Evangelism, Evangelization, and Catechesis

Article excerpt

There are as many definitions of "evangelism" as there are definers. Some of these definitions focus on evangelism's message, some on its intended results, some on the recipients of its message, and some on the methods used to transmit that message. As might be expected, the differences between such definitions can be great.

Sometimes the word "evangelization" is used as a synonym for evangelism. For many, however, the word evangelization is unknown, and those who are familiar with it do not agree on its definition.

The word "catechesis" is similar to evangelization. That is, some are unfamiliar with it, and few agree on a definition. Further, the language of evangelization and catechesis is often confused. In light of this, I shall suggest definitions of "evangelism," "evangelization," and "catechesis" and then offer descriptions of their characteristics.

The early church understood its mission to be that of proclaiming the gospel of God's salvation through word and example to those who did not know it or had not accepted it. The objective was to attract persons to the church with its good news concerning God's reign. I call this "evangelism," and it took place in the society where people lived and worked.

Persons who were attracted to the Christian community of faith and its way of life through acts of evangelism were brought to an initial commitment to Christ and incorporated into the life of the Christian community of faith. This process I term "evangelization," and it took place within the life of the church.

Evangelization ended after a fifty-day period known as the "mystagogia," which followed Baptism. However, as soon as this process was completed, another intentional, life-long process of learning and growth, which I call "catechesis," began so that the faith of the newly baptized might be enhanced and enlivened and their Christ-like character more fully formed.

Accordingly, evangelization, along with prescribed rites, may be defined as a formative process of initiation through participation in and the practice of the Christian life of faith. It aims at conversion and the preparation of persons for Baptism.

In the case of adults, evangelization precedes catechesis, just as in Jesus' words at the end of Matthew: After first saying, "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...," Jesus adds, "...teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:16-20). For children who have been baptized, the process is a bit different. Through catechesis (which has an evangelization dimension) children are led toward making a personal affirmation of faith and of commitment to the Christian way of life (understood by some as Confirmation). Nevertheless, following that action, catechesis continues. Thus, catechesis is the intentional, life-long process by which Christians are made, fashioned, and nurtured. Evangelization is a similar process engaged in by adults to prepare them for both Baptism and this life-long pilgrimage.


Christian initiation, characterized by a series of rituals and a process of evangelization to prepare adults for Baptism, developed early in the church's history. By the second century it was fully established. However, by the sixth century it was no longer practiced. With the establishment of Christendom in the fourth century, infant baptism, followed by some attempts at catechesis, became normative. As time went on, catechesis in the church was increasingly neglected. It was assumed that the society would nurture Christians. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the time of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the language of catechesis diminished among Protestants; and the language of education, with a primary concern for the acquisition of knowledge and skills, evolved. The theological concern became doctrine, believing propositional truths. …