Working for the Church can feel lonely.
I had just finished the last talk at a staff retreat I was leading, and I noticed a woman waiting patiently as I gave advice and exchanged contact information with some of her fellow staff members.
When the room had cleared out, she approached, tears in her eyes.
I tried to ask if she was OK, but I stumbled over my words. She spoke first.
Not exactly what I had expected to hear. I finally found my voice.
“Is everything okay?”
Her name was Anna and she was the DRE at the parish. She went on to explain how deeply she cared about her parish and the people that she served. She told me about all the late nights alone in the office and long weekends around the parish. And she told me that for a long time she felt entirely alone in her work.
“Sometimes I wonder if anyone else even cares,” she said. “It seems like everyone else is just fine with the way things are, and I’m by myself trying to help the parish get better.”
One of the topics I speak about on staff retreats is how to develop a culture where ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough. Almost every person who works for the Church is good hearted and kind natured. More often than not, it is not that they have stopped trying, but ‘good enough’ has become the norm. Anna started pouring over every aspect of the talk. It was one of those, “I felt like you gave that talk just for me” kind of moments.
I’ll share with you the practical portion of the talk which made such an impact on Anna’s parish, and in turn helped Anna feel like she wasn’t fighting alone.
During the talk I give three practical steps for developing a culture where ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough.
1. Be thirsty for best practices
I see it all too often. A parish is trying to do something and they are just making it up as they go along. Or they have been doing something for a long time, and they have ‘their way’ because ‘that’s just the way we have always done it around here’.
There is NO poorer decision-making process than simply settling with, “that’s our way”.
If you want to develop a culture of excellence, become thirsty for best practices. Best practices should influence everything your parish does, from the landscaping to the emails.
Let’s use email as an example.
Every parish sends emails. And more likely than not, ten different staff members spend time collecting the same parishioner's email addresses, and they email them on their own schedule, with their own style - other than the fact that they are all using blue size 16 Comic Sans for their font. It’s awful, and pretty soon parishioners stop opening their email. If it comes from the parish it gets the quick delete.
A parish that is hungry for best practices won’t make up their email design on their own. They will consider who they are trying to reach, find a best practice, and copy it!
Let’s say you work as the secretary for the parish’s grade school, and you are responsible for the weekly email to the parents. Consider who you are trying to reach: the parents of young children. Who is incredible at reaching them? Disney. Go to the Walt Disney Resort website and sign up for their email list. Then look at the emails you get from them and copy them.
If they have a large image as the first thing you see, make sure yours does too. If they use bullets, use bullets. Compare the fonts and try to use the same one, the same sizes, the same colors, and make sure you change it based on headings, body, hyperlinks, etc.
This is just one small example of how you put best practices into action. Use best practices for bulletins, emails, homilies, music, decoration, landscape, parking, communication, and everything else your parish does.
2. Commit to incremental improvement
Imagine if you exert an inch worth of effort twelve times in twelve different directions. How far will you get? One inch.
Imagine if you exert an inch worth of effort twelve times in the same direction. How far will you get? One foot.
When every member of a staff is exerting their effort in their own direction, no one gets anywhere. Get everyone pointed in the same direction and you will be more effective.
Get everyone on the staff on the same page, and get them to commit to one thing at a time. Try to coordinate effort around a single issue that is affecting your church. Then move onto another.
We call this ‘alignment’.
Trying to fix everything at once is a surefire sign that you are taking the short view, and looking for silver bullets. There are no silver bullets in parish renewal, and we can only be successful when we see things as God sees them. And God always takes the long view.
If you coordinate efforts it might mean that an issue you care deeply about won’t get addressed until three or four other issues are addressed. But if you will take the long view and be patient, you will find how much stronger an effort you can make when you aren’t on your own, and how much less lonely it is to work with other people.
3. Work like everything depends on you.
You’ve probably heard the old saying before: Pray like everything depends on God. Work like everything depends on you.
Develop a culture of hard work. If you aren’t sure how to do that, next week I’ll be posting an article on just how to build a culture of hard work in your parish.
People who work hard together feel strong bonds with one another. People who work hard feel better. People who work hard have a sense of skin in the game. People who word hard care more about results. People who work hard have a better sense of accomplishment. People who work hard, simply put, often do better work.
God doesn’t want you to feel like you are on an island. That’s not why we work for the Church.
Parish renewal is hard. Trying to fulfill God’s dream for your parish can feel like lonely work, but it doesn’t have to be.
Look at the three practical steps above, and try implementing them in your parish. You might not have the authority to implement all of them, but you always control your own effort.
Try putting your effort behind someone else’s, even if it doesn’t immediately benefit you. See how that makes you feel more like a team. Commit to best practices in your work, and see who notices. Work hard, and let yourself be an inspiration to the rest of your team.
We always control more than we think. And we don’t have to be alone.
My name is Dominick Albano and I'm an author, speaker, and consultant.