The reality of most Catholic parishes – we are stuck in a culture of comfort, ease, status quo, and administration of the decline of our numbers – will not be easy to change. No program, event, new idea, tweaking of old ways, conference, gimmick, or online video series will change our parishes. We all know this. Rather, it takes an honest look at what really does work and what is failing us. We could have called this post – “The Parish We Are vs The Parish God Wants Us To Be!“
6 Ways to Get Parish Renewal Started
1 – We care more about “the way we have done things” than “the way we ought to do things”.
**Our history, teachings, Saints, doctrines, etc will always matter and we should know them and use them. In fact, we can not be Catholic without these things. But let us not confuse the things that are essential to Catholic identity with the programs, events, classes, etc that make up the main part of activity in a modern parish. Clearly, these are not revealed by God. The Sacraments, the Scriptures, the doctrines, etc are not optional, but many of the ways we spend our time and money (outside of the essentials) are optional.
**We can’t forget about what is before us and where God wants to lead us. Each parish needs to ask:
- Are we really discerning what God wants of us, as a local parish?
- How are we reaching out to those who aren’t coming to church?
- Could we call our parish a disciple factory or is it more like a museum?
- What exactly do we exist, as a Church, for?
- How do we stop doing the things that are taking away from what we ought to be doing?
We have the wrong goals. Getting folks to Mass, getting involved, increased collections, etc are not the right goals. Our goal should be to lead folks to Jesus, then everything else that happens afterward should flow from our discipleship (following) of Jesus. That would include all the rest.
–Try this instead – Visionary leadership. Know what the mission of Jesus is (to “make disciples of all nations“) and follow His lead. Let this mission be the guide for your parish. Orient all activities in a parish around this mission. Stop doing things that don’t play a part in fulfilling this mission. Then only start new things that will help you get better at it. Change is hard, but necessary, if we are going to go wherever Jesus leads us.
2 – We see the culture as an enemy, rather than an opportunity.
**We look at our modern problems and seek out the “holy bubbles” where we (and our families/friends) can be safely kept from their influence. But, the problems found in our current generation aren’t the real issues, but are distractions. Why? Because Jesus had it much worse. He lived in a country that was ruled by an oppressive outsider regime (Rome). They had many restrictions on freedom, just as many sins, and it got so bad, they executed him for daring to speak out.
The early Christians faced much harder issues than us too. They were rounded up and murdered, persecuted, and maligned. Still, they spread the Gospel. Today, Catholic apathy is a bigger problem than cultural issues and we need to honestly look at why that is. We don’t want to pay the cost of sainthood, we aren’t very good at relationships, we don’t like change, and we are too comfortable.
—Try this instead – Let God change how we act, think, and operate as a parish community. This starts with how we act, think, and operate as individuals. Think of the affect a small handful of faithful, joyful, dedicated, and apostolic leaders could have on a parish! Now imagine that group growing to include multitudes more people 5 or 10 years later. You could see real transformation, if you set them free to impact people’s lives.
3 – We don’t embrace all of what it means to be Catholic.
**In fact, there are many parishes who completely leave behind the missionary mandate of Jesus. This means that many times we define ourselves by the secondary issues – preferences in prayer, music, or devotions, what organizations we belong to, what kind of ethnic group we are part of, our politics, etc. The facts are clear, we just don’t get evangelization or discipleship. If we did, we wouldn’t have such massive decline in our parishes. Rather, we would be transforming our local communities. If the mission of the church is to “make disciples” and we aren’t doing that, then we aren’t embracing all of what it means to be Catholic!
–Try this instead – model evangelization and discipleship, by doing them yourself first. If you are a diocesan or parish staff member and don’t know where to start or how to accomplish this, we can help. Still, find someway to grow in your own discipleship and start to share your journey with Jesus with others. It isn’t meant to be kept to yourself!
4 – We depend on clergy (and other professional staff) to be our primary caregivers.
**This model wears out staff and ultimately bottlenecks pastoral care to be done by the “experts”. Think of how busy your parish priests and staff are. Think of how many have been burned out, because they are paid little, don’t have time to themselves, feel overburdened, etc. This is an unsustainable model, because it means that “ministry” to one another is kept for the privileged few that we go to for their expertise. This isn’t the way Jesus intended us to care for one another. Of course, there are things that only clergy can do (namely, the Sacraments and other rites reserved to them). But, we still rely too heavily on them even outside of these duties.
–Try this instead – We need to a model where we care for one another through real relationships and an intentionally structured community. We all want to be connected to others and know we are truly valued and cared for. We have to do this for one another to be able to reach the masses. Leave it to the “experts” rather than the common people and we will only be able to reach a select few, rather than the crowds that need to know they are cared for too. Empowering the average Catholic to take on their own personal mission – by apprenticing under more mature Christians – is the model taught by Jesus.
5 – We don’t have a clear path for parishioners to walk, but a hodge-podge of programming instead.
**Does a newcomer to your parish know how to get involved and what each step on their pathway of discipleship would entail? Would the average parishioner be able to tell you what the plan for themselves (and others) is? If not, then why not? One big reason is we aim for attendance over discipleship. Disciples achieve all our smaller goals – attend church, give money, volunteer, and know they are valued – AND they can make other disciples. People who aren’t disciples, will (most likely) stop attending at some point.
–Try this instead – create a clear pathway, based on the understanding of what it takes to make a disciple and grow a missionary disciple. Then base all activities, events, classes, and programs within this pathway. If something doesn’t correspond to the pathway, then stop doing it – it is a distraction. Of course, we need not change our teachings, liturgy, etc to be more welcoming, do evangelization more, or follow a clear path to discipleship. Rather, it should make us better at all those things.
6 – We confuse method with mission.
Methods are what we do – some we don’t have the power to change (e.g., prayers in Mass), but some we do – programs / events / classes / planning / etc. Mission tells us why we exist. It is the engine which drives the car. We don’t get anywhere without it. When we make our methods into sacred cows – we start to forget what our mission is and make the methods more valuable. Newspapers that won’t go digital (and have gone bankrupt) – are good examples of other organizations that have confused method for mission. So, what are we in the business of? Reporting news or making newspaper? Programs and events or making disciples?
–Try this instead – communicate your mission clearly and allow it to not get confused with methods. The sacred cow events, programs, and classes need to be integrated into the mission or cut. This kind of change is difficult and will take a long time. Thus, it needs to be bathed in discernment and prayer. It will also need leaders of courage and patience, because you will not get 100% buy-in, no leader who does the right thing will (even Jesus)! It is worth the price you have to pay, to see souls enter into heaven.
What about you? Where are you challenged? Do you need help? If you are interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
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