On and off campus, FOCUS energizing and innovating Catholic evangelism

The new breed of Catholic campus ministry typified by the organization FOCUS has not only shown wide success among students but is influencing parish life with its “spiritual multiplication” approach to growth. A three-part series on FOCUS in the National Catholic Reporter (April 6–19, April 20–May 3) shows how in the last decade, even while stressing orthodox Catholicism, it has borrowed from evangelical counterparts, such as InterVarsity and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), using small-group Bible studies and one-on-one mentoring to build Christian disciples. While working within the Catholic Church structure, FOCUS has also improvised outside of institutional constraints, such as by training self-supporting “missionaries” who evangelize and disciple students and others in the faith. Today the organization has chapters on 137 campuses around the country, led by 700 missionaries, with an annual budget of $57 million a year (double its operating budget of five years ago).

Such growth and influence has attracted the attention of Church officials and other campus ministries, some of whom are critical of FOCUS’ stress on individual piety rather than social action and its lack of training for its leaders. Nevertheless, FOCUS and its strategy of “spiritual multiplication,” which enlists students and other members to start their own Bible studies and evangelize and disciple others, is moving into parish life, reports Heidi Schlumpf. FOCUS’ strategy of “win, build, send” is being tested in a new pilot program that has been launched in four parishes in Oklahoma, North Carolina, California and Illinois, and FOCUS plans to expand to 25 parishes in the next five years. Its ministry will likely be welcomed in parishes struggling to reach young adults. In one of the test parishes in Chicago, FOCUS missionaries started by hosting a young married couples’ group that broadened beyond the young adult demographic, leading to 16 Bible study groups of 8 to 10 parishioners each. Schlumpf adds that although FOCUS seems to be targeting large suburban and urban parishes, their self-supporting missionary approach may be needed more in inner-city and rural parishes that suffer most from a lack of resources. But just by its large network of alumni who are now active in parishes, FOCUS is likely to have a long-term effect on parish evangelism efforts, she concludes.

(National Catholic Reporter, https://www.ncronline.org/)