Describe a successful parish. What is taking place that makes you believe it is successful? How do you evaluate the presence of holiness?
I recently read the book Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute by Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph. On page two there is a quote which states, "The kind of thinking that led to past success will not lead to future success." The subtitle of the book is what caught my attention when I was perusing the business section of the public library. The subtitle says, ENGAGE PEOPLE AND WATCH YOUR ORGANIZATION SOAR! This seemed quite pertinent to ministry in the Church so I decided to check it out.
While I do not want to turn pastoral ministry into a "business," I think there are significant lessons that can be learned from the world of business which are applicable to ministry. I am of the opinion that we have a duty to be as effective as possible in our ministerial outreach while being responsible stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to our care.
Do we not want to see our organization (the Church) soar? Are we not concerned about the eternal salvation of everyone in our community and beyond? Are we effectively reaching those in the pews with the Good News of Salvation? How about those not in the pews? What is our outreach to those who have no affiliation with any religion at all? Is there an intentional missionary outreach that comprises a significant portion of our resources being dedicated to that endeavor?
Believing in the mission and ministry of the Church must compel us to action. If we don't believe in the Good News of Salvation ourselves our outreach will always lack enthusiasm and zeal. If we do believe in the mission there will be a sense of urgency in our evangelizing efforts. It is vital that people have the opportunity to encounter God and experience the redemptive message of Jesus Christ. This is no small task we have been assigned.
On page three of the book the authors list four critical organizational attributes:
1. Customer and quality driven
2. Revenue - and cost-effective
3. Fast and flexible in responding to market changes
4. Continually innovating
I would like to spend a little time with each attribute in the context of the life of the Church.
While the Church is not "selling" a product, we must be customer oriented and quality driven. People look to the Church to find refuge in the person of Christ. The preaching, teaching, and healing ministry of Jesus continues on in the life of the Church today. The bishops and priests lead us in this ministry but all of the baptized share in the responsibility. Is it genuinely meeting a need of the people? Is the ministry of the Church so effective in your local community that people would automatically turn there if they needed help or guidance because of the stellar reputation?
People of faith who are committed to their local parish invest a lot of time, energy, and resources to the overall well-being of the local faith community. They understand the message of salvation being celebrated and communicated in the sacramental life of the Church. They want to encounter Christ in their own lives, but they also want others to have that same opportunity as well. They understand being customer oriented in regard to the evangelizing component of ministry and give generously of themselves to make it happen.
How do we fulfill the responsibility to be customer oriented? Are liturgies well-planned and organized? Is it a hospitable and welcoming environment? Is the preaching dynamic? Does the music ministry bring people into meaningful praise and worship? Do our religious education programs and youth ministry endeavors effectively accomplish their stated goals and objectives? Do they even have any goals? Are the leaders of these ministries well-trained and competent? Do they have a personal faith life that is evident? Is the ongoing training and formation of parish staff members a high priority?
I do not mean to insinuate that religion is a commodity to be consumed. Slick marketing schemes and polished public relation tools are not what I have in mind. My concern is that we frequently make our faith in Jesus Christ dull, mundane, and powerless. We become complacent with the status quo. There is little to no accountability for leaders in way too many situations. Poor performance is ignored for years and apathy overtakes an entire congregation. No one wins in such a scenario. If the Kingdom of God truly is at hand, we cannot in good conscience be content with such a scenario playing out right in front of us.
If the clergy and paid parish staff are incompetent in their leadership roles, all of the people suffer. On the other hand, if you encounter a parish where the leadership is spirit-filled, competent in their respective skill sets, and truly mission driven (customer-oriented) you will see a parish on fire with love for the Lord. The organization truly soars.
The training of priests to be leaders of people must be a key ingredient in their formation above and beyond the requirements of theology and philosophy. This is important on many different levels. It encompasses hiring, training, evaluating, and developing a collaborative and healthy atmosphere in the parish office. This eventually overflows to the whole faith community creating a positive and life-giving culture for all involved.
Hiring practices in parish offices sometimes lack the professionalism needed for getting the right people on board and in the right position. The pay scale in church ministry is often lower than what a person can make in the secular world. This will eliminate some good potential candidates from ever applying. However, I believe if parish leadership does its due diligence in advertising, screening, and discerning the will of God, the right candidate for the right job will appear at the right time. In order for that to happen we need to create fertile soil for the movement of the Holy Spirit in our ministry. The abundance of God's love is something we can always rely upon.
The second attribute listed by the authors of the book deals with revenue and being cost-effective. Once again, we are not selling a product. We rely on the generosity of God's people to fund the ministries of the parish and the diocese. If we are effective in our endeavors to be "customer oriented" and "quality-driven" in the programs and ministries of the parish, people will eagerly share their financial resources to continue the mission of the Church. God's abundance shines through the generosity of His people.
The Church also relies heavily upon volunteerism. The amount of hours volunteered in our faith communities is overwhelming. This is especially true in vibrant parishes where people yearn to be part of the spirit-filled proclamation of the Kingdom. Volunteers bring a variety of skills and talents and make the overall mission of the local parish truly cost effective. Many ministries would not be happening except for the generous and gracious volunteers that keep them going. These faithful volunteers are sometimes taken for granted. That is a flaw I hope gets corrected anywhere it is happening. If you are an active volunteer for your local parish or school, let me say a heartfelt THANK YOU. Your kindness and generosity is truly appreciated and needed.
The third attribute does not apply to the Church as clearly as some of the others. However, being "fast and flexible in responding to market changes" can guide us into particular outreaches in specific communities. If a major employer shuts down in a community are we able to respond with greater emphasis in providing resources for the unemployed? Basically, this attribute helps us keep our ear to the ground so we have an accurate assessment of the needs of our community. If we have our finger securely on the pulse of the local community, and the world as a whole, our general intercessions at Mass will reflect such an awareness. We should be guided in our prayer and in our material outreach by current circumstances impacting the community.
Finally, we are to be continually innovating. The message of the Church does not change, but the manner in which we proclaim the message certainly does. Utilizing the available methodologies to proclaim the Gospel helps us reach different audiences in a variety of ways. This is one area where the Church continues to learn from the secular and business world. We will most likely not have a drive-through confessional any time in the near future, but enhanced technological advances will challenge us to be innovative in regard to the myriad of ways we can preach, teach, and bring the healing message of Christ to the world.
The Church stands firmly on over two thousand years of history since the coming of Christ. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Do we need new ways of thinking to lead to future success? It is my opinion that we can never allow ourselves to become stale. We are engaged in a world that desperately needs to know the love of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the sacraments and experience God's grace which empowers us to go out into the world to proclaim the Good News of Salvation. We each have a circle of influence. Do people see Christ in us and through us?
The methods which we employ in our programming and outreach may need some adjustments. It is my hope that parishes are routinely assessing and evaluating these things. The continued formation of our clergy, parish staff members, and our volunteers are essential elements for future growth as well. We cannot grow complacent and be content with simply having warm bodies filling all the open slots. We need enthusiastic, faith-filled, well-trained individuals filling staff and volunteer positions. Parish leadership at the top must successfully bring forth these gifts from the people recruited for service. The organization will only soar if the leader equips it to do so. Show me your successful parish!