Seven Myths About Catholic Evangelization

Although evangelization is a core activity of the Catholic life, a lot of Catholics today don’t understand what it entails. Having been involved in Catholic evangelization for a quarter of a century, I’ve encountered many evangelization-related myths. There’s seven common ones you should definitely know, and how to bust them, too.

Myth 1: Evangelization is Unnecessary Because Everyone is Going to Heaven

A common belief among many people today—including many Catholics—is that most, if not all, people are going to heaven. As long as you’re not Hitler, you’ll be fine in the afterlife. The growing prevalence of this belief over the past few decades as coincided with a decreased impulse to evangelize. This isn’t a coincidence. After all, why go to the trouble of trying to get someone to become Catholic if they already have the best benefit of being Catholic—a path to heaven?

However, Catholic teaching in this regard is clear: “[T]he Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire’” (CCC 1035). The rejection of this fundamental teaching has emasculated the driving force behind evangelization and missionary work. Yet we bear responsibility for the souls around us, and because of this we have a duty to keep them from the clutches of the devil. Eternal life is no game: we need to stop treating it like one.

Myth 2: We Can’t Change Other People’s Minds, Especially About Religion

Someone might say “Why do you keep talking about your religion to everyone? You’re not going to change anyone’s mind.” If you’ve ever been told this after sharing your thoughts about your faith, you understand the implication: you’re just wasting time and energy and annoying everyone around you for nothing. Well, it’s possible that you will annoy people, but it’s not true that you can’t change others’ minds about their beliefs. Otherwise, why would corporations spend billions to change people’s minds about their products? Do you really think anyone would eat at McDonald’s if they hadn’t been masterfully persuaded?

What’s more is that evangelization is more than marketing: it has the Holy Spirit behind it, and the Holy Spirit can do anything! I’ve seen this in my own life: I was a convinced Protestant when some of my Catholic friends began to evangelize me. My sister was worried I might convert, but I assured her vehemently that I would never become Catholic. A month later, I converted. Let’s not make this myth an excuse to keep us from telling others about the Faith. If we don’t tell them, who will?

Myth 3: We’re Not Supposed to Proselytize

We often hear, even from the highest levels of the Church, that Catholics are not supposed to “proselytize.” Many have taken that to mean that we are not supposed to evangelize. However, since Christ himself commanded his followers to evangelize (Matt. 28:19-20), then either those who say we are not to proselytize mean something other than evangelization, or they are simply wrong.

The word “proselytization” used to be synonymous with evangelization. In recent years however, its meaning has evolved. Today some understand proselytization as trying to bring someone to the Faith through improper, perhaps even coercive, means. For example, to threaten someone’s livelihood or even life if they don’t convert would be a form of proselytization. This, of course, should be condemned and is not proper for the Catholic. But evangelization is never improper for the Catholic, and is in fact required. While we respect the free will and autonomy of others, we should always work for the conversion of non-Catholics to the Church.

Myth 4: We Don’t Have to Talk About Our Faith; Living It is Enough

The most misused—and misattributed—quote in Catholicism today must be this one commonly attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.” A few problems with this quote present themselves. First, there is no evidence that St. Francis said it. It wasn’t attributed to him until hundreds of years after his death, and it flies in the face of the historical record of his life. St. Francis spent most of his life preaching the Gospel (in words) wherever he went. This is the man who preached to birds when people wouldn’t listen, so yes, he seemed to think words were pretty important.

The more significant problem with the myth is that it’s often used to excuse our hesitation in spreading the Faith to others. We’re afraid that if we tell others about Jesus and his Church, they will mock or reject us. So we just tell ourselves that our actions are all that matter. Somehow our “lifestyle” will magically make converts.

If you look at the history of the Church, however, you’ll see that the greatest evangelists, well, evangelized. They told others, with words, about the beauty and truth of Catholicism. Whether it was St. Patrick or St. Francis Xavier, each boldly proclaimed the truths of Catholicism. And as St. Paul says, “how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14). So let’s get talking.

Myth 5: To attract people we must be nice, and careful not to offend

A priest friend of mine, who grew up in the 1970’s, told me that his years of youth catechesis could be summed up in two commands: “Be nice and don’t do drugs.” That first command has become for many people the end-all-be-all of evangelization. The idea is that if we are just nice to people, then surely they will join our club, the Church. Often, the underlying thought is that we must avoid proclaiming any “hard teachings” that might offend people. However, if you study the Gospels closely, you’ll find Jesus—our model for evangelization (and for everything) —isn’t really “nice” by modern standards. He doesn’t mince words. And he isn’t afraid to preach the hard teachings and call people to repentance.

When I was an evangelical, what initially attracted me to Catholicism was its strong teaching against abortion. I understood that a Church which stayed true to even its hardest teachings in the face of cultural opposition was less likely to be simply a human institution. In other words, the “hard teachings” attracted me. Often today the surrounding culture (especially the media) claims that if the Church would just remove its hard teachings, many would flock to it. But we have proof this isn’t the case; it’s called the Episcopal Church. The real reason people want the Church to soften its teachings is to assuage their guilt for rejecting those teachings in their own lives. If we abandon the hard teachings we’re like a doctor who refuses to do surgery on a critical patient because it will be painful.

Myth 6: Evangelization is a job for parishes and professionals

Over the past decade or so there has been a proliferation of parish programs to assist in evangelization. It’s a great trend, but it’s led some Catholics to conclude that evangelization is primarily a parish activity to be conducted by professionals, not an individual activity for everyone.

In the early Church, there were no professional programs. Instead, Catholics simply lived their faith and told those around them about it. Though they were persecuted, the early Christians eventually transformed the greatest empire on earth! Evangelization, at its heart, is one-on-one encounters. Any evangelization parish program worth its salt will assist parishioners in engaging in that one-on-one process.

Myth 7: Evangelization is only for extroverts

“Sure, you can evangelize—you like talking to people! But I’m an introvert, I could never do that.” I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m an introvert. Yet I’ve been evangelizing for more than 25 years. The problem is that when we hear “evangelization” we think of someone like Billy Graham and believe we could never live up to that model. However, evangelization isn’t about talking to crowds or giving presentations: it’s about telling those around you of the joy and peace you have in Jesus Christ. After all, even the most introverted will talk to his friends about the things he loves. In other words, if you have friends, you can evangelize. (If you don’t have friends, perhaps think about becoming a hermit!)

Not a Myth: We are all called to make disciples of all nations

Evangelization is a duty of all Catholics, no matter their personality, state in life, or abilities. Let’s reject these modern myths about evangelization and follow the command of Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

By Eric Sammons

Eric Sammons is the author of the new book “The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did” from Catholic Answers Press. You can buy the book now at and listen to his recent guest appearance on Catholic Answers Live


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Myth 1 is the most important because what the Church evangelizes is FEAR. Notice that the emphasis is not on getting to heaven, but avoiding Hell, and they want you to be absolutely positive that Hell is real – but is it? There are four words in the bible that were translated to the pagan word Hell (Hel) a word of German origin that refers to a pagan underworld. The four words translated were:
    Sheol – found repeatedly throughout the OT, everyone good and bad alike went to Sheol. It was not a place of punishment. Many Jews believed you were simply dead forever, others believed Yahweh would wake them at the end of time, judge them and reward them with a renewed garden paradise, or simply destroy them if they failed to measure up.
    Gehenna – with the “good news” of Jesus, as the author indicates, we are now judged as soon as we die, and if we fall short, instead of being simply destroyed, the “good news” is that we will be tortured for all eternity. It’s difficult to see how our condition has improved. In any event, Gehenna was the Jerusalem town dump. It was the ultimate insult for a Jew to be thrown in the dump instead of being given a decent burial. They understood that Gehenna was an allegory, and not something real. Jesus referred to the dump 11 times. Gehenna was closed long ago.
    Hades – this hell became popular as the word moved west to Greek and Roman regions where Hades, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, ruled the underworld. Hades is about as pagan as you can get. If Hades is real, then so are Zeus and Poseidon. Imagine paganism, right there in the NT.
    Tartarus or Tartaroo – bottom level of Hades, that most believe is reserved for Satan and his buddies. I always wondered, if heaven was so glorious and Yahweh so magnificent and loving, why on earth would Satan or anyone else rebel? And didn’t Yahweh know what would happen before he created them? There must be more to this silly story. Heaven and Yahweh must not have been so wonderful. We also have to note that the talking snake told the truth in the garden, and Yahweh did not. But of course, this is all mythology.
    Please fact-check me on the Hell translations above. Learn this for yourself.
    Our idea of Hell is not biblical. It comes from Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Dante’s “Inferno” and an endless supply of Medieval paintings depicting humans being roasted in flames. None of it is biblical. It’s all made up to scare us because the religion is based on FEAR. Where is the justice in punishing a mere human who is provided absolutely no objective evidence to support this invisible being that lives in the sky, for all of eternity, though we live but a handful of decades? Where is the “eye for an eye”? Where is the proportionate justice. Eternal torment for mere humans is simply the most evil concept ever conceived by the mind of man. Who could worship a god, for example, who sends unbaptized infants to Hell? That’s the default destination according the the catechism. Either Catholics invented or worship an extremely evil god who pays no attention to his own words about proportionate justice in the bible, or the men who made up this evil god are themselves evil, given their use of this FEAR to control the sheeple for their own benefit.
    And then of course, this whole concept of sin is based on an event that never happened. There was no two-person DNA bottleneck in the form of Adam and Eve, thus no original sin. It’s all mythology that has been debunked by actual science, just as the six day creation, global flood, Exodus and conquest of Canaan, have all been debunked. What remains of the foundation for the Abrahamic gods? It’s time to put all this unnecessary FEAR to rest.

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