I could walk into your parish and within five minutes I would be able to identify the one or two people who should have been fired ten years ago.
I’ve been using this as a joke at parish leadership events, Legatus meetings, and evangelization trainings for the past ten years and it always gets a great laugh. Why? Because it’s true!
Every person in the room - whether they are the pastor, a parish staff member, or just an engaged parishioner - knows exactly who I’m talking about. The only people who don’t get the joke are the people it is about!
Obviously I’m being a little facetious, but the inability to deal with poor performance is actually a sign of serious organizational health in a parish, and to explain that further I’m going to talk about something I love: Baseball.
At this point in my article I thought I’d start explaining why I love baseball, but I quickly realized how much this would derail my post, so I’m going to skip that for now. Just know this, beyond my faith and family, my favorite thing by a long shot is baseball.
I coach my son’s little league team and I love doing it. To me, coaching is simply the act of visualizing who a person wants to become and helping them make that vision a reality. If you can get the picture of that persons ideal self in your mind, and you know how to help them achieve that ideal vision, you can be a great coach.
Now, keep in mind, little league baseball is not Major League baseball. Playing little league is about a lot more than winning games. This shouldn’t need to be said. But, what about your parish? Is a great parish run more like a little league team or a Major League team?
While it might sound nice and conjure images of flowers and sunshine and rainbows to say a parish isn’t about winning, the truth is that souls hang in the balance. And winning a soul is much more important than winning a baseball game.
So, you need to ask yourself, is your parish running like a little league team or a Major League team?
I want to run through five signs your parish is running like a little league team and how you can avoid them.
1. Goals and Positions
Paxton, my four-year-old, plays T-ball, which is always a riot. Half the kids don’t know if they are right handed or left handed, many just play in their own little world, and there is always someone running off the field to go to the bathroom. It’s hilarious.
There are no positions, the kids just swarm on the ball like ants on an Oreo. And there is no real goal of the game: no one makes an ‘out’, it doesn’t really matter if you touch the bases or not, there are no winners or losers, there is no score, etc.
Everyone specializes in one position. A player might have a secondary position or be more of a ‘utility’ player, but the best players have one area of specialty and they stick to it to best utilize their skills and talents to win the game.
Everyone knows the goal: get runners to advance from base to base until they cross home plate - and prevent the other team from doing so. They know what is a hit, what is an out, and what is a run. They know how to win. Very little is left to chance or interpretation.
The best parishes are run like a Major League team. First off, they have a well established goal and purpose of the parish (this is NOT a given, of course). Second, everyone in leadership - from the pastor, to the staff, the parish counsel, the school teachers, the volunteers - knows the goal and purpose of the parish, and they know how their individual contribution fits into the whole. The best parishes place people in positions that suit them so that their individual talents and abilities can shine in service of the greater mission of the parish.
Ask this: What is the overarching goal your parish is trying to reach, and how do the individual goals of the youth minister, the DRE, the finance council, the music minister, and the school all contribute to that goal? Do the people in those roles know the overarching goal? If you asked them individually what the goal of the parish was, would they all give you the same answer? Would they know the goals of their individual role and how those goals support the overarching parish goal?
2. Keeping Score
At the youngest ages, we don’t keep score. It’s not about knowing who won or who lost, it’s about the experience, falling in love with the game, and building values. Even at older ages, we have run rules and time limits, and we put rules in place so a team can’t run up the score.
Everything is measured against the score. The goal and purpose is to win, and the way you win is to score more runs than the other team. Teams enforce different strategies to try to get walks, hits, runners on base, drive everyone in, and prevent the other team from scoring, but in the end every effort is measured against one thing: the score. If it doesn’t drive in runs or prevent the other team from doing so, then it doesn’t matter. Period.
The best parishes keep score. Plain and simple. They don’t let ideas, events, strategies, or initiatives get by without serious scrutiny about whether or not they were effective in achieving the purpose of the parish. The best parishes know what they are trying to achieve and don’t settle for subpar effectiveness. They are constantly iterating and asking how they can improve. They pursue best practices and have built a culture of continuous learning, all at the service of the mission of the parish.
Ask this: When was the last time your parish openly recognized that something didn't go well, and gave serious thought to how things could be improved in the future? How are you defining success and failure? How are you tracking your successes so that you can repeat what works well, and how are you scrutinizing failures so that they aren't repeated?
3. Keeping Statistics
We don’t keep stats in little league. An eyeball test can usually tell you who the more talented players are. Even if a team does keep individual statistics like batting average, they don't usually share it with the players or families.
No other sport is as obsessed with statistics as Major League Baseball. Teams keep hundreds of individual statistics on every player, and the league keeps records of how individual performances stack up against players throughout history. Everything someone does on the field is scrutinized. We measure, record, analyze, and evaluate everything.
The best parishes give clear expectations and hold people accountable to achieving them. They measure performance and they let people know how they are doing. They have individual goals that contribute to the mission of the parish. If a performance is not up to par, they don’t shy away from that. They coach people to improve.
Ask this: How does someone know if they are doing a good job or not? What are reviews at the parish like? Does the parish even have performance reviews? When they have them, are they vanilla experiences or fearful experiences? Or are performance reviews an exciting time to dig into how to get better? Does the priest ever ask how the homily was received and do you give honest feedback?
4. Individual and Team Goals
Every team needs a united purpose. Yes, part of the goal of Little League is to win. But more important is the character development of the individual players, their growth and improvement as athletes, and their deepening love for the game. Little League can be tough in this regard because we’re all parents, and it’s natural for us to care more about the goals of our kid than the goals of the team. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a reality.
There is one constant and unchanging team goal and purpose, and no individual is placed in front of the team. If you perform poorly, you are expected to work to improve. You will get help from coaches. You will know there is an expectation to do better. If a player can’t improve, eventually he will be replaced.
Building off the third sign, the best parishes set clear expectations, measure performance, and hold people accountable to achieving their goals. But they never allow the needs of the individual to be placed in front of the needs of the parish. Can this get tricky? Absolutely. But violating this sign is why I can walk into most parishes and recognize the person or people who everyone knows should have been let go years ago, but they are still hanging on because everyone wants to be nice and warm and fuzzy. Do I seem heartless? Perhaps. But this I know for sure: parishes are making life worse for that person by allowing them to stay in a role that doesn’t make sense for them, and ultimately the purpose of the parish is suffering.
Ask this: Is ego more important than discipleship? Is feeling comfortable more important than evangelization? Is avoiding conflict better than becoming a better parish? Does it really help someone to keep them in a role that doesn't make sense for them? Does it really help the parish to allow someone to stay in a role where they aren't succeeding? When is the last time someone was replaced for poor performance? When was the last time someone dispositioned a volunteer who wasn't running something well?
5. Participation awards
Everyone gets a trophy. Success is guaranteed. As soon as you decide to play, you win.
No one cares who lost the World Series.
Life doesn’t give participation awards, and neither does a great parish.
Deciding to get healthier, or be a good parent, or be a reliable employee, doesn’t guarantee success. That decision is only as effective as the actions that follow it. You have to do what it takes to achieve those things. There are no participation awards in life.
In the same way, a parish isn’t great just because they decide they want to be. Great intentions don’t make a great parish. I’ve been at parish events where fifty people out of the two thousand family parish showed up and no one ever said: “Hey, that right there, that didn’t work. Let’s figure out what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again.” Instead we get cliches like, “well, quality over quantity” and “ministry isn’t really about the numbers.”
Ask this: What has my parish changed in the last three years? What programs are still running from fifty years ago that everyone knows needs to end but they allow to keep going because of 'tradition'? When is the last time my parish had an honest conversation about how it could improve? Do we have a plan for the future? Do we expect things at the parish to get better or worse?
On my team’s practice shirts for this year I’m putting a quote.
“You don’t get what you hope for.
You get what you train for.”
That quote is just as true on the baseball field as it is in life.
Great parishes know the purpose and mission of their parish, they know how they are going to achieve that mission, they put people in places to succeed. They set clear expectations, measure performance, coach to improve, and aren’t afraid to replace someone who can’t do what needs to be done. Great parishes know that their intentions to be a great parish won’t automatically make them so.
Is your parish running like a Major League team or a Little League team?
Thanks for reading everyone and please comment or email me to let me know your thoughts!
“Once you make a decision, the world conspires to make it happen.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
What a terrifying thought.
Talk about ominous implications.
It’s empowering if you know the right decision and make it. But what if you don’t know or you struggle to make the right choice anyway?
Decision making is difficult. It’s part of life. Half the time I have to ask my wife what I want to order from a menu because I can’t decide. But my struggles with decision making run deep for a few reasons.
1. I can see the both sides of every argument
Watching my mind weigh decisions must be like watching a Chinese championship ping-pong match. I dart back and forth from side to side with unrelenting force and dizzying speed.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a debate between two sides of a political argument, or the choice between chicken or steak for dinner. The problem is that I’m playing this ping pong game against myself and sometimes I can’t let one side win.
2. My mind jumps from A to D
If the logic train goes from A to B to C to D, I rarely get to see the countryside at B and C. That doesn’t make it easy to articulate a well thought out decision to everyone else - a task I frequently find frustrating and exhausting.
This one hurts me in the workplace just as much as at home. I don’t want to backtrack and figure out steps B and C, so I just want people to listen to me and take me at my word. I run the risk of looking arrogant or demanding.
3. Most decisions are a lot more like chess than they are ping pong.
How often do the decisions we face have two clear sides and simple back and forth parameters? Almost never. Sure, choosing between chicken or steak might be like that, but the real decisions of life contain many more shades of gray.
This is where I get stuck overanalyzing. Imagine sitting in front of a chessboard and trying to play both sides of a game in your head by memory. That’s my decision making world.
I want to make the right choice, so I analyze and dissect and imagine and strategize. I mentally calculate move by move trying to get to the conclusion, but it quickly becomes too hard to remember where the pieces are on the board.
But here’s the thing: a proper mindset is one of the most crucial requirements for making a good decision; if not the most crucial requirement. How often have you seen someone in the wrong frame of mind - whether that be jealous, angry, frustrated, impatient, fearful, etc. - make a good choice? And the right decision can never come at the wrong time or for the wrong reason or in the wrong situation because timing and nuance and reason are a part of what makes it the right choice!
The right mindset is crucial, so I’d like to share with you my trick for getting in the right state of mind.
The trick is to get outside of my own head and try to view myself and the situation from an outsiders perspective. Let me explain what this means.
I will try to imagine I’m watching myself almost like e character in a movie. I look at myself from the outside with that omniscient viewpoint of the movie goer, and I assess what I think the character (myself) should think, say, or do.
We’ve all seen a character in a movie think or say or do something that we thought made no sense. We’ve wanted to shout, “why are you going into the house!? Run away you idiot!” Usually just this simple change in viewpoint shows me exactly what I should do next. The decision becomes clear.
When I still feel like I need clarity, I’ll get into that mindset and then I’ll ask some questions.
First, “Would I want other people watching this movie?”
This one cuts to the core. Don’t just imagine you are watching your life like a movie in front of you, imagine you’re in a packed theater. If all the people around you knew the context - what was in your mind, all your motivations, what you did, and why you did it - would that change what you decide to do?
Second, “What would this look like if the movie made it look easy?”
We’ve all seen those scenes in movies where the character does something nearly impossible, but makes it look easy. Whatever you are facing, imagine what it would like if it wasn’t hard.
Third, “What advice would I give someone else who was in this situation?”
Or - what would I yell at the person on the screen?
Fourth (and my personal favorite), “what would the hero version of the person on the screen do, and what would the villain version of the person on the screen do?”
Remember, the person on the screen is YOU. What would you do if you were the hero of the story, and what would you do if you were the villain. Sometimes this will reveal different actions, but sometimes it will reveal differences in your motivations and thoughts. The hero and villain might do the exact same thing, just for different reasons.
If you get all the way through this exercise - you’ve put yourself in the right state of mind and asked yourself these questions - and you still can’t find clarity around your decisions, it’s time to seek outside help.
Flip a coin
Ask a friend
Let your wife decide for you
Write me an email and I’ll decide for you
Curl up in a ball and cry (just kidding)
In the end, you aren’t a character in some movie. You have to decide and live with the decisions. But removing yourself from the situation might make it less complicated. And it’s complications that usually make decision making difficult. When clarity emerges, so - usually - does the right choice.
Ralph might be right about making decisions, so it’s important to make the right ones. I hope this exercise helps you look like a badass in the movie version of your life!
Let me know any thoughts you have in the comments or shoot me an email!
Thanks everyone for reading,
I'm staring out the window of my office, listening to the creaks and bangs of our old heating system. My eyes weren’t focused on anything, but my mind was sharply focused on the problem I had just discovered about myself and my ministry.
I had been a youth minister for four years at this point and I just couldn’t escape the truth anymore. I had ignored it and made excuses for it. But the truth was that I was not seeing my ministry bear real fruit.
I was doing all the right things, going to the right conferences, playing the right music, using the right resources, but the fruit just wasn’t there.
I told myself that ministry isn’t about numbers. I told myself it’s about quality, not quantity. I told myself that ministry is God’s work, not my work. I told myself that sometimes you just don’t see the fruit until years later, long after the teens have left your parish.
But that night, I couldn’t help but look out my window and wonder why my ministry seemed so fruitless. If ministry was the joint work between myself and God, it sure seemed like one of us wasn’t doing something right. And we all know who that must be.
That’s when I discovered the two questions that changed my ministry forever:
What are you trying to do?
How are you going to do it?
As I stared out the window that night, I imagined a parent coming in and asking me these simple questions.
I could use all the right jargon and fill my answers with all the right buzzwords - personal relationship with Jesus if it was the early 2000’s, evangelization and conversion if it was the late 2000’s/ early 2010’s, or intentional discipleship and missionary discipleship in the past few years.
But even though I could make the answers sound great, the truth was that I had no clue what I was trying to do or how I was going to do it.
And it struck me that I really needed to have the right answers to these questions.
Question 1: What are you trying to do?
What are you trying to accomplish? What is your goal?
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be able to give an articulate and well thought-out answer at the drop of a hat?
As you answer this question for yourself, be as specific, simple, and measurable as possible. It’s easy to get caught up in vague answers with technical jargon.
When I first started answering this question it looked something like “to form the teens in my parish into missionary disciples” or “to form lifelong Catholics”. While they sound great, they don't carry a lot of meaning because they aren’t specific, simple, or measurable.
The basic litmus test is this: if you told someone your answer, would you have to further explain to them what you mean? If the answer is yes, then it is not specific, simple, and measurable…or at least not enough.
Question 2: How are you going to do it?
What is your plan to achieve what you are setting out to do?
A good answer to this basic question is the start of a strategy. Some in the Church would scoff at a strategy. They would say you are trying to turn the work of the Holy Spirit into a business. I look at it like this:
There are a thousand things you can do in your ministry and every one of them is good. We are never choosing between bad things and good things, we are trying to choose the best things amongst an endless list of good ideas. A good strategy helps you do just that.
I would encourage you to work backward from your answer to the first question. If what you are trying to do is specific and measurable, you shouldn’t have trouble figuring out what you need to do to get there.
By working backwards you will end up with a simple roadmap to follow.
Use your answers to measure your progress, make adjustments and test new things if something isn’t working. And don’t be afraid to adjust your answers over time. That’s one of the great benefits of answering these questions. You can continuously tweak and improve your answers as you grow in wisdom and experience.
These two questions changed my ministry forever. Now, if someone asks you these two simple questions, you will be able to give them detailed and meaningful answers. But more importantly, you will have gained clarity and insight into your ministry like you’ve never had before.
Thanks as always for reading. Comment below or shoot me an email with your questions.
I was scrolling through my Facebook the other day and a question popped up on my news feed:
“I’ve been asked to give a talk to parents of first graders beginning formal religious education at breakfast after Mass this Sunday.
When I prayed about what to speak about to these parents, community keeps coming to me. And relationship. (Which I feel is so lacking in the Church, at least where we live.)
If you were in my shoes, what is the one simple message you’d want to impart to these parents?”
I didn’t have a lot of time to respond, but I made a quick reply:
“Happiness. What does every parent want for their child? They want them to be happy. Impress upon them that ultimately their children won’t be happy without God.”
The answer was quick and dirty. There was so much more to say and it’s been eating at me for the last day to write up a more detailed response. I also think this one example can serve as a case study for anyone with a similar question.
We all have had a version of this question at some point in our ministry. Whether we are a pastor trying to think of what to say for a homily, a youth minister thinking through our approach on a retreat, a speaker trying to prepare for a major conference or mission, or even just a parent trying to talk to our kids. Some version of this question is there.
At the root of the question in it’s various forms is this: what do I say that will make someone want more?
We know instinctually that we can’t say everything and we know that the work of conversion and discipleship takes longer than this one brief moment we might have with this person or group of people. The hope is that this will be one more step in their journey of becoming a disciple.
And to that point, I want to point out that the woman who asked the question started in the right place. She asked for what “one” and “simple” thing she could share.
The biggest trap in these moments is to try to get away from those two words. Either we say too much, or we make things too complicated, or we try to sound too smart.
When our opportunities seem limited, we want to make the most of them. It seems backwards, but the best way to use our limited opportunities is to make them as focused and purposeful as possible, not to try to cram everything in. Don’t try to say ten things. Don’t try to say five things. Just say one thing. Have one helpful and hopeful point that everything drives back to.
The worst thing we can do in communicating anything is make it complicated. The mind yearns for simplicity. Be as focused and clear as possible. Do NOT go off on tangents. Discipline yourself to create a well thought out and logical outline that makes the points easy for the listener to digest.
Everyone loves to sound smart. But sounding smart doesn’t get us anywhere when it comes to evangelization. No one is impressed with how smart you sound. Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Keep it practical.
Okay, so now, what do we say?
In this case, I recommended she speak on happiness. Why? Because all parents want their kids to be happy. If you ask most people what they want for their kids, this will be their first answer. I don’t care what they do, where they live, where they go to school, what they accomplish…I just want them to be happy.
Healthy is certainly another answer that is up there, and if they care about their faith then holy would be another desire. I usually say I just want my kids to be happy, holy, and healthy. But remember: one thing, not three things.
If you want people to be intrigued so that they will come back for more, the best place to start is always what the other person wants. Show them how what you have to say will help them get what they want.
There are other routes of course. Things that threaten us usually grab our attention. Things that make us feel guilty grab our attention too. Something that amazes or surprises us can also work. But surprising people with the gospel is hard. And I hope we can agree that threatening the group or making them feel guilty isn’t the right way to go. So appeal to what they want. That’s the easiest and most effective route.
The easiest way to screw this up is to try to appeal to something they don’t know they want. For example, do these parents want God? Absolutely. In the depths of our hearts our souls yearn for God. But do they know that or feel that? No, possibly not. And in the ways they do feel it, they probably don’t know that God is their real desire.
A lot of people get messed up with this. They believe - and rightly so - that the people they are trying to disciple want God in the depths of their heart and soul and so they try to appeal to that desire. But it doesn’t make sense. Why would you try to convince someone of a desire they don’t know they have, rather than appeal to a desire they do know they have?
Focus on a good and healthy desire they already know they want, and show them how God’s going to get them there. In the case of parents, it’s a good and healthy desire for them to want their kids to be happy. So show them how only God can ultimately lead them to happiness.
I use a basic five part model for figuring this out. I use this model when I’m giving a talk, writing a blog post, or even just thinking through a situation in my personal life. I’ve developed this model over the past fifteen years of ministry and use it in my work at Dynamic Catholic everyday.
Here are the five parts of the model:
You want: (the good and healthy desire)
God wants: (how God’s desire aligns with my good and healthy desire)
Problem: (why we don’t have what we want)
God’s solution: (how God helps us get it)
We have to do: (how we cooperate with God’s solution)
Here is how we can use this model as it applies to the parents problem:
You want: Your kids to be happy
God wants: Your kids to be happy
Problem: We struggle to choose the things that will make us happy. Sometimes we choose the things we absolutely know will not make us happy, and other times we struggle to choose the things we know will make us happy.
God’s solution: he has a plan for our happiness. If we live according to God’s plan we will be happy.
We have to: look for ways to be more open to God’s plan for happiness in my life. Easy ways to do that: prayer and Mass
And there I have it. I know exactly what I’m going to talk about. And not only that, you’ll notice that it gives me an entire outline for the talk. I’ll build out a few points around each of these main ideas, maybe throw in a personal story to emphasize one or two of them, and make sure I have some helpful and hopeful takeaways, and there it is.
How could I screw this plan up? I could go on a philosophical tangent on what it really means to be happy. I could dive deep into the theology of original sin and talk about how the reason we struggle to choose happiness is because of the fall. But those points steal away from the one simple message.
The next time you are prayerfully planning out what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, I hope this model will help you. Please shoot me an email or leave a comment with any thoughts or questions. I’m always happy to help in any way I can.
And, as always, thanks for reading!
As I walked into the Church I had no idea what to expect. I had just moved to a new city a few months before, and I still mourned the loss of our parish back home. I did a quick assessment of the architecture and seating arrangements, glanced at my wife, and began to lead my family towards the front of the Church.
As we sat in a pew towards the front, my eyes darted around me. I searched for signs of life: men my age and young couples with families. Any sign that this was a place my family would fit in and belong.
I had called the parish a few days before. The secretary was incredibly kind and welcoming to the new community. I asked her a question that was quite simple (in my mind), but it left her dumbstruck.
“Who goes to your Church?”
I just wanted to know if I would fit in. I just wanted to know if the community would fit my family. I didn’t think it was a difficult question. But I could tell her mind was racing for the right things to say. It was like no one had ever asked her before, and it had never occurred to her to think about it. After a few quick attempts at an explanation she passed me along to the Pastoral Associate.
I’ll spare you the details, but know this: he didn’t do much better.
One of the major challenges for Catholic parishes is our lack of knowledge about who is coming to our Church. Where does the typical parish get their information?
the parish database (which may or may not be accurate),
assumptions based on the group of parishioners who are most the most active in the parish,
institutional knowledge about the parish,
and cultural information about it’s surrounding area.
None of this is bad information, but it paints a poor picture. It might seem like we know our people very well, when in fact we only know very little. It’s like the police trying to conduct a manhunt with Picasso as the sketch artist.
If we don’t know who is coming to Church, we can’t help them grow. And if we can’t help them grow, our Church will never grow.
Here are 5 ways you can figure out who is really coming to your Church.
1. Be obsessed with information
Most Catholic parishes use a rudimentary database to keep parishioner information. Some track information, but it’s poorly used.
At the very least you should know:
Sunday Mass attendance broken down by mass time,
children’s liturgy of the word attendance numbers,
average household income in your area,
average household size in your area,
number of cars in the parking lot broken down by mass time,
number of school families,
number of school families who are registered with the parish,
number of families within your parish boundaries,
number of families within a walking distance to Church (what qualifies as walking distance will vary by location),
number of Catholics in your parish boundaries,
and the registered membership and service attendance numbers of the three largest protestant Churches near you.
To be honest, this is just a start. Becoming obsessed with information. Talk about this kind of information on a monthly basis. Distill the information as much as possible. If you do this, your decision making will improve dramatically.
2. Define your members
Most parishes don’t distinguish between all the different people who come to their Church. They are all just ‘members’ of the parish. But some of them attend daily mass and others never come to mass, some of them tithe and some don’t, some send their kids to the school, some are involved in leading ministries, some are volunteers, some never show up to anything, and some moved to Florida years ago.
You need to define what it means to be a member of your parish. And you need to define different levels of parish membership.
When you define what it means to be a member, it will allow you to distinguish between who is a member, who is just showing up, and who is not actually a part of your parish.
I once had a pastor tell me that while his official database said they had 2,300 families at his parish, he would guess that given how people move away and never take their name out of the database, how families wanting baptism for their kids register and then never show up again, how school families register and never attend again after their kids graduate, how they registered all their confirmation kids even though they went off to college, and in general how many people just never actually showed up – he guessed his actual membership was somewhere around 1,000 families. And he thought he was being generous.
3. Discover your crowd
When you accomplish 1 and 2, you will discover something. There is a crowd of people who are either hearing your message and are not a part of your membership, OR there are members of your community who are not hearing your message. This is valuable information you can work with.
If you want your parish to grow, you have to reach the crowd. Crowds followed Jesus everywhere. It’s how he developed disciples. All parishes have crowds around them. Some of them big, some of them small. If you want to grow, you have to discover your crowd.
4. Collect your local census data to create a parishioner profile
Sit down with the people who lead your parish and come up with a profile of the typical person in your area. Answer questions like:
how much do they make?
are they married or single?
how old are they?
do they have kids?
what level of education do they have?
how much money do they make?
how much debt do they carry?
what kind of music do they listen to?
what hobbies do they have?
what are their political affiliations?
If you want to make better decisions about how to help your parish grow, get really clear on who it is you are trying to reach.
5. Give people a chance to respond
I love this one. It’s my favorite.
Create a method for the people in the pews to respond to you. It’s such a simple investment, and yet few parishes give the people in the pew this method of communication. And that matters because many of the people in the pews will never go on the social media pages or website, and they are unlikely to call in. You have one moment to capture their attention, and it’s when they are in the pew. If you want to hear who is really going to your Church, you need to give them a chance to speak to you from the pew.
Try creating a Welcome card. It can be super simple:
Ask for the persons name, phone number, and email address.
Leave space for them to write a prayer request
Leave space for them to ask a question
Then give them three boxes and ask them to check one: first time visitor, regular visitor, parish member
The Welcome card can be left in the pew and you can encourage people to fill them out and put them in the collection basket or give them to the ushers as they leave the Church.
Emphasize the cards at every Mass every weekend, and make sure you tell people that you read every card (and then, of course, do that!). Always add the Welcome card info to your updated database. Remember, you are obsessed with this information.
Ask yourself as you work through every card:
Who is writing this card? What are they asking? Are they members? Where do they live? How have we reached out to them in the past? What should our next step be?
When you give people a chance to respond, it will help you reach the new people, the visitors, and the crowd.
If you take these 5 steps, the next time someone calls your parish and asks who goes to your Church, you are going to know exactly what to say. You will serve your community better, because you will know them better. You will reach your crowd better because you will finally be able to see them. Your membership will be strengthened because it will actually mean something. And as the identity of your community is strengthened, so will your parish.
Thanks for reading! Please comment below or shoot me an email if you have any questions.
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.