Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive
If you know me at all, you’ve undoubtedly heard me speak – probably more than once – about Holy Infant parish in Ballwin, Missouri, where I grew up. The parish was the center of our family’s life, and the focal point of our community. It seemed as if everything revolved around the parish! Maybe that is why one of my greatest joys as Archbishop of New York is when I get to visit one of our nearly 300 parishes, celebrate Mass, and spend some time with the people.
News about parishes hasn’t always been so happy in recent years, as it seems more and more people have decided that they are “spiritual but not religious,” and have turned their back on any sort of organized religion. Many feel as if they weren’t “getting anything” from their local church. And while we know that distorts or overlooks the centrality that the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should have for Catholics, it is clear that there was something that wasn’t right.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing on my radio show Mr. William E. Simon, Jr. who is a good friend and the author of a new book, Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive.
This superb book looks at 244 vibrant parishes, and examines what makes them successful at a time when so many people say they no longer find any value in organized religion.
What makes them thrive? Here are the four areas that Bill found:
Share leadership – Pastors leading vibrant parishes realize the value of allocating some leadership responsibilities to competent lay staff members. Shared leadership – practiced in various ways – is the optimal model of leadership in today’s complex parishes.
Focus on fostering spiritual maturity. The spiritual growth of a faith community is a flexible, ongoing dynamic that must be continually reevaluated to nourish the spiritual hunger of the people and to give them a real sense of belonging and commitment to the parish.
Excel on Sundays, which requires careful planning all week long. Thriving parishes welcome all comers warmly, are attuned to the needs of children, provide the best music they can afford, offer compelling homilies, and ensure the physical surroundings are inviting. This requires intentional commitment of staff time and financial resources.
Intentionally evangelize, challenging insiders to look outward and providing pastoral care and service programs that invite outsiders into deeper relationship with Christ.
There’s a lot more to be found in Great Catholic Parishes.
For example, Pastors at vibrant parishes are excited about using new resources to measure and grow engagement. They seek ways to measure how engaged parishioners are in parish life, as well as to identify the the strengths of staff members and parishioners to better match their gifts with parish needs.
They also realize that the “Sunday experience” is not limited to Sunday. In the modern age, with smart phones and social media, there is a much more interactive approach during the week leading up to Sunday, and a wonderful chance to build parish engagement through the use of new communications technologies.
An encouraging note is that Catholics are getting much better at evangelization. Pastors, senior staff and key members of the parish are much more open to talking about how they can evangelize, and Pope Francis has been a huge inspiration in this regard.
I would hope that pastors, members of parish and finance councils, and everyone who loves their parish will look up this book. It’s a good read, full of personal stories and observations as well as practical strategies for ministry.
Most of all, it is optimistic and hopeful about all the great things being done in our parishes all over the country. It’s a real booster shot for me, and, I would suspect, for any who cares about the future of Catholic life in this country.