I was at a party recently, and I knew very few people. I was wandering around from conversation to conversation, trying to pick up a thread I could contribute to, and not having much luck. Then I realized I was standing next to a man who, I had overheard someone else say, was a tennis player. I don’t like tennis, I don’t watch it, I don’t play it. I think it’s boring, difficult to master, a bit elitist, and expensive.
But I figured I could at least spend five minutes making small talk about it.
“So, you play tennis?” I asked.
Thirty minutes later, my new friend Jay had my phone number and my e-mail address and had me seriously considering taking lessons. This guy is an on-fire evangelist for tennis.
Put some spin on your pre-catechumenate with these simple techniques
I think we can use Jay’s techniques to improve our own evangelization skills. Here’s what Jay did:
- Jay didn’t tell me he played tennis. It just became acquired knowledge, because Jay is so thoroughly “the tennis guy” in that community. Everyone around him knows he’s a tennis player. Lesson: Be so obviously Christian that everyone knows you are one, even if you don’t say so.
- Jay must have told me a dozen times how great his fellow tennis players are—not as players, but as people. He told me how welcoming and kind they are and how they are just great folks. Lesson: Most “seekers” are looking for a community. Talk about what you like about your community.
- The whole time Jay was talking, his face was beaming. He was smiling and nodding his head. His enthusiasm was catchy. Lesson: Be excited about the faith. Let your enthusiasm show.
- Jay remembered my name. He used my name a lot when he was talking to me. He told me he’d get my phone number and e-mail address before the party was over. And he did. Lesson: Be genuinely interested in the seeker. Be interested enough to remember his name and how to contact him.
- Jay told me what my next step should be. He told me not to bother with private lessons. “Too expensive,” he said, “and you don’t need that.” He told me to take free clinics at his club. “They’re held on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings after work.” Lesson: Hold regular “free clinics” that are convenient and that you can invite seekers to. And then invite them.
- Jay was obviously a good tennis player. I asked him if he’d been playing since he was a child—thinking that’s when all the good tennis players started. “I started in college,” he said. “Then I quit six years later when I had kids and didn’t start again until I was 50.” I’m 50. I asked Jay how long it would take me to get good enough to have fun. “Six months,” he said. I thought, I can do that. Lesson: Make it sound completely doable for someone to become Catholic, no matter what their situation is. Because it is doable.
I saved this one for last, because the time issue is one of the biggest objections of many seekers. And that objection gets reinforced by many RCIA leaders who promote an abbreviated catechumenate. A complete catechumenate takes too much time, they say. Notice, though, Jay didn’t tell me I’d be as good as he is in six months. In six months, I could make it to beginner status. I’d know enough that I could get on court and hit the ball back over the net fairly often.
And for someone who really wants to learn how, they can easily start being Catholic within six months. They cannot get baptized until they have been in the catechumenate for a full liturgical year, but they can get on the court and begin to feel pretty confident about their faith. Being a catechumen is being Catholic.
How about you? What do you think of Jay’s techniques? Do you use any of them? Do you have any others to add? Hit the comments link, and let us know.
(This article originally appeared in Today’s Parish Minister, September 2008.)
2 thoughts on “Six lessons on evangelization from a tennis guy”
Great article. I’m inspired to pick up my tennis racket again and I like the analogies to inviting seekers and even some parishioners to “free RCIA clinics”. Some parishioners participation would make great guest instructors at the clinic.
Great score: love-love
Great story! Thank you.