When I was a Protestant evangelist, I had one goal: get someone to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer.” This prayer essentially asks God to forgive the person of his sins and invites Jesus to become Lord of his life. Once prayed, the work of the evangelist was successfully completed, and he could move on to the next potential convert.
Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? And in many ways it was easy…too easy. Once I became Catholic, I realized how flawed this method was. Although I could get people to say the prayer, and by itself the prayer was theologically valid, using it as the singular goal of evangelization was an oversimplified approach, for of course evangelization is much more than just getting someone to say a single prayer.
So what should be the invitation of the Catholic evangelist, if it’s not to pray the Sinner’s Prayer? This will vary depending on the person we’re evangelizing. Right now, let’s only look at evangelization efforts directed toward fallen-away Catholics. Why? Because they are often the “low-hanging fruit” for evangelization, since they already have a connection to the Church. And sadly, they make up the second-largest religious group in America—so there is a lot of work to do. Fallen-away Catholics clearly need to be (re-)evangelized, but what should our specific invitation be?