions] that I wanted to serve; I wanted people to enjoy what I myself was enjoying. And I wanted to be the coordinator of my small community. I asked God that they nominate me as coordinator. I wanted to serve because [choking with emotions] I had encountered the Lord close-up, and . . . [choking] the Lord nominated me as coordinator. At that time I knew that he had accepted my services and that in my heart [choking] I wanted to serve him. Within a short time [choking more] they called me to serve in the pastoral team of evangelization.
For six or seven years I have been the coordinator of this pastoral team. One year after being in charge of the pastoral team of evangelization, the Lord called back my wife [choking to tears]. But because during the retreat I had decided to serve him, he helped me to bear his decision. That was fourteen years ago.

The conversion began as a decision to attend a retreat out of curiosity. It ends with tears of love—a rare example of male vulnerability in front of a total stranger. Here the transformation is at the same time one of emotions and one of commitment to serve: “It touched me so much that [choking] I wanted to serve.” In this transcript there are as many expressions of the commitment to serve as there are mentions of emotional choking. Quite a few interviewees came to tears while recounting their spiritual rebirth of many years ago. Emotions are always a sign of a deep change.

Evangelization as Self-Transformation

Today the Catholic Church favors evangelization as transformation rather than proselytism. At San Miguel, evangelization happens by inviting outsiders to participate in the transformation of the members. Here are some common practices.

1. The Holy Hour

All 150 small communities celebrate a holy hour once a month. A Eucharistic minister brings consecrated hosts. Members of the small communities invite neighbors and friends to join them. For many outsiders the invitation to venerate the Blessed Sacrament in the host’s living room and to be in close proximity to the Eucharistic Christ is something they do not want to miss. The holy hour is spent in singing, Bible reading, and moments of silence. Communion is distributed at the end. Moreover, any individual may request to have a holy hour in his/her own home, e.g. on the occasion of an anniversary, to which they may invite family members and friends. This open house policy of holy hours in homes is greatly appreciated; the chancery office is informed.

2. Neighborhood Open-Air Masses

It is the district coordinators who decide where and when to hold their monthly open-air Mass. They usually select a place of maximum exposure, for instance, an alley in a slum area, the yard in front of an apartment building, or simply a street. Since the place is different every month, nobody knows where and when it will happen, not even the priest who is brought in by car. This monthly Mass is an exercise of both community cooperation and evangelization. One small community will be in charge of building an altar, with a canopy in case of rain; another community must bring benches and seats for over 100 people; another is in charge of the musical instruments and the electronic equipment; another takes care of preparing the liturgy; one more must prepare food and drinks for the small party at the end of the Mass. It is also an exercise of evangelization, since the ten to twenty communities of the district must advertize the Mass and invite neighbors. It is a joyous and loud public celebration of faith. There are about 100 such open-air Masses in this parish per year. It was Fr. Lucas who initiated this practice. His rationale is: “We go to the people rather than ask the people to come to our church.”

3. Advent Posadas

A popular Advent tradition in Central America and Mexico is to celebrate for nine days the trip of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, each night asking for shelter in an inn or posada. Each time they are first rejected, but finally allowed in, which is the opportunity for an improvised party. In practical terms, each community has a crèche or float that will be taken from house to house. For nine consecutive days, it is necessary to find a family—preferably not a member of the church—that will allow them into their “inn.” There will be Bible reading, catechesis, singing, eating, and hot punch. The crèche is left in the house and picked up the following day to be taken to another house.

One interviewee described the experience:

One house visit takes about one hour or an hour and a half. We sit down, share, and talk. Sometimes during the catechesis we ask the people ‘What does it mean to you to receive Jesus in your life? Is he going to be the king of kings to be born in your house or heart?’ We do this because it is his anniversary at Christmas.

Some posadas are very successful:
Our experience has been that we need two novenas because there are so many people who want to invite us into their homes that we had to extend it. We begin December 5 and end December 22. In each house we have Bible reading and reflection. This is what we do through communities: to be ‘in sintonía’ [in harmony] with our environment and the parish.

When all 150 communities visit nine different homes (or more) during Advent, it makes a total of 1,500 home visits. In the interview quoted above, evangelization is an experience of transformation that consists of building a harmonious environment where faith stands “in sintonía” with the secular environment.

4. Ash Wednesday

It is a very popular practice in Latin America, even among non-religious people, to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. At San Miguel all 150 communities will impose the ashes in the evening but they have to let their neighbors know in advance. In 2015 there were also 132 pre-retreat communities; they, too, can impose the ashes on neighbors and friends. The traditional formula was a reminder that “man is made of dust and to dust will return.” At San Miguel they use the second option that is available in the Roman Missal for Ash Wednesday: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It is both a public proclamation of faith and an invitation to conversion. To receive such an invitation from a neighbor in his or her living room is more powerful than waiting in line at one’s local parish.

5. The Stations of the Cross

During Lent all communities and pre-retreat communities pray the Stations of the Cross in fourteen different homes every Friday until Easter. At the beginning of the week each community has to find fourteen homes that will host one station; these hosts are preferably not active members of the parish. When the procession preceded by a wooden cross arrives at a station, the cross is given to the host to hold. At each station there is a reading and a commentary followed by an exhortation. At the end all recite the Our Father holding hands. Then the host may be invited to carry the cross to the next station, along with members of the family. As a consequence the number of people following the Stations of the Cross increases through the evening. This walking prayer takes about three hours.

If all communities were to visit fourteen homes for five or six weeks, that would total over 20,000 home visits. “It is not too difficult to find houses for the stations. I lived here for 33 years so I know many people and many know me. Often people ask me to come to their house.”

6. The Stations of Light

For the Easter season, the communities are asked to visit homes to spread the joy of Easter. There are fourteen stations covering the various Resurrection narratives, ending with the Pentecost story. In 2015 the communities only covered eight Stations of Light, yet they visited maybe another 1000 homes. At San Miguel it is common to say that there are no vocations in the service of the Lord.

The Pre-Retreat Communities

Every year there is a drive to form temporary communities that will meet for three months in preparation for the retreat. They will then be dissolved and their members will be integrated into existing or new communities. How are the new members recruited? It is relatively simply, because the members of existing communities are usually well known in their communities through the holy hours in homes, the open-air Masses, the posadas, the ashes on Ash Wednesday, and the Stations of the Cross. As few people have cars, people have to walk to the stores and to work, hence everybody knows everybody. When in January it is time to form pre-retreat communities, the prospective members are already known. “It’s simple: just go from house to house and invite people to join.” Now the explanation Fr. Lucas gave me in my first interview made sense.

The new communities begin on February 2 each year. They will have three months of weekly meetings similar to those of the established communities: an initial improvised prayer, a Bible reading, some singing, a teaching, discussions, a final prayer, a holy hour once a month, and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. Not all participants will make it to the end: some will give up before the three months are over, some will not want to go to the retreat, and some will not want to join a community. At San Miguel like at the Saddleback church, there are many levels of commitment. Fr. Lucas expects that about 20 to 30 percent will make it to the end, which means a steady growth in the number of communities of about 20 percent per year. This is not proselytism to gain new members but an appeal to personal self-transformation through community participation.

A triple transformation takes place: God is discovered as personal in Jesus Christ; the self is transmuted from religious conformity to personal identity; and one’s priorities in life move from the values of the secular world to those of the Kingdom.

The picture of San Miguel presented here is limited to the pastoral plan of evangelization. For a more global view of the parish I must mention that there is also a Charismatic group of about 150 members and a Neocatechumenal group with six communities; there are is a children’s ministry, an adolescents’ club, family services, and 215 ministers of the Eucharist. The social services include a medical clinic, a dental clinic, a maternity clinic, a low-cost pharmacy, 70 free lunches for the sick and poor every day, senior activities, social promotion classes on computers, flower arrangement, jewelry, cooking, and many more, even beauty parlor skills. San Miguel is a community center, not just a religious center.


“Why don’t other parishes follow your example?” I asked Fr. Lucas. He gave me two reasons: most priests do not trust the laity, and they do not understand the lay sub-culture. Trust empowers laypeople to become involved personally and in teams, but most priests tend to favor either total control or total withdrawal from lay ministries. From the beginning of his term as pastor, Fr. Lucas granted internal autonomy to all lay organizations. As to the lay sub-culture, he is a people person: he enjoys being with people; it may take him several minutes at Mass to walk from the back of the church to the altar because he wants to shake many hands and chat with many people.

In addition to the psychological reasons, there are also sociological reasons for his success. Fr. Lucas trained as an engineer before entering the seminary, and he took a year off to study pastoral theology and sociology in Spain. There are also spiritual factors, namely his trust in the laity. It takes a great deal of trust to expect that the thousands of home visits during Advent and Lent will not create a local backlash, and it is quite risky to have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in more than 200 homes every month; a lot can go wrong. It takes a great deal of spiritual optimism to expect several hundred dormant Catholics to join pre-retreat communities for two hours of instruction every week for three months. I was very skeptical until I could observe firsthand. Fr. Lukas is also an excellent administrator. His parish management style clearly shows the technical rationality of a great manager (although not shown here). This is also the insight of rational choice theory when applied to church management. In parishes the most important choices are made by the pastor; his strategies will allow some parishioners to operate at high levels of commitment while others are not neglected at a lower level. This is also the contribution of Kelly’s thesis: churches with high levels of commitment (or high cost) will grow, while those of low levels will vegetate. In religion as in education, high cost is often a gain rather than a loss. In summary, the two factors of church growth are rational decision making on the part of the managers, and proportionate levels of high commitment for all. In this essay I have shown how this applies to evangelization. High commitment leads to evangelism, and wise decision making leads to strategies of evangelization.

Photos courtesy of the pastor of San Miguel of Guatemala

[1] See also Todd Hartch (2014: 52)

[2] “To the average Christian there is no distinction between evangelism and evangelization. But to the World Christian Movement there is a distinction. Essentially, that distinction is that evangelism involves the saving of souls, while evangelization means the saving of whole nations or "people groups spiritually and temporally through political and social action.” (Albert James Dager, “The World Christian Movement. Evangelism vs. Evangelization”)

[3] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Every Church is Big in God’s Eyes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), 109.

[4] Ibid, 225.

[5] Ibid, 201.

[6] Ibid, 137.

[7] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where are You? (South Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2007) and Follow Me: What’s next for you? (South Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2008).

[8] Hawkins and Parkinson, Reveal, 14.

[9] Hawkins and Parkinson, Follow Me, 30.

[10] Ibid., 54–76.

[11] Ibid., 114.

[12] Prosper Raynold, “Sacrifice and Stigma: Managing Religious Risk” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 53.4 (2014), 826-847. Here 828.

[13] Quoted in Jonathan Tan, Christian Mission Among the Peoples of Asia (New York: Orbis Books, 2014).


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Pierre Hegy

Pierre Hegy is a senior adjunct faculty member in the Department of Sociology and the Latin America Studies at Adelphi University.

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