5 Things Parishes are Doing Wrong for the New Evangelization

1)     They spend 8 months crafting a new mission statement.

So your parish wants more unity – a vision to run with.  Your staff sees a disunified, scattered community.  Most people who attend Mass are unengaged with parish life.  Maybe a mission statement will build the necessary unity upon which we can build.  Problem is, after months of promotion, very few people even know what the mission statement is, though hours and hours of manpower have been spent getting it just right.

Waste of time.  You have a mission statement already.  See Matthew 28:19

“Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.”  There; you’re done.   Any time you spent crafting a mission statement was time you weren’t making disciples.  Bring your parish into alignment with this mission statement through evangelization.

2)     They have every amazing, solid program that Catholic publishers have to offer.

Parish staff are constantly looking for resources to launch their good intentions into practical efforts that produce more committed disciples at their parish.  The problem is, a DVD series, speaker, or apologetics workbook program will not make disciples.  Disciples make disciples.  SAINTS make Saints.  The program may have amazing content, but a DVD will not hold you accountable to a prayer life.  A book will not pray for you.  A CD will not answer your phone call when you are having a crisis.  You can’t “package” disciples and sell them.   Our parishes will not make Saints until we stop asking programs to do the work for us.

3)     Parish leadership wants more involvement.

Ahhh, involvement.  Welcome to our parish. How can you serve us?  You have a nice voice: you’d make a fantastic lector!  You’re breathing: want to be a Catechist?   The line of thought goes something like this: If we get them involved, they’ll get to feel like they’re part of the family. Plus we need these things done!

If you invited someone to your home for dinner for the first time and asked them to clean your toilets upon their arrival so that they could feel part of the family, things would get awkward quickly.  But this is exactly our methodology in the parish.  Soon, parish membership seems like a club with volunteer hours to clock.  You have ownership of your ‘job’ and that’s how you ‘participate’ and can be considered an ‘active Catholic.’

The EC calls this the “heresy of involvement.”  Standard ministerial thinking says that if we get enough people involved we’ll have a great parish.  This heresy holds that making disciples is about getting people involved.   Involvement creates the façade of vibrancy.  Look how VIBRANT our parish is!  We have something going on every night of the week!

Involvement doesn’t lead to discipleship.  Interior conversion leads to discipleship.  If you have involvement that doesn’t overflow from a relationship with Jesus, your involved people will soon be burned out, scattered, and even bitter.   They don’t have the interior life to support their activity.  No one introduced them to the possibility of having a deep, fulfilling relationship with Jesus Christ.  According to statistics, many of them will even leave. Surveys show 71% of former Catholics either said that they “just drifted” or were “never fed.”  (And 1:10 Americans describe themselves as former Catholics)

4)     They have a committee for evangelization.

At best, committees are composed of like-minded people (who oftentimes are not well-formed, nor do they have an understanding of Church mission, but are appointed because of some professional expertise) who come together to produce flow-charts, strategic plans, mission statements, and SWOT analyses. At worst, they are occupied with complaining about how so many people aren’t involved in parish activities, synchronizing their schedules, planning more meetings, and feeling really productive by creating curriculums, processes, and mission statements.

Evangelization is not a business enterprise.  Committee assignments don’t lead to fruitfulness.  Deep discipleship and a burning heart for the lost lead to fruitfulness.  You can’t bureaucratize evangelization.  The mission cannot be relegated to a committee or a segment of parish life.  It is the “essential identity” of the Church.  All activities of the Church find their purpose in the mission of evangelization.

5)     The parish refuses to get messy.

The first four items in this list had one thing in common:  Tidiness.  Cleanliness.  They are easy ways for us to think and dream and make strategic plans without needing to interact with the lost or the broken or the blind or the lame.  We don’t have to worry about having any awkward conversations or being challenged, or investing in anyone.  All we have to do is let the content, the curriculum, the plan, or the structure take care of itself.  If something doesn’t work, it’s not our problem.  After all, we can’t force anyone to believe, or change his or her life.

But Pope Francis tells us:

…I want a mess. … I want to see the Church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. …We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel… It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away. … Go and look for them in the nooks and crannies of the streets. (address at WYD 2013)

This is a direct exhortation from the Vicar of Christ.

Evangelization is a full-contact sport.  We will get hurt. But we will also help many others to be healed, and will be healed ourselves.  We will have awkward conversations and sleepless nights.  Yet there will be even more deep and exciting conversations, and we be able to go to bed often with deep inner peace.  We may be wakened by late night phone calls from wives with cheating husbands, or frustrated by our own impotence with a tearful husband/father who lost his job; yet there will be grace: “where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I.”

What should your parish do?

“It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’.  The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel.”

~Novo millennio ineunte, 29

Start small – just like Jesus.  Deeply form and train a small group of parishioners in mature discipleship.  Then train them to apprentice individuals and small groups of other parishioners into mature discipleship.

The first Christians had no committees, no strategic plans, no DVD series or programs.  They were bold. They were daring.  They got messy.  Jesus led them.  He had formed them as disciples to make new disciples.  They hurt, they suffered, they bled, they loved, and they changed the world.  So must we.  So must our parishes.