Update from Bruce Downes

By on 12/02/2019

HOW DO WE REACH BEYOND THE BUBBLE OF THE CHURCH?
Summary Version

 

Rosemary and I would like to thank you for your support as members of the G300 team starting 2019 with us.

Human beings live inside bubbles. It could be their family, their ethnic group, their particular profession. It could be their religion.

  • My brother once asked me how he could find out when I was coming to his city to speak, to which I replied it was always in the Church Bulletin. He slumped and said, “but I do not go to Church, so how will I ever hear?”
  • Many years ago, when I was doing youth work, we planned a big event. We hired a large auditorium, sound and lighting equipment and spent a huge amount of time getting ready and were very excited about the event. When the night came, very few people turned up. We were very disappointed, but it was only when we evaluated what happened we realized we hadn’t told people in a way they could hear about what we were doing and that it was on.

 

  • A little while ago, I was in Ohio meeting with a parish priest who said to me that they had held an outreach event the day before hoping non-church attenders would attend. He was very excited when he told me 300 people had attended. I asked him how many non-church attending people came. He paused and said, “Not one. They were all Church attenders.” He then said how do you find people who don’t go to Church today? He finished by saying it is so hard reaching people who do not go to Church.

The sad truth is on the whole most well-meaning Catholic’s outreach ministry is to people who already go to Church that is people who are in the ‘Church Bubble.’ The Parish Priest is right, it is very hard, but this is where we believe we are called to work.

 

OUR APPROACH

The following will outline part of our approach to reaching beyond the ‘bubble’ of Church. It is complex and difficult to grasp because when you think you fully understand it, the goal posts move. It is mostly about a way of thinking that expresses itself in action.

Knowing that we are currently planning Television and Media, Events, Impact Live Outreach Services, Online Seasonal Campaigns and Location Outreach Communities, I want to address our approach and ‘remind’ our veteran team members who we are and to provide ‘formation’ to new people who are joining us in this calling.

It is critical to remember and to know that we are a people/community/ministry who operate according to our ‘Documents’ that define who we are and what we are doing. Many years have gone into discerning and developing them.

How we reach beyond the ‘bubble’ has taken us years to learn how to do. Many tears and sleepless nights from the disappointment of failure or the frustration of simply not knowing how to do this has brought us to where we are today. Remember every time we have failed, we failed at bringing someone to the fullness of life in Christ. This is serious.

What is to follow is our process of reaching beyond the bubble, but it is not the only way of doing it. In many ways it is one of the secrets behind our ministry.

 

BEFORE WE BEGIN

Let me side-track for one moment before we begin discussing ‘How We Reach Beyond the Bubble of Church.’

Those of you who are new to our ministry might ask why are we so open about what we are doing, the years of research we have done and the learnings from our failures and times of victory? Are we not fearful that others may copy it?

When you have questions like this go to our ‘Documents’ as they address these questions.

The Proclamation Community I See Document says;

I see The Catholic Guy Proclamation Community impacting the Church throughout the world, with a means that can be taught, to reach people who once were involved in Church through its people, activities, resources and methods. (I wrote this 15 years ago).

Our Twelve Commitments Document says:

We are committed to promoting other evangelistic ministries engaged
in the proclamation of the Gospel and supporting them in their mission.

If we can help others reach those disconnected from the Church from who we have reached, then we are fulfilling the Mission of our ministry. We do not have to be the only one doing it. Luke records Jesus’ answer to this very question;

Mark 9:38–41 (NRSV)

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

If someone can learn from what we are doing and be more effective in their proclamation of Jesus Christ, we are one with them and we are fulfilling the Mission of our ministry.

Rosemary and I have never felt any conviction that God wants us to be wealthy or to keep what we develop for ourselves. We are going to give everything away whether it be our intellectual property, our methods, or money that we generate after we have met all of our operational obligations. In the end, we are going to pass the ministry on to others. What we want is what St Paul wrote at the end of his life in his very last letter;

2 Timothy 4:6–8 (NLT)

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8 And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

In the end, Rosemary and I want nothing but Christ, which is what I know all of you who are reading this and who are followers of Christ want. For this reason, we are not fearful of sharing what we know and giving everything away and even have others do it far better than us.

Now let’s come back to the focus of what we are talking about – How do we pierce beyond the ‘Bubble of Church’ and reach those who do not connect with the Church? Firstly, who are we;

 

IT IS CRITICAL TO KNOW:     WHO WE ARE

  1. Our Mission Statement tells us Why We Exist;

 

WE EXIST TO REACH THOSE
WHO DO NOT CONNECT WITH THE CHURCH,

AND BRING THEM INTO AN EVER DEEPENING
RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST

 

The basis of our Mission is Love. We want others to experience the encounter that we have had with Jesus Christ. We are doing this because we believe we are called to this task by God.

 

  1. Our Core Values tells us what we Hold to Be True;

CORE VALUE 2
We value people who are or feel disconnected from God and the Church.

It is true in life that which we value we are willing to sacrifice for. This means that we are prepared to give up our ways and wants for others to come to know Christ. Put another way we might ask, what am I prepared to do so that people I know and people I have never met might encounter Jesus Christ?

 

  1. The Daily Community Prayer tells us What is On Our Heart;

Lord Jesus, give me and every member of our Church Community,
a hunger today to see all people encounter you as their personal Lord and Saviour.

This prayer we pray first in the morning, before all meals, last thing at night and then at the commencement of meetings among the staff and team every time we meet as a reminder of what each of us is committed to. It is a prayer of conversion

OUR CONVERSION FIRST

These Statements from our Documents must be true for us if we are to be effective as a Proclamation Community and Ministry in reaching beyond the ‘bubble.’

WHAT IS THE VERY FIRST THING WE ARE TRYING TO
GET A DISCONNECTED PERSON FROM CHURCH TO DO?

Most Catholic people do not answer this question as they do not think in terms of steps or process on the whole when it comes to Evangelization.

The most common answer I have heard is to tell people to go to Mass. That is the only step many people know. This might have worked once, but it definitely does not work today with the majority of people. This is the reason so many people feel disillusioned with Catholic evangelization.

It is important to remember that there are two types of disconnection from Church;

  1. The most obvious are those who do not attend Mass regularly or at all.
  2. Those who are attending Mass regularly but are feeling unfulfilled in Church.

I want to introduce you to the process we have developed called AIM.

The reason we as Catholics are not successful when evangelizing is that we are not taking AIM but just using a ‘shoot without looking’ approach knowing that somewhere out there are people who are not in Church. No successful business would use an approach like this because they would quickly go out of business.

The story of Moses and the burning bush gives us an excellent insight into the first steps of the process of reaching a disconnected person. It is actually the story of how God leads and speaks to us.

Exodus 3:1–6 (NIV84)

Moses and the Burning Bush

3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

It is God who converts a heart and not us. It is an encounter with Him as we see in vs. 4, but there is a process to get there.

This is what happened in my own personal life when I encountered Christ. Being born into a ‘practicing’ Catholic family, I received the Sacraments when they were offered but I could hardly have been described as someone who owned my faith. To a degree I knew the historical Jesus of the past, but not the living Christ who revealed himself as the one Saviour and Lord.

For me, I was a Catholic because of the family I was born into and not because Christ was real to me. It was only when I encountered the person of Jesus that my life changed permanently.

Pope Benedict describes in his Encyclical Letter titled ‘God is Love’ what happened to me and what we are all invited into;

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea,

but the encounter with an event, a person,

which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

The passage in Exodus 3 starts with Moses in vs. 1, being busy with his job, tending sheep or in other words, going about his daily life. This is what people who once went to Church or never have been involved in Church are doing right now. They are not thinking about the Church, what our values are or what the Church has to say about how they should live their life.

It is always amusing to me when we meet Catholics and Christians who are horrified by the choices and lifestyle of non-church attending people on questions such as abortion, euthanasia, fidelity in relationships, integrity in business, etc., and wondering why they are not living according to Christian principles. Why would we expect them to make our choices?

It is while Moses is busy with the ‘things in his life’ that God reaches him.

  • 2 – Moses saw the Burning Bush and that it did not burn up.
  • 3 – Moses then thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
  • vs 4. – When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, then God spoke to Moses

There is a three-step process that takes a person from the busyness and preoccupation with their own life to an encounter with God. We call this the AIM approach – we MUST deliberately take AIM at people who are disconnected from Christ and His Church.

 

Attract              Come and See                  vs. 2

Investigate          What is this?                    vs. 3

Message            Thus says the Lord          vs. 4

We cannot present the Gospel if we cannot first get someone to turn aside from what they are doing and look and listen to us.

ATTRACT   The evangelist must, first of all, get the attention of a person who is busy about their own life.

For us this can be done in three ways;

1. Living a Life of Holiness. This comes as a result of ‘The Habit of Examination.’ The goal of this Habit is to cause us to live lives of holiness or to become all that God wants us to be in our spiritual, personal and emotional life.

2. Brand and Marketing. We have found that these elements are critical to creating interest. We have many stories of people who have seen our flags, truck, brochures, logos and recognized the brand and come into events or asked for our materials who are both Church attending and non-attending. Marketing is different from advertising which might be described as letting people know about a particular event. Marketing is the about the organization, its objectives and feel and communicating this to an audience.

3. Music. Music is at the heart of culture. Culture captures the values, practices and the beliefs of a people. Music is an expression of culture and touches a person at the emotive level beyond the intellectual alone. Both the intellect and emotion are key ingredients in the evangelization of a person because encountering Christ is about the complete upheaval of our values and what we hold to be true. It is the reason that the Popes have been saying that evangelization is an encounter.

 

INVESTIGATE             “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

1. The Goal is to Get Individual to Come and See. For those who have been involved in our events, what was the motivation that made us change how we presented our events? After doing everything we could to get a person to attend, we wanted firstly for that person to come back.

This meant that we had to make sure we did not chase them off in the typical ways that most Catholics do when trying to reach people who are disconnected from Christ and the Church. I used to do those things, but we had to be sensitive to them being present at our events by;

a. Use of everyday language and not using ‘churchy’ language filled with Church ‘code’ that only a committed Christian person understands. Church language causes a disconnected person to leave almost every time thinking, “I do not belong here.”

b. Allowing a disconnected person to be anonymous and remaining unidentified or being pointed out or asked to reveal themselves.

c. Stimulate their interest by using;

The 3 ‘F’s of Catholic Evangelization;

I once heard that in the days of lion tamers, they used a stool because when the lion tamer held up the three legged stool, the lion did not know which leg to look at. I think evangelization works the same when we use the 3 ‘F’s of Catholic Evangelization.

Fun

This relaxes people, takes away the fear of the unknown and opens their minds to new people and what they are about which includes their values and beliefs.

Fellowship

As Catholics we often confuse what ‘fellowship’ is with staying for refreshments after Church or with friendship or with something Protestants do at their Church. All of these are incorrect.

Fellowship means “God bond.” By this, I mean a relationship we have with another based on who God is and our relationship together in light of what God has done for both of us.

Fellowship is therefore much deeper than friendship and wants God’s will in the other person’s life even if they are not a friend of ours. It is purposeful, honest and transparent in its manner toward another person wanting the very best for them.

Faith

A non-church attending person engages with us and has fun and fellowship, but neither of these will evangelize that person alone. There must be an ‘overt and deliberate’ sharing of faith that is linked to the topic or presentation that is being given. It must be personal, in normal language and accessible for them to do themselves.

2. Bring Others Back: The second goal we have for a person, whether they attend an event or interact with our materials or presentations, is that we want them to bring others. This is where both the brand and marketing are helpful for them.

We want a person who attends one of our events to have such a surprising experience through the use of art, video, music, laughter, story, drama and relevance to their lives that they become our marketers. By being sensitive to them, we want to make it easy for them to go home and say to friends and family of this Church event, “you just have to come and see. I can’t explain it myself and you just have to come and see.” We want them to go home and say to others it is safe, it’s fun and it’s relevant.

We do not want them to go home and be the evangelist at this early stage of their re-connection. That is what we do.

It is the reason that sometimes we have seen up to 40% increase in our numbers from the first to the last day in attendance at our events. The longer we stay in one place, the larger numbers become.

 

MESSAGE                        

“When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look,
God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”

Once God had Moses’ attention and interest, God was then able to speak with Him about;

• His relationship with Him – you are standing on Holy Ground.
• Who God was who was speaking to Him – I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
• This is what I am calling you to do.

The reason we are not reaching disconnected people for Christ is that we are not reaching beyond the ‘bubble.’ This is critical if we are to be successful.

 

ACROSS THE ENTIRE MINISTRY

Our Five strategies to get beyond the ‘Bubble’ of the Church are;

  1. Television and Media
  2. Events
  3. Impact Live Outreach Services
  4. Online Seasonal Campaigns
  5. Location Outreach Communities

While this document is a summarised version of the overall process of how to go beyond the ‘Bubble,’ it is the AIM approach of Attract – Investigate – Message that overlies all that we do whether it be media, events, online content, etc.,

Do not expect that people will understand the depth of this. They will tell you they do but they will not. It appears easy to comprehend but as we know it is firstly, very hard to understand, and then twice as hard to do. 

 

WHY YOUR FAITH MATTERS

Finally, in understanding how we reach outside of the ‘bubble’ of Church, I would ask you to spiritually reflect on this passage.

Luke 5:17–26 (NRSV)

17 One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. 20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” 25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26 Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”

Who was responsible for the paralysed man being healed?

  1. It was the faith of the four who went to the effort of carrying him.
  2. It was the persistence of the four who upon seeing they could not get in the normal way – the front door – that dug through the sticks, mud and manure that were the roof material so they could lower him down to Jesus.

There are many men and women, young and older, who will ONLY come to Christ if you take AIM at them and have the faith to do what has to be done by sacrificing, bearing the hardship and imagining and discovering new ways to make it possible for others to know Jesus Christ as you do. The world and the Church are in need of your sacrifice and life of holiness and devotion

So many people today are ‘paralysed’ when it comes to faith. You must carry them and if you die along the way, you die only to claim the eternal prize.

The picture above is of Sean, a personal security man who looked after me at an event a few months ago where I was speaking. He was hired in the city where we were for this purpose. He attended one of our ‘Parish Mission Events.’ He was a wonderful man. I knew, as did the team know, that he was there and we took AIM at him even though he was there doing a job. He came to look after me, we came to look after him in Christ. On the last his wife said to me, “All Sean has said all week is you just have to come, you just have to come.” They were deeply moved by the Team’s effort to proclaim Christ to him.

Last October, we said the Rosary each day and people were invited to join in from around the world. We took AIM and I received emails and letters like this;

I was a Catholic that had been disenchanted with the Church a long time ago so had been going to a Pentecostal Church. When I first saw The Catholic Guy on TV I was surprised that Catholics do have/believe in a personal relationship with Jesus and that HE comes first. I had the Personal Prayer book written by Bruce sent and joined in the Holy Week prayers and now am praying the Rosary with Bruce each day. Bruce – you were instrumental in bringing me back to the Church and I am sure I am not the only one.

We have to find new ways to push through and proclaim Christ in a world where it is very difficult and where necessary have faith for people who do not have faith for themselves at first. Their faith healed the paralysed man. Some people are paralysed, and they have no other way to get to Jesus except for you.

We have to take AIM.

I am excited about how God is using us to bring people to Christ through your support and prayers and our methods to reach the disconnected!

Rosemary and I are grateful and give thanks to God for you.

God bless and may you encounter Christ in 2019.

I will write again soon.

 

God bless

Bruce