Training Conversationalists

Earlier this week, we looked at the importance of building relationships through the process of registration or joining a local churchRelationships bring people back. Relationships are a part of belonging, of growth, and more!

How Can We Train People To Have Fruitful Conversations?

Do we simply hand them a paper form and say, “help someone fill this out?” Absolutely not!

Remember, It’s Pre-Evangelization

The conversation is an exercise in what the Church calls pre-evangelization, not predominantly focused on proclaiming the Gospel and offering a chance for life transforming response, but instead connecting with or awakening the desires and values of those we meet with what we embody as Christians (General Directory for Catechesis§47-48). Sherry Weddell’s maxim, “never accept a label in place of a story” certainly implies. Simply because the person identifies as Catholic is no guarantee that pre-evangelization isn’t important or necessary.

Pre-evangeliztion matters because it creates the conditions for a relationship of trust, it inspires interest–and without trust and interest–the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a lot less likely to be responded to. While it’s incredibly tempting for us to want to enthusiastically proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ to a person as soon as we get a chance to 😀 we may be creating stumbling blocks to a response by offering something so profound before we’ve even built the smallest amount of trust with a person. Think of Sherry Weddell‘s “5 thresholds of conversion” (pictured below). Making the pitch for an intentional life as a disciple of Jesus Christ before having a firm establishment of trust, curiosity, openness, and active seeking or interest is trying to work around our human nature!

full presentation here

If a conversation that starts as pre-evangelization turns into a place where a person can make a life changing decision to follow Jesus Christ and pray for forgiveness and a new life in the Spirit, then praise the Lord! God can do marvelous things, inspite of all our human weaknesses. However, I’d strongly caution against fostering the idea that this is the immediate goal/purpose of a registration conversation, because it may tempt those trained to think of that rather than building trust and curiosity as their specific ministry.

Conversations that Build Trust and Curiosity

The best way to train staff and volunteers for this “joining” ministry is role-playing. Many of us loathe it–but the reason we secretly dislike it 😉 is because it’s hard. We have to think on our feet, rather than passively listen to a “how to” talk. It’s the most valuable training for precisely that reason–it helps us become comfortable and confident in this ministry role.

There’s no silver bullet list of questions or order of discussion a conversation with a person joining a parish must follow, what I offer below are a series of conversation starters with a say and a listen for component.

Say: Each conversation starter includes a “say,” often in the form of a question to ask. Within these, various linguistic options are suggested in [brackets].

Listen For: Some tips on what to be listening for to guide the conversation further or complete a form to join the parish.



Basic Introductions

Say: Welcome! My name’s ____________, I’m so glad you’re interested in learning more about joining All Saints Catholic Parish.


Listen For: Tone. Do they seem comfortable already? Nervous talking to someone at a church? Ready to get this over with? Critical about “why can’t I just fill out a form and be done with this?”….

Say: Thanks for taking the time to come and register, what brings you to All Saints? [How’d you find us, get interested in our parish, etc.?]

Listen For: Their answer to this is key data collection (on your part) for whoever leads Engagement, Marketing, or Outreach at your parish.

Moving Deeper

Through your basic introductions, hopefully you’ve come to know something about each other–where you live, occupations, interests, etc. These are some follow-ups that help take “basic information” to the level of “interesting conversation I don’t normally get to have” (aka, I’m enjoying this!)



  • Wow, with those moves and different jobs, what’s the greatest lesson you feel you’ve learned so far in your life’s journey?
  • Oh interesting, I do [or don’t] meet many [insert occupation]. What do you like most about what you do? or What motivated you to pursue that path?
  • With those different [hobbies, spiritual journeys, homes, etc.] what experiences have shaped your worldview the most?
  • It’s definitely a busy stage of life [raising kids, getting ready for retirement, navigating care for aging parents, starting off new, etc.]…what are you passionate about in this season of life?
  • What makes you [and/or your family, spouse, etc.] happy?
  • With those [work/hobbies], what kind of people do you look up to? What attributes in people are most important for you?
  • [For someone who is giving verbal or non-verbal signals that they don’t like this “registration conversation” concept, maybe some humor…] so, I figure sitting down to have to talk to someone about registering at a church might be the most boring part of your week…but, what’s been the best part of this past week for you?

Listen For / Do: 

  • Ways to “push their ideas a step further. Ask why and how more than what and when” (from Science of People)
  • Opportunities to make them feel important, to feel that their opinions/interests, matter

Getting the Mundane Details

Say: We’re so happy to have new folks like your family joining All Saints, would you mind if I jotted down some info from you so that we can make sure you start getting parish newsletters, emails about events, and things?

Listen For: Answers to basic info you might need: full mailing address, phone number, email address, children’s grades/ages. Through your conversation you should already know what town/city they live in, occupation, religion (likely to come out in the “what brings you to All Saints…” question). If not, feel free to ask at this point, as you’ve built a human relationship first, and are only now collecting that “important to write down” type of detailed information.

Background Prep: Before training your team, think through what information you truly need at this step.  Make it as short as possible. In a world of information “over-collection,” you can show trust by not turning registration into an interrogation of all personal information a family might possibly have! 😉 For example, you need the information to stay in communication with the person/family, and to know other people in the household who might not be at this conversation. A parish likely doesn’t truly need to know dates of children’s baptisms, emergency medical info, etc. This can all come later, through growing relationships with youth catechetical leaders, etc.

The Turn to the Spiritual Life

Say: There’s such a wide range of people here at All Saints Parish and so many opportunities. We really learn from each other as we seek God. [Insert cultural statements appropriate to your parish of course!] Would you be willing to…

  • describe/share [or: tell me the story of] your lived relationship with God [or: connection with God, connection with Jesus] up to this point in your life?
  • share a little of yourself, do you pray? do you find it a struggle? how do you like to pray?
  • share some of the ways your faith causes you to change how to live your life? or things in your faith that seem like a struggle?

Listen For:

  • What the person believes about God and the possibility of a relationship with God (i.e. God is impersonal force, a person they do connect with)
  • Additional religious affiliation (not already stated etc.)
  • What bridges of trust or curiosity they have to Catholicism/Christianity
  • if they’re comfortable using the name, “Jesus”

Follow Up Ideas to Go Deeper:

Choosing depends on the listening throughout the conversation, remember not to make a huge or uncomfortable “jump” into the deep end of a pool a person hasn’t even mentioned swimming in 🙂 Just take a little step down the ramp in the shallow end…

  • For you what’s the most important thing about Jesus?
  • Have you had any kind of moment when you felt particularly close to Jesus? If so, can you tell me about it? If not, have you ever wanted to?
  • What do you mean by describing yourself as ______________?
  • How do you describe God to others [or your kids]?
  • What does it mean to be Catholic in your experience?

Remember, during this conversation you’re not correcting, catechizing, or judging–you’re helping spur the person to talk and share as much as possible so that you can listen. This takes a tremendous trust in the Holy Spirit, that by experiencing genuine love and listening, this person will open up and continue to come back. 

Affirmation and Closing

Say: Pour on the praise and affirmation for what the person shared with you, taking the time to have this conversation. Share how you’ve been enriched by hearing their perspective, how they have real spiritual insights, how you found their life story interesting.

–> If the person showed genuine interest, i.e. “what do you mean personal relationship with Jesus, isn’t that for Protestants?” that’s an opportunity to take it another step further and share the Gospel with them and offer a concrete way to respond in prayer.

In Closing Offer: Is there any way I can pray for you, or even with you right now? Or anything I can help you with? Would you want to get together again, we could…or  I just look forward to seeing you around the parish in the future! [If you parish has cards with social media outlets, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, or any other “reminders” for new members, this is a great time to give it.]


Silver Bullet? No

This is certainly not the best training outline, nor suited for every parish. However, I offer it as a starting point–it’s a great draft to begin role-playing, to begin training staff/volunteers to have “registration conversations” with people, rather than hand out or email a form that gets returned without personal contact. I recommend staff/volunteers also familiarize themselves with “threshold conversations” (Weddell) and giving their own personal testimony, as those would be likely follow-ups for a person who shows great interest and openness to hearing about what God is ready to offer them, right in this moment.


Parish Registration That’s a Conversation

Let’s face it–joining or registering at a Catholic parish can be one of the most non-relational experiences a person can have. What does it typically entail? A form to collect information. Reading or being told of “policies.” Being asked personal information, i.e. the dates of a child’s first Eucharist, something that might feel a bit like “judging” if one is unfamiliar with the terms of didn’t do it at the “right time.”

The “Problems” of Registration for Catholics

Many Americans who self-identify as Catholic carry baggage related to parish registration. That relative they remember who couldn’t get married at a certain parish because they weren’t registered. Not being able to join a youth sports team because of being registered in a different parish. Calling to request Anointing of the Sick for an aging relative and being told they cannot receive it because they are not registered or in “good standing.” The litany of ways people have taken offense during the process of “registration” is long, complex, and an exercise in empathy to hear! Now, as many familiar with the Code of Canon Law or liturgical books know, many of the situations I mentioned are filled with error/miscommunication. Yet, that factual reality does not change the actually experience of offense taken by that person who (without the benefit of an understanding of Canon Law or liturgical rites) felt excluded or unhelped in a time of need.

The “Problems” of Joining a Parish for Non-Catholics

For non-Catholics, whether they be seekers, “nones,” or our separated brothers and sisters, the experience of registering in a parish can be even more confusing. As an “outsider” to some of our unique language, what does “registering” even mean?

  • Is it like a mini-application? Will I get in?!? What if I’m a single parent? Will my kids get in if they’re not baptized yet? If I check a box that they have special needs?
  • What do you mean I’m not “registered”? I’ve been coming here for years and get email newsletters from the parish all the time?
  • I’ve been told only Catholics can register. So, I basically don’t really belong at this parish.

The Root Problem is That It’s Non-Relational

In any situation, the real problem is when parish registration is a non-relational experience, which I’ll define as an experience that does not form a personal connection between the person registering and a person in the parish. A kind secretary who “helps” someone fill out a form can be slightly more relational 🙂 [shout out to all of the amazing administrative personnel in parishes who are gifted enough to show love amidst ringing phones, fixing copy machines, and helping a young parent with a crying infant fill out a registration form!] however, these situations aren’t ideal for a conversation that allows a person to experience being known in a way our society doesn’t typically make space for. A conversation where a person experiences being welcomed unconditionally and listened to for the unique story and beauty they bring to the world!

From Here to There: Introducing Conversation to Your Parish Registration Process

  1. Identify people (clergy or lay, staff or volunteer, etc.) to be part of this conversation ministry. Organizationally, this might fall under the guidance of a parish Director of Evangelization, Director of Engagement, or a Welcome/Hospitality Committee.
  2. Train the leaders.
  3. Have the trained leaders then start to slowly expand the pool. Emphasis on slowly because you’ll need to tailor conversation guides/ideas for your unique local setting! By doing this first, your leaders will improve the concept as they do it, and then pass that on to others. This needs to be done well before it’s done “big” because of what a critical moment this conversation is for welcome, hospitality, and evangelization for those checking out your parish. [For those keeping track, 😉 you’d be doing what’s called “lean experimentation” with this style of growth/learning.]
  4. Decide the when/where. Be expansive. Remember, people work all sorts of hours, may not live close to your parish, etc. The advantage of having both staff and volunteers trained, is that staff can cover meeting with people for whom typical “office” hours and the parish office are convenient, and volunteers can cover evenings, weekends, off-campus meeting spots like libraries or cafes near their homes.
  5. Publicize to your parish! Parishioners are on the “front lines” of helping people move from “maybe I want to join St. Mary’s…” to making it happen. Parishioners are always hoping a friend or family member decides to give their beloved parish a try! When that person says to them, “our family wants to join St. Mary’s,” you want to empower your parishioners to have a ready and joyful answer (i.e. who to call or email) rather than a nervous “um, I think there’s a form” or worse, “no, just keep coming, no need to register” [because they want to shield others from their own negative experience registering!]  
  6. Once you know it’s functional [enough!] remove the printed registration forms from your welcome brochure racks, front office, website, anywhere they exist.
  7. As you’ve raised the level of engagement necessary to register, make sure there’s a low-risk/low-engagement way interested people can be in the communications loop at your parish. This might mean an online sign up for an electronic newsletter, a way anyone can join a parish smartphone app, etc. As Carey Nieuwhof writes, “the online world is the biggest front door the church has ever seen, suddenly we’re all connected.” Translate this for your local setting, even if online communications aren’t the “biggest front door” for your church, what is? The sign out front? Your bulletin? etc. Whatever it is, make sure that door to communications stays wide open for those who want to get in touch for months, years, or even decades, before they take the step to engage more and join/register.
  8. Continue to assess and improve this essential pre-evangelistic and evangelistic ministry, and how it flows into follow-up moments for connection.

Optional: Caveat on Canon Law and Parish “Registration”

Parish registration is such a commonly used term in the United States, it’s easy to think that it’s part of Church teaching–something that makes Catholics, Catholic. But it’s not.

The Church teaches that a parish includes all Catholics living within a certain defined geographic area [note: in some cases, non-geographic parishes exist] (Code of Canon LawCan. 518). By living in that defined geographic area, a Catholic officially belongs to the respective parish–no form, online registration, live here six months and start tithing, etc. as necessary to canonically be a part of that parish. [For more background, see the “Canon Law Made Easy” blog.]

I would love for someone to do a historical study on the rise and history of “registration” in parishes in the United States, as it’s a cultural custom that has become widespread and oft-appealed to here, in contrast to other parts of the world. My layperson’s hypotheses is that it has something to do with our  culture of registration and membership in societies/organizations in the U.S. in general and general cultural tendencies toward “order”  (i.e. compare a communion “line” in the U.S. to places where it’s a free-for-all mass movement to the front of a church to receive the Eucharist).

Depending on your local setting, it might make more sense to avoid using the word “registration” and talk about joining, connecting to, becoming a part of, or being a member at such-and-such parish–especially if you have a large number of non-Catholics who (when it comes to Canon Law) are simply “outside” of a canonical definition of “parish.” In order to have an accurate understanding of people in your parish who are under Canon Law and those who are not, you may need to add this in your parish database, or simply understand this difference by noting a person’s religion (i.e. Catholics would be Canonical members of the parish, non-Catholics are not). But 🙂 this isn’t a big deal, because of course you’d want to know those who’ve reached out and connected to you who are not Catholic! A wonderful blessing of those who already have trust and curiosity in knowing and worshiping the Lord with us!

Everything I’ve suggested above with regards to making the process of joining/registering in a parish more relational, does not in anyway suggest or intend to change our Canonical definition of a “parish.” Being more relational is about taking an American custom of “registering” via forms and allowing it to be filled with a spirit of pre-evangelization and evangelization, so that people experience authentic love and human connection when they reach out to us.

Registration is like a front door. How warm and welcoming is yours?

Front DoorImage: “Front Door” via LuxuryLuke (Flickr)

Why Do People Start Attending Church More?

One more intriguing tidbit from the Pew Research Center in this  new study: insight into the factors common among those who now attend religious services more regularly than they used to. 

First off, how common is it for a person to increase their rate of religious attendance? 27% of Americans fall into this category–a reminder that, despite some popular perceptions, we actually live in a very open and curious society, where many are experiencing changes in their religious practices toward the positive.

pf_2016_08_23-ch2-01So how do these Americans explain the reasons for changes? 

  • 49% mention changes in their personal religious beliefs as the main reason for attending more often
  • 23% mention social factors, including changes in family structure (such as marriage or the birth of a child), entering different phases of life (e.g., going to college, joining the military, etc.) or a desire for fellowship or community
  • 20%  mention practical changes, such as having a work schedule that permits them to attend church more often now than in the past

Implications for Ministry:

  1. Changes in belief matter more than anything else. What beliefs are adults learning and entering into more deeply in your parish life? Is what’s emphasized the most something that would inspire increases in practice?
  2. Times of social transition are opportunities. This means thinking beyond sacramental preparation for baptism and marriage as “the” coming back moments. How are we aware and responding to these transitional life stages?
  3. Practical things–like transportation, universal accessibility, times of Mass/programs, childcare, etc.– matter, a not-insignificant 20% of the time. How can we remove practical barriers to increased participation, not as an afterthought, but as an intentional part of our local strategies.

Finding a Local Church to Call Home

From the Pew Research Center comes a new study ripe with implications for how we think about hospitality, evangelization, and growing disciples in our local churches.

Question #1: What to Americans look for in a new congregation? 


Question #2: Why do Americans look for a new church home to begin with? 


Let’s dig into each of these areas further to flesh out implications for how we share Jesus’ love with the world…

Becoming a Parish Ad Gentes

  1. For Americans with kids, 65% say that education/programs for children age greatly valued. How are your children/student programs? Do they run year round? Are they convenient? Are they high-quality enough that parents would choose to place their children there? Would they appeal to outsiders (not just those feeling an “obligation” to attend)? As the leaders of Church of the Nativity (Timonium, MD) often say “when you do something for my kids, you do something for me” is an important societal, parental value to respond to.
  2. When Americans go looking for a new church home, roughly half consider switching denominations (note: while this isn’t a term we use in Catholic theology, it’s common in vernacular conversation, so I use it in that sense here). This is a huge opportunity! Talk about opennessAs Catholic parishes we should ask ourselves, what kind of impression or perception would someone from a different faith background take away from setting foot on our campus or at our programs? 
  3. We may think that the unaffiliated don’t visit our parishes. But this would be a mistaken assumption. Almost “about three-in-ten current religious “nones” (29%) indicate they have searched for a new congregation at some point in their lives.” What’s for them at your parish? What would their experience be like? 
  4. How do typical Americans find a new church home? More than eight-in-ten adults who have ever looked for a new house of worship say they attended a service during their search (85%). And roughly seven-in-ten talked to members of the congregation (69%) or to friends or colleagues (68%) about the house of worship they were considering. What kind of recommendations or comments would your typical parishioners make about your parish? Would they be enthusiastic? Resigned? Unsure what to say? 
  5. Though it’s not the most important method for learning about potential local church homes, 59% of adults under 30 say they have incorporated online searches when looking for a new congregation. Your online presence matters. And, it should resonate with Millennials. 

Becoming a Parish for Catholic-Seekers

  1. What’s most important when choosing a new parish for Catholics? “nothing is more important than location. Fully three-quarters of Catholics who have looked for a new church (76%) say location was an important factor in their choice of parish.” Our first reaction might be to think (with relief or discouragement) there’s not much we can do then. But this misses something more significant–if Catholics are most likely to select a parish based on location, then it’s vitally important that every parish have a discipleship pathway, that every parish be intentional about ministering to people at every step of a disciple’s journey. We can’t be content to have some “powerhouse” parishes where intentional discipleship and fruits of the Holy Spirit are typical and then “maintenance” parishes for the rest. Taking this reality seriously might force us to think about collaborative organizational structures, networks or associations, and other ways to move more parishes from maintenance to mission. 
  2. Not convinced of the need for every parish to have pathways for intentional discipleship? Here’s another perspective: of affiliated Christians, Catholics are the least likely to ever look for a new congregation. Most Catholics will stay in the parish they’re at, unless the geography (location of household or parish) changes. What’s this mean? Our expectation must be that every parish be fully alive in the Holy Spirit, offering robust pathways for disciples to grow–otherwise, many Catholics will continue to exist in “maintenance” parishes.
  3. When Catholics are looking for a new parish, after location (76% rate as important), the next most important values are “feeling welcomed by leaders” (71%) and sermons (67%). This data supports the pitch made by Amazing ParishRebuilt, and Divine Renovation in recent years as to the importance of the “Sunday Experience.” Authentic welcome from leaders and good preaching aren’t accidents or “bonus” attributes of charismatic leaders–no, these are essential parts of ministry that must be planned, cultivated, and assessed for effectiveness.
  4. Though Catholics are less likely than other Christians to look for a new local congregation, when Catholics do go seeking, about one-in-three report exploring changing denominations or religions. This might come as a surprise to many of us–but it’s a reality we can’t ignore. The question becomes what’s going on in your parish, so that when parishioners do move or go looking for a new congregation, they seek out a Catholic one? 

Okay, so those are my takeaways from this study. What are yours? How might this data impact how you do ministry? 

Tradition and “That”

Can you imagine a culture and circumstances that might compel a person to exclaim: “If that happens, it’s the end of our faith”

What might the “that” be?

If you’re scratching your head, coming up with a blank–then good.

Here’s the thing though, someone did utter that quote earlier this year, and the “that” of discussion was the closing of Catholic schools in a particular city. The comment points to something we’re all prone to–and that’s viewing some organizational structure, custom, or way of doing things as somehow essential to living a life in the Holy Spirit, as disciples of Jesus Christ in his Church.

The Church reminds us that we’re not to think of everything we see before our eyes in parish life, in recent centuries, in North America as “the faith” or “the Tradition.” As the Catechism explains:

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium. (para. 83)

Tradition is a “living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit” (CCC para. 73). It’s not specifically something we merely “stick to” or a scapegoating target that “prevents us” from a certain choice. Though those phrases may apply in some situations, they are ultimately a shallow and incomplete understanding of the living dynamism of authentic Tradition. 

Yet, we’re human beings. Made in God’s image, but still finite in our capacities to see, envision, imagine, and think outside of ourselves at times. And this is why any of us might, at some point, say or think: Oh no! If that happens…

This human response can monopolize our thinking. Make us scared. Hinder our abilities to apply reason and judgement to the situations we face in our parishes and dioceses. And most detrimentally, distract us from the eternal beauty of God’s Revelation.

As many parishes enter a “new year” of faith formation, evangelization, and discipleship initiatives, we can each as a leader or follower, ask ourselves: where am I called to discern Tradition from traditions more clearly? Is there an “if that happens…” that I need to prayerfully understand more fully? 

a version of this post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.Com


Budgeting with Disciples

Giving financially as a spiritual act of discipleship is part of our growth as disciples–not an optional, extra add on for those who are “rich” or do “financial planning” to make major gifts to charities and the like. If you’ve decided that percentage giving (sometimes called tithing, though historically this would specifically refer to 10%) is the form of giving most likely to go hand-in-hand with discipleship, implementation can be a tough road.

A first question (especially this time of year, as Fiscal Years for churches come to an end) is how do we set the budget?

If percentage giving is about disciples discerning a call to sacrifice and participate in God’s work financially, how can a parish staff (or finance council, parish council, etc.) tell them what the total of their giving should be?

Two main techniques for setting the “revenue” part of a budget:

  • Incremental Increases — Using this technique, a parish or ministry takes giving from the previous year and simply increases it. How to do this realistically? Look at other indicators in your area, i.e. Cost of Living Adjustments calculated by government agencies, inflation, wage growth, etc. While these can’t tell you how the Holy Spirit will lead the disciples in your parish 🙂 these indicators can help keep you in the “ballpark” of the economic realities your givers likely reside in. Beware, it’s easy to be too optimistic in incremental increases, i.e. a 3-5% increase is considered (in secular studies) to be “aggressive” and anything more than 8-10% really requires additional staff, initiatives, etc. to be implemented successfully.
  • Committee/Commission/Department Driven — Here, all of the departments, programs, committees, and/or commissions of a parish are consulted and asked for an expense prediction for the next fiscal year. Then, whatever is above last year’s revenue becomes the new revenue goal for the next Fiscal Year. This can work well in parishes where the needs aren’t changing, or a parish in “maintenance” mode. [But should any parishes be in maintenance mode today? I think not!]

Many parishes also use a combination of these two methods. The most critical piece for discipleship, however, is to not allow the raw $ amounts to drive the reason for giving. We don’t give to the parish because the parish needs it. We give because God has revealed this to us as part of communio, part of living as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Practically, shifting to an emphasis on percentage giving means that parishioners need to have a greater understanding and ownership for the reason the parish exists, for the specific mission and vision of being Church in a concrete time/place–for what makes this community of disciples life-changing and essential. Percentage giving generally means that there’s an annual (or semi-annual) emphasis for disciples to discern and make a commitment. Logistically, this takes additional volunteer leaders/ministers to carry the message, create materials (like cards or websites so that the parish has an idea of what givers are committing to).

While this may seem like a burden, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good that the Pastor can’t do it alone. The Parish Council can’t do it alone. By striving for the widest participation, parishes can come to know the parishioners on the margins–those who aren’t experiencing the joy of discipleship, those who are facing financial difficulties, those who’ve never felt “needed” or a part of this local embodiment of the Body of Christ. And, by moving toward progressive giving as a spiritual sacrifice (rather than “extra money” given to “fundraising at the church”) we create the space for believers to experience discerning a tough issue, to experience what feels like a “risk” for God, to pray about something that matters personally to each and every one, to experience what it means to trust.

Real Leadership Teams

For decades (probably longer!) leadership gurus of all sorts have been talking about the importance of people. Now, this can seem a bit obvious to many in ministry–but in practice we often forget this. Crafting the “perfect” strategic plan or laboring over a new curriculum–all without the pivotal leadership team to implement anything fruitful, meaningful, or life-changing.

Catholic author and consultant, Patrick Lencioni, has become a leading modern-day voice for the importance of people, of crafting (as he calls it) a “real leadership team” as a foundation for leading anything. Especially anything as important as a local parish–the primary place an ordinary person will encounter God’s people as a concrete community.

Lencioni is part of the Amazing Parish conference series, meeting [here!] in Michigan today 🙂

my own little photo of Detroit,from Belle Isle (May 2012)

If you’ve got an extra moment for prayer today, please join me in praying for the speakers, trainers, and leaders attending this conference. And, if you’re interested in growing a leadership team to help make your big ideas or needs a reality, I highly recommend Lencioni’s compilation book The Advantage and the awesome free resources (like this) available at Amazing Parish.



Renewing Ourselves Before “Fixing” Those Volunteers

The more I talk to parish ministry staff and volunteer leaders, the more I hear about how finding enough, quality volunteers is a challenge. Sometimes so much of a challenge that a leader can become overwhelmed by this–and only see this barrier. It can get discouraging. Plus, the wrong volunteers to continue planning, implementing, and assessing any new initiative in church-life can doom even the most brilliantly inspired and prayerfully discerned new direction. We’ve got a tag going here on this blog for Volunteer Management, and here’s the latest…some practical tips from experienced Children’s Ministers, that apply to us all:

Let’s start with ourselves (not the prospective volunteers), here’s what we need to stop doing…

  1. Making announcements (pulpit, bulletin, social media, etc.) in a vacuum and expecting to get the right volunteers.
  2. Feeling guilty about recruiting volunteers, and thus procrastinating (leading to all sorts of other problems in training, discernment, quality, etc.).
  3. Relying on leaders (or the dedicated few) as routine “substitutes”–it’s okay to substitute sometimes, but if this is routine, it really just means you’re avoiding the heart of the matter when it comes to formation and recruiting.
  4. Not having a clear plan, vision, and mission for your volunteers (and waiting until you “have some” to figure this out).
  5. Taking setbacks personally and leaving prayer out of the equation.

What to do instead?

  • Spiritual formation first! Set ministry volunteering within the proper context of stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s love–a “get to,” not a “have to.”
  • Pray, pray, pray–for God’s guidance to give you eyes to see needs, others, etc.
  • Build relationships. All the time. With current volunteers and potential/future ones. Relationships, not announcements work.
  • Do more listening. As Tom McKee explains (in the interview this post is based on):

I often find that if I listen, that “no” actually means one of several things: “Not now — I’ve got too much on my plate;” “Not this position — I have other gifts I’d like to use;” “Not with this present leadership;” or “Not in your lifetime.” Listen carefully to the excuses.

  • Think of recruiting volunteers like dating–take the time to get to know the person, don’t force them to make a huge yes/no/forever commitment to serve once as part of discerning ministry, progressively build into greater responsibility, get to know the person’s strengths and don’t be afraid to use these strengths, know when it’s okay to prayerfully discern a “no” or “let me introduce you to another ministry…”



Preparing for Parish Visitors

From a recent podcast episode, pastoral researcher Thom Rainer offers eight tips to offer your best to potential guests/visitors on Easter Sunday:

  1. Prepare to reach out to the dechurched
  2. Enlist extra volunteers
  3. Consider service or venue
  4. Promote small groups
  5. Take the opportunity to improve the facility
  6. Reconsider welcome cards
  7. Get your website ready
  8. Consider Facebook ads

While each of these tips is important, #6 brings us to a critical conversation about the logic behind actions in ministry.

Think back to the last time you were at one of those annual “big” Masses at your parish, say Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, a First Communion celebration, etc. There were probably lots of guests and visitors, right? Yes. With all the extra commotion and crowds in the narthex after Mass, possible absences of the “usual” greeters due to holidays, etc. was it an ideal time to introduce a visitor to your community? To have a conversation and get to know them? To discern their spiritual needs? Probably not.

This means that in order to follow-up with visitors, there needs to be a way to make an introduction, to keep in touch. Of course not all visitors want to keep in touch–but (especially with some incentive, like a small gift) many will.

How will you identify and follow-up with visitors to your parish this Easter? Remember, it’s a blessing to have this challenge 😀

p.s. Want to have lots of visitors this Easter? Start inviting! Become an Easter Evangelist.



How long should Mass be?

 In Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, Fr. James Mallon offers these insights and reflections for figuring out what’s right for your parish community when it comes to Sunday Mass:

Worrying about Mass as a production is the wrong concern. He writes, “to the accusation that everything is a production, I am tempted to say, ‘Thank you, I’m so glad you noticed.'” While Mass isn’t a “production” in the literal sense of the term, it should be treated with the utmost planning and concern for quality and transformation of those present.

Remember the 80/20 rule. In most parishes, “the only time we see 80% of our people is on the weekend,” yet what proportion of time goes into preparing for this crucial weekly moment?

“The Church is, of course, not a mere business, it is mystery, but grace still builds on nature and there is an essential truth here. The priority of any parish, and any priest, ought to be about preparing for and celebrating the Sunday Eucharist to make it the best possible experience for the maximum number of people.”

Mass might need to be longer than you think. Or like. Or are comfortable with. Fr. Mallon observes, “The days of the 50-minute get-it-over-and-done-with Mass must end…if the weekend celebrations are to be a priority, then we must have sufficient time on Sunday mornings to gather, celebrate and connect afterwards…We need to honestly look at our Mass schedules, and ask what we truly value. Do we value meaningful and transformative celebrations of the Eucharist, or is our primary value convenient and static Mass times?”

In the end, it is not really a question of how long the Mass ought to be or could be, but whether this value leads us to health. I believe it does not. It contributes to a “get it over and done with” mentality that turns our Eucharistic celebrations into something to be endured rather than something that endures.

What values does your Mass schedule, length, and culture project? Fr. Mallon asserts:

Minimalism and convenience cannot be the primary values of a healthy church. Minimalism and convenience have no place in the life of the disciple who is called to save his or her life by losing it. Someone once said that Jesus doesn’t ask for much – he asks for everything. If our liturgies are to be meaningful and transformative “productions,” they need to be able to breathe and not be constrained by a rigid one-hour rule. Likewise, there needs to be enough time between Masses so that those who are hungry for God are able to linger with one another after Mass to encourage and support one another.

In summary, I think a key is moving from the question how long should Mass be? or how long should a homily be? to addressing the intended outcomes. What is Mass to do? What is the outcome of the homily? Then, work backwards to determine how much time this takes in your setting and context. At the same time, begin to consider how to assess if these desired outcomes, effects, and fruits are happening among those present to worship. Challenging, but worth it to unleash the full power and fruits of the Eucharist amid our worshiping assemblies! 😀

Want to read more? Check out these longer excerpts from Fr. Andrew Carrozza, read Divine Renovation yourself, or listen to Fr. James Mallon’s podcasts on topics related to this great ministry book!