Archbishop Listecki in Milwaukee once told me, “trying to implement change in a parish is like trying to turn the Titanic.” Now, I doubt he intended any deeper meaning to his analogy – the Titanic did not have a very happy ending – but the imagery sticks with you.
Parish renewal is hard, and it’s especially hard for me. Why? Because I hate sitting around waiting for things to happen.
If you are like me, you are a doer. You are accomplishment driven, hyper-focused, and a quick-mover. You pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.
I want things to happen and I want them to happen fast, but there are no silver bullets when it comes to parish renewal. You won’t change one thing and watch as all the dominoes fall.
It’s more like moving a gigantic windmill. It’s heavy, and your effort barely gets it to move. Every action you take is one more push. But if you keep applying pressure every trip around takes a little less effort. Eventually, turning the windmill will be easy. Until it does, just keep pushing little by little.
Here are four things a parish can do right now to get the windmill moving.
1 - TAKE A CENSUS
In the business world, knowledge is power, and information is essential. Businesses place an incredible amount of importance on customer research and consider information about their customers to be one of their most valuable assets.
But most parishes have inaccurate and outdated parish databases. We don’t really know who belongs to the parish, how much they give, how frequently they attend mass, where and how they volunteer, etc. We need to know who is coming through our doors every weekend. This information can help you make better decisions to serve the people in your pews.
Consider doing a full parish reboot. Delete the database and require everyone to re-register.
Make it as easy as possible for people to re-register, including registration packets in the back of pews, mailing packets to existing mailing addresses, the ability to register online, and having volunteers with tablets walking around before and after mass asking people if they need help re-registering. People won’t like re-registering, so make it easy for them. Accurate information is invaluable to your parish.
Another way to clean up the database is a full database call campaign. Get your list, split it up with a team, and start calling people to update info. Do this even if it takes weeks, and make sure you talk to every single person. If someone doesn’t answer, leave a message. But call back until you speak with someone. If they never answer or call back, delete their info.
Making sure you have accurate information will help you get more accurate data on your parish, which will inform decisions so you can serve your people better.
2 - ESTABLISH A MEMBERSHIP COVENANT
Establishing a membership covenant is essential. Most parishes can’t tell you what it means to be a member. They can give you an answer, but every person you ask will tell you something different. There is a total lack of clarity and intentionality when it comes to membership.
If you establish a membership covenant, you will know what it means to be a member, and so will anyone else who checks out your church. People rise or fall to the level of expectations you set for them. Right now, most parishes set the level of expectation incredibly low, and are disappointed that the people don’t rise above it.
It’s time to raise the bar.
3 - FIRE THE PARISH COUNCIL
Just kidding! Sort of….
I work with a lot of parishes and this is what I have discovered about parish councils: they aren’t what they say they are.
A parish council is typically made up of the heads of different parish committees. The evangelization committee, the worship committee, the stewardship committee, the service committee, the school committee, etc.
Here is the problem – most of these committees are just a group of dedicated volunteers who may or may not have an idea of what is actually going on in the functional area of their committee. While these people have good intentions, that doesn’t mean they have any insight or vision for how things can improve.
Parish council meetings should be the most important monthly meeting of your parish. Council members should be trusted advisors to the pastor and passionate advocates for the staff. They should support and encourage. If your parish council isn’t one of your favorite groups of people at the parish, get a new parish council.
4 - FORM A LEADERSHIP TEAM
This one isn’t just for pastors. If you are a youth minister, director of stewardship, DRE, or just about any other position at a parish, it’s time to develop a leadership team. If you are a member at a parish and the pastor doesn’t have one, encourage him to form one, even if you aren’t on it.
Strategic decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. We all have blindspots. No one has every answer. We need dedicated people who can help us see the whole picture and come to the best decisions.
Too many people in the church make all their choices on their own. They have their own little realm, and no one gets to advise the King (or Queen). This isn’t how good decisions are made.
The purpose of a leadership team is to challenge you, not to praise you. Find four to six people you trust, who will not hesitate to tell you that you are wrong, and ask them to join your leadership team. This is not a group of people to execute on your vision. They are there to help you form the strategy around your ministry.
Every parish in America wants to see change and renewal. There are a thousand different things parishes could do, some of them unique to that parishes situation or circumstance. But every parish should take a census, establish membership covenants, renew the parish council, and establish leadership teams.
These four simple action items will bear incredible fruit for your parish, and you can do them right now, tomorrow, this weekend. If you are still gaining traction in your parish, feel free to start with one. I recommend starting with the parish census. It’s hard to know where to go if you don’t know where you are.
I know it’s hard, and at times discouraging. Just keep pushing the windmill. I promise that little by little, bit by bit, it will move forward.
Thanks for reading! Please comment below or shoot me an email if you have any questions.
My name is Dominick Albano and I'm an author, speaker, and consultant.