If I told you that you could transform your parish culture in 5 easy steps, would you want to know how to do it? Even if it was hard, would you be willing to work at it? Would you be willing to pay a steep price to access the steps? If you respond “yes”, then you have “Catholic Silver Bullet Syndrome”. We all want easy solutions to difficult problems, the problem is, that isn’t how Catholic renewal works in real life.
Catholic leaders have been falling prey to Silver Bullet Syndrome for generations. Parishes buy the next hot video series, pastors implement new leadership strategies, DREs implement new curricula, Youth Ministers go to the best conferences, Bishops hire consultants to lead new pastoral planning processes, diocesan leaders buy boxes of books and give them away, etc. We have done these things for many years, looking for the quick and easy steps that will transform us and our parish culture.
But, it doesn’t work.
There are no silver bullets.
There are many things we can learn from this. The first is that these things (books, conferences, programs, etc) only accomplish what they are meant to accomplish. For instance, a conference can teach, be a place of encounter/conversion, start a relationship with another (or deepen it), etc. But a conference (or book, program, etc) cannot do the work that it takes to renew a parish. In other words, it isn’t the conferences, books, programs, events, etc that are bad. Rather, it is the way they are being used and the false expectations that are attached to them. The problem comes when Catholic leaders mistake them for the silver bullet that will guide them to renewal, transformation, or culture change.
Nothing is quick or easy about culture change through renewal.
Nobody has completely transformed a modern parish quickly or easily. The truth is, transforming the culture of a parish takes hard work, determination, prayer, and probably some failures. Below are some things we have learned along the way, in trying to help parishes change their culture.
Non-Negotiables in Parish Renewal
If your leadership doesn’t have the proper vision, your parish will struggle to change. If you read any leadership book, listen to a leadership podcast, or read about leadership on the internet, you will have heard/read that vision in an integral part of leadership. That is because it is true. Without vision a leader doesn’t know what they are aiming at. Without vision a leaders can’t point those they lead in the right direction. Here is some good news, Jesus already has given us a vision for the Church (to be of one mind, heart, soul, and body with the Father)! The job of a Catholic leader is to take the vision of Jesus and apply it in a particular context, not completely rework it. Here is the bad news, few Catholic leaders know how to cast a vision and then get others to buy into it. Still, this isn’t an insurmountable problem, but a skill that can be learned, especially if you have someone who has done it before coach you through the process. Here is one place you can start to form your vision.
You can’t renew a parish or drive significant change overnight, so you better be ready for the long haul! Parish work is already hard, but changing a parish culture is even harder. Dedication, prudence, perseverance, and patience are all key. Since there are no magic bullets (please admit this to yourself), every Catholic leader who wants to be a change agent, needs to know that culture change is a long-term project, yet worth every headache you will ever run into. Think of how little fruit the average Catholic parish (in the USA) produces in comparison to what it could be doing. Are they without fruit? Of course not. But, the mission of a parish is to be a source of God’s love to the wider community, to make disciples of everyone in the local area. To offer salvation and mercy to the Catholics who come to Mass AND every other soul that is currently outside communion with Jesus and His Church. Are we achieving this? If not, then what will it take to get there? Are we committed to the long-term efforts it will take to make this a reality? Is salvation of others our priority or not? What are we willing to do to change the status quo? These questions and many more help us determine if we are really ready to change the culture or if we are just placeholders of a position in the Church.
Parish renewal and transformation will not happen if all we focus on is how to run better meetings, organizational health, internal issues, better communication, etc. While the modern parish certainly needs these better operations, healthy organizational processes, and better communication – these things cannot (in and of themselves) transform a parish. They can help build a sturdier foundation on which renewal can be built, but alone they merely make us more efficient at achieving the same goals that have failed us previously. True change needs to come from renewed lives and conversion of hearts, which then leads to more missionary disciples who share Jesus with others. The Church is not just a business which is seeking profit margins. Yet if all we do is evangelize without a healthy internal culture, processes, etc – then we will be frustrated by the lack of momentum we are able to create. This is a both/and situation. We need pastoral renewal and healthy organizations.
Nothing happens without sustained and daily prayer, from both individuals and the community. This is the kind of prayer that first changes your own life and then spills out to change the lives of others. Furthermore, it can’t just be your own personal prayer, but the prayer of a parish. If you want to grow, change, and renew your parish, then don’t fall into the lie of thinking it will happen merely on your own efforts. Rather, God is the one who changes hearts. So, invite him in, as a community. This prayer needs to be sustained for the long haul. Remember the parable of the widow and the unjust judge…
Only transformed people can transform a culture. Only transformed people can transform a parish. Until you are transformed yourself, then how can you expect to transform those around you? Until there are others that are also transformed, working on the same goals (evangelization, discipleship, etc), then how can you change the culture? You can’t. So, while you keep the larger vision in front of you, do the hard daily work of investing in others, building relationships, winning trust, preaching the kerygma, aiming for conversion, etc. Then watch the fruit start to roll in through the years. If you want to build these skills, then explore our other blog posts. If you want to be coached in how to implement them in your parish, I invite you to consider partnering with us and having us coach your leadership team through them.
Let us return for just a moment to the crux of this post – transforming culture is hard. But, it is also worth everything it takes to achieve it. It is worth the effort, time, money, headaches, and crosses you will bear. The world needs us to do our part in spreading the Good News of Jesus.
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