Gina Christian

“Great work on the report, team — but I need you to circle back and get granular.”

I scowled at the phone in the conference room, thankful that my boss (who was calling in from a sales trip) couldn’t see.

I certainly didn’t mind providing a new report, but my manager’s business jargon often made the English major in me want to throw a Jane Austen novel at him.

After the call, my colleague turned to me, puzzled. “What does he mean by ‘get granular’?” he asked.

“It means he wants more detail and I’m not taking lunch today,” I groused as I headed back to my desk.

Buzzwords have always made me cringe; they’re overblown and confusing. Ironically, though, the phrase “get granular” describes a vital necessity in today’s church. When it comes to evangelization, we must indeed move from the general to the specific.

That need for detail became even clearer to me as I read a recent article on missionary discipleship. The text was fervent; the author’s desire for the salvation of all sincere. Scripture quotes peppered the piece, which concluded with an eloquent prayer that we would journey forth into this world as true bearers of the Good News — arms open, hearts afire, singing a (preferably Catholic) hymn.

And by the end of the article, I still had no real idea of what it meant to be a “missionary disciple.”

Sure, I could probably come up with some fuzzy definition, even without reading Pope Francis’ writings on the subject. But if I had to “get granular” — if I had to describe what it meant to be a missionary disciple while I was at work, in line at the store, chatting with my neighbors, driving in traffic, relaxing with friends — I was uncertain.

Was I supposed to hand out religious tracts? Wear a rosary? Remind everyone to go to Mass on Sunday?

Maybe a few silent Hail Marys for humanity at large would suffice. I want all souls to go to heaven — but I don’t want to offend anyone by bringing up Jesus at the dinner table, let alone the water cooler.

So perhaps we should get granular, and start by defining “missionary disciple.”

In Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis paired the two veteran Christian nouns into this energetic new term: “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).

The title may seem daunting, but those of us in the pews can’t plead that we’re not qualified. Although he encourages us to constantly deepen our knowledge and love, Pope Francis writes that a lack of advanced theological training “does not mean that we should postpone the evangelizing mission; rather, each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are” (Evangelii Gaudium, 121).

And that’s where we need to drill down, because too often we mistake trading Christian shoptalk with fellow believers for actual evangelization. While we should encourage each other, we must also reach those who have never heard the Gospel, as well as those who heard it once upon a time, but have long forgotten it.

In the United States, that task has taken on new urgency. According to the Pew Research Center, “the share of Americans who do not identify with a religious group is surely growing,” clocking in at 23 percent in Pew’s 2014 survey. The rise of the “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — is being driven by Millennials, the generation that will ultimately succeed the Baby Boomers and inherit this nation.

But the dire data should not silence us into hopelessness. As missionary disciples, we are called to create a new reality of peace, justice and joy, one soul at a time.

Pope Francis particularly directs us to engage in an “informal preaching” that is “respectful and gentle,” one that begins with “personal dialogue” in which we listen compassionately to the other, then humbly share our own faith, perhaps offering a Bible verse or a prayer (Evangelii Gaudium, 128). Such encounters can “happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (Evangelii Gaudium, 127).

This ordinary witness can have extraordinary results, as a friend of mine can attest. After Sunday Mass at a neighboring church, she was offered a copy of the bulletin by a smiling parishioner. She accepted it, thinking she would scan it quickly and then set it aside, since she was from another parish.

But a notice for an upcoming event caught her eye — a post-abortion healing retreat that could help a woman she’d gotten to know, someone who was struggling with profound grief and remorse. A little nervous about making such a bold suggestion, she texted her the retreat information.

A few weeks later, she saw the woman, who had just returned from the weekend-long experience. “I feel as if a weight has been lifted,” she whispered, her eyes radiant. “I can begin to heal.”

Her life had been radically changed because of people who “got granular” with the Lord’s call to evangelize. The retreat leaders, the welcoming parishioner, my friend — each took concrete action that resulted in the saving love of Christ reaching a wounded soul, who in turn can now bear witness to others.

In drilling down on missionary discipleship, Pope Francis gets still more specific:

“So what are we waiting for?” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120)


Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia.