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Evangelism Lessons with Taylor Swift
In which I pose a ridiculous question and come back with a completely serious answer.
The other week I had to go to Atlanta for a Taylor Swift concert. Twist my arm.
Let’s be clear about two things:
I could do a whole seminar on areas where the lyrics in some (not all) Taylor Swift songs are contrary to the Catholic faith, and that’s without even touching her politics.
This is not a post where I try to convince you to become a fan, see #1 above.
However, I will never stop trying to convince you that if something is important to your child, it should be important to you. That goes for spiritual children as well, evangelists. There are different ways to live out that maxim, of course. Mine found me dropping in on the Eras tour.
And thus, as long I was there soaking up all that was true, good, and beautiful to be had that evening, I might as well take home a few evangelization lessons as well.
How Much Do Girls Love T. Swift?
The stadium was full, the tour added a third night in Atlanta after selling out the first two nights, and none of these people were casual attendees. My daughter who acquired the tickets when they went on sale for fans with a pre-sale access code had to spend six hours online refreshing her way through the infamous Ticketmaster fiasco, time after time finding her tickets had disappeared in the two seconds between selecting them and clicking to checkout.
Oh and also? Downtown Atlanta is a difficult place to visit, especially for an audience that was (eyeball estimate) 95% female and having to go home in the dark at midnight.
Nobody in that room was there because it was easy and convenient.
These were serious, serious fans.
Question for us here at One Soul at a Time is: How did Taylor get that following, and does any of that how apply to us evangelists?
Is Evangelism Mere Marketing?
Everything I’m going to lay out in the bullet points of things you can learn from T. Swift are all going to fall firmly in the zone of natural gifts and efforts. It’s tempting to say, “But I’m trying to win souls for God! We are not just creating a hype machine!”
That is true.
And yet: God does not disdain the natural gifts He gives us.
If we show disregard for the lesser gifts, there’s no reason to think we’ll be trusted with greater ones.
So let’s learn from one of those sinners who knows how to make the most of what she’s been given.
Express Genuine Gratitude
Girls love Taylor because she loves them. At her concerts she thanks the audience for coming. She doesn’t presume on her fans. She openly and explicitly acknowledges they could have been anywhere else, doing anything else, and it would have been much more convenient.
Note here: She sets firm boundaries. It would be physically impossible for her to high-five even half the audience at a single concert, let alone personally speak with every fan. But within her capacity to express her thanks, she does that.
Are you thankful for the people who come to your parish or your ministry?
Appreciate and Acknowledge Even Small Contributions
I started calling the concert “Taylor Con” because the audience costumes and friendship-bracelet trading made it all feel more like a comic, sci-fi, or gaming convention than purely a concert. There was also the part about the fans singing along every lyric to every song.
Taylor thanked the audience for that effort, and she specifically acknowledged that this active participation was an essential part of the concert — that the show would not be what it was if everyone in the stands weren’t contributing their part.
But she didn’t whine or cajole. It was appreciation, not pestering.
The people who come to church — even the ones who are late, the ones who don’t know the faith, the one who don’t know all the lines and blocking — are making an effort even if that effort isn’t everything you’d hope it would be just yet. Do you recognize that effort? Do you genuinely appreciate that effort?
Keep Working on the Craftsmanship
The performance was spectacular. Way back when, Taylor Swift started out as a competent performer hitting the checkmarks. She has grown tremendously in her craft over the years, and the amount of work that went into creating the current tour was mind-blowing. It was like watching multiple major theater productions all strung together in a single night.
We evangelists aren’t tasked with showmanship. We’re tasked with prayer, worship, works of mercy, and proclaiming the Good News. So the measure isn’t, “Is my Mass as dazzling as a Taylor Swift concert?” But rather it is: Given what my personal ministry actually is and therefore what it is supposed to be like, am I improving my efforts at that work which God has called me to carry out?
Listen. I know we who evangelize are largely amateurs and volunteers, and we’re banded together by staff who are in it as a ministry, not a money-making scheme.
If you have to choose between zero Mass or a so-so Mass, have Mass. If you have to choose between limping along with your cobbled-together effort at Bible study or offering nothing at all . . . offer that something, however humble. It’s better to awkwardly answer a question about the faith than to never let anyone know you’re open to questions because you’re afraid of screwing it up.
But. But but but: Keep working on it. Recognize your weaknesses and ask God to help you improve in those areas. Pray for more helpers. Be open to training or assistance from people who are good at what you aren’t good at. Even Taylor doesn’t do it all entirely on her own, and she never has.
One of the reasons the most recent concert tour sold out before tickets were even offered to the general public is that it was possible to get a surprisingly affordable seat, as major concert tickets go. Not the best seats, but a seat.
As Christians we’re held to an even higher standard.
Now I have never heard of a modern Catholic parish literally divvying out pews according to who donated the most. I have, however, heard many, many stories of barriers to entry for those who have disabilities, limited income, non-standard work hours, or a lack of transportation.
Likewise, it is no secret that sometimes Christians get cliquish. Certain personalities or styles get favored in what should be all-comers ministries, and those who don’t fit in comfortably are blamed for not being the right “type”. As if Jesus had a certain aesthetic.
And again, here, I know that you personally can’t solve all these problems. I know that awareness and inclusion can be an impossible standard when you’re barely holding on yourself. You can only do so much. But you can control your mindset.
Ask yourself: Who isn’t here? Who can’t come? Why can’t they be here, or why don’t they come? How can we help change that?
Be “All Things to All People”
In 1 Corinthians 9 St. Paul writes about being “all things to all men.”
For those of you who are TS-agnostic, here’s the scoop: The woman produces in an exceptionally broad spectrum of musical styles, covering a wide range of themes. If you want to be one of the most successful musicians of all time, apparently you have an edge if you produce enough variety in your music that all different kinds of people can find something in your rep that they like.
What does this have to do with evangelism?
Catholicism is for everybody. The entire world, every single person. We aren’t some esoteric denomination only destined to serve a certain small group.
It means that my parish needs to be a suitable landing space for all the kinds of people who live in my community — not just the people who have a certain temperament, intellectual ability, social class, or taste in hymns.
This is daunting, but it’s also very freeing. Every already-a-Catholic is needed in the local mission field, because our varying interests, personalities, and professions put us in touch with different kinds of people that others in our parish might never even meet.
There is no one in your parish who has “nothing to do” in the work of evangelism.
Two questions to consider:
Is my parish or my ministry open to creating a space for those complete weirdos I can barely stand, in the event I can behave myself decently enough that they’ll brave my company?
Are there people I personally encounter that I’ve written off as “not Catholic material”? What small (or big) changes can I make in light of the fact that God is calling me to be an avenue for them to grow closer Him?
T. Swift is a big-audience girl. But the Catholic faith is bigger.
Deal With the Hard Topics
If you asked me what aspect of Taylor Swift’s work is most contrary to the Catholic faith, my answer wouldn’t be the sex (though there are a few problems there, too). It would be revenge fantasy.
At least, I’m charitably going to call it fantasy and fervently hope that’s the case.
And yet: My goodness we crave revenge because we hurt so badly.
If you gathered together the entire corpus of T. Swift lyrics, you’d hit on some disastrously dysfunctional responses to terrible situations, but you’d also find beauty, hope, and heroism. What you won’t find is a writer who is afraid to tackle the worst possible things — death, murder, adultery, betrayal, scorn . . . these are things that people deal with, and they need words and patterns for how to respond.
Sometimes in our efforts to be appealing and non-controversial, we act like horrible stuff doesn’t happen much.
It does. Either the Church (that’s us) has answers for people suffering in these miserable and often unsolvable situations . . . or else people have to look to Spotify and hope for the best.
Respond to the Deepest Human Needs
If I were to pick a single song that I think explains Taylor Swift’s immense fanbase, it would be “New Year’s Day.” Why do I say that? Because it captures the deep human need to give and receive devotion and faithfulness, even sacrificially.
People need meaning and purpose in their lives.
The Catholic faith offers that meaning and purpose completely and perfectly.
As evangelists we can sometimes get a little bitter. We can be like, “Why would someone settle for mere Taylor Swift in a stadium, when Jesus Christ is right here?! Offering infinitely more!”
Well, that’s our challenge. People don’t know what we have on offer.
How can you use your words and actions to change that?