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? 


Top 5 Techniques for Increasing Giving in Catholic Parishes

As we’ve looked at from various angles, spiritual giving is an essential characteristic of disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus Christ have been contributing to the church and mission from the earliest days–and it’s the act of sacrificial giving, rather than the size of the gift, that’s always mattered the most.

Once you’re on the path to focusing on conversion and discipleship first, how do you set the conditions for a fruitful stewardship culture?

The Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University provides valuable research into empirical trends shaping stewardship in Catholic parishes. In a 2014 conference presentation, Center Director Charles Zech brought together various studies to present the “five best parish activities” for positively impacting giving.

#1 — Open Parish Forum to Discuss Finances and Budget (29% increase)

Having an open forum to discuss finances and annual budgets results in a 29% increase in giving. Why? I think it’s due to a sense of ownership and transparency. Parish finances aren’t the sole responsibility of the pastor, business manager, or finance council–every baptized believer has the duty and responsibility to care about how the community’s resources are being used for the mission of the Church in this world. Ownership begets ownership. When missionary disciples in a parish are treated as relevant to financial/budgetary discussions, then these same disciples look to the parish as relevant to their own work of spiritual giving. The ability to manage communications content and media to create and share such forums is an important competency for ministerial leaders (while not specific to budget–check out how Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI not only hosts a “town hall” parish meeting, but makes the presentations and Q&A public via video).

#2 — Preach Tithing (27% increase)

Tithing is a framework for spiritual giving that involves discernment and commitment to give a set percentage of one’s income. I so rarely hear about it in Catholic preaching (see here and #7 here for some exceptions). Preaching tithing is not about fundraising. And, it’s certainly not about guilt trips. It’s about breaking open God’s Word so that the assembly is transformed by hearing how God’s plan has always been for His followers to consider material goods/resources a gift from which a portion must be first given back to God. Giving is a part of one’s worship, thanksgiving, praise, and spirituality as a whole–nothing less! Preaching is a critical means through which ministers lead a body of believers to a common vision and demonstrate what’s important for the whole church. From the Sunday Eucharistic homily to weekday night preaching after a potluck dinner, the message matters. If spiritual giving matters, it should make it into preaching messages.

#3 + #5 — Stewardship Committee [for 7 years or more] and Separate Stewardship Committee  (27% and 22% increases, respectively)

Now we’re getting into organizational techniques. Zech’s research synthesis shows that having a Stewardship Committee that’s separate from the parish council (or Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Advisory Council, etc.) and also separate from the Finance Council matters. Zech notes that the separation from the Finance Council is important because it shows that Stewardship isn’t some churchy-euphanism for fundraising, and in fact goes beyond financial resources. I’d guess that the greater impact of Stewardship Committees apart from a Parish Council is a result of difficulty translating vision and execution between two council/committees. And, the increased opportunities for synergy with other leadership circles in the parish (i.e. faith formation leaders, etc.) However, even slightly more important than how the Stewardship Committee is organized, is it’s presence and longevity. So 🙂 stick with it! No technique is a silver-bullet, and sustainable long-term improvements are more important than taking a quick/easy financial gain that sacrifices the bigger picture.

#4 — Communicate on Stewardship Through a Parish Newsletter (23%)

The take-away here is less about a “newsletter” (per se) and more about the idea of regular communications, rooted in the ownership and discipleship culture so important to the entire endeavor. Newsletters might be the most effective form of communication in many parishes today, but this will vary tremendously by location and parish culture. Most of the larger and more diverse parishes in the United States would likely need to use multiple communications media to be highly effective in communicating on stewardship. Bottom line, whatever the most effective form(s) of communication is in your parish, use it for providing regular updates on stewardship. Many of the techniques for effective church annual reports would also apply to regular updates on stewardship.

Again, it’s important to remember that fostering the conversion in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that evangelizes the world is what the Church on earth is all about. Stewarding our individual and communal resources, including financial ones, is an essential part of how we live in the Spirit as disciples.

Research gives us tactics that we can use to operate in a way that is optimal for giving. Think of it as removing barriers–solid management techniques like the ones listed above aren’t (usually!) the cause of life-changing encounter with Jesus or a means for spiritual conversion, but by having the operational basics down, we make sure that it’s not our choices (i.e. a lack of transparency, no preaching on giving, etc.) that prevent someone from growing as a Christian through the opportunity to be a faithful steward of the resources God entrusts to us!

“Sacramental Preaching” within Catholicism

A few weeks ago the InternetMonk offered up the term “sacramental preaching.”

Now this, is not a term I recall ever hearing in three years of a M.Div. degree at a Catholic university. However, it certainly resonates with Catholic theology! Chaplain Mike of the InternetMonk writes:

In sacramental traditions, the concept of preaching, and even the corporate reading of Scripture, is different than in revivalist traditions. It is about God literally acting through the spoken word.

He goes on to describe, “pastors who don’t think, for example, that the lectionary readings should even be printed in the bulletin”–a parallel to a conversation I’ve had in many a Catholic theology/ministry course over the question should missals, missalette, Bibles, or screen projection of verses be offered at Mass, or should the communication of Scripture be only oral? 

I think these questions rightly challenge us to be faithful to the liturgy of the Holy Mass, and at the same time have a concern for evangelization and catechesis.

For example, for many who are unfamiliar with hearing Scripture (or any spoken word) proclaimed (not a rarity in our culture today), having a copy of the text to read along with is essential for comprehension. (Also for those with hearing impairments or difficulty hearing in some of our less-acoustically-well-designed sanctuary spaces). Being able to see the text can help it sink in, especially for those who are less familiar or unlikely to go look it up in their Bible at home after Mass. Our concern for the evangelization of souls can take short-term priority over the long-term aim of cooperating with the Holy Spirit in helping these same souls grow as disciples, ready to hear the Word only orally, and allow the communal proclamation and reception to take hold in their hearts.

Chaplain Mike concludes:
“understanding the preaching moment as being of the same piece as the rest of the liturgy, in my opinion, has advantages over other views which see preaching in its essence as rhetoric, apologetics, persuasion, or teaching. Such conceptions highlight the skills of the person in the pulpit and the techniques employed, whereas a more sacramental view highlights God’s action through human speech (no matter how weak or flawed the human speaker)”

This also offers much for us in the Catholic setting. First, I can’t emphasize enough how important teaching “the preaching moment as being of the same piece as the rest of the liturgy” is for all Catholics (especially those not attending Mass regularly). Many Americans who self-identify as Catholic (whether they are believers or not) see something patently unfair about the practice of prioritizing the preaching of a homily by a priest or deacon celebrating the Mass. Yet in the context of the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy’s assertion…

The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship (No. 56).

We see that preaching a homily at Mass should not be extracted from the Mass as a whole, as it diminishes both.

But, the practical evangelization and catechetical questions creep back in…what about when the priest, though used by God, is objectively a poor preacher (and not seeming/willing to improve)? Don’t people need to hear preachers skilled in “rhetoric, apologetics, persuasion, or teaching” for the sake of evangelization?

The answer to this is clearly yes. The way to accomplish this is through more preaching. Practically, we must offer not only the Mass (and preaching within that liturgical, sacramental context), but also pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, and catechetical preaching outside of Mass (by ordained and lay preachers of all backgrounds) for the sake of the salvation of souls!

Evangelistic Preaching (Part 4) — Public Preaching is More than the Eucharistic Homily

This is the fourth post in a series on evangelistic preaching in Catholic contexts.

Our look at Church documents and history reveals that preaching is not limited to either the setting or function of the Eucharistic homily.

Okay, you say. Enough, I get it. But, the Eucharistic homily is what’s really important right? The others are just extras–you know, something nice to do, right?

Not quite. The many forms of Catholic preaching are designed to work in a complementary, not competitive way.


The Eucharistic homily does have a distinct place. A singular role. A unique function. It is specifically for ongoing formation, after the first proclamation of the Gospel.


Preaching can, of course, include multiple functions within the same setting, “the same homily…can take on both the functions of convocation and of integral initiation.”[1] However, the reality of our theology is that Mass is not designed for the unbeliever to come to faith for the first time.

In Josef Pieper’s In Search of the Sacred (1988), we are reminded that in the early Church, “barriers…excluded those who did not ‘belong’ from participating in the sacred mysteries [of the Mass], even those who prepared for baptism, the catechumens.” Although as a pastoral practice this is, “for us latter-day Christians, used as we are to taking the television broadcast of Mass for granted… difficult to comprehend,” the reality remains that theologically, Mass is not the primary place of pre-evangelization or initial proclamation–all critical stages in our robust understanding of the process of evangelization as a whole (p. 34).

Thus, Eucharistic preaching is the long pole in the “tent” of Catholic preaching–but not the only pole.


The USCCB reminds us that:Slide08

This description leads us towards understanding different forms of preaching by function, related to stages of evangelization. Preaching aimed at disposing hearers to be open to God is pre-evangelistic. Preaching intended to bring hearers to fundamental, inner converstion is evangelistic. And instruction for the faithful through preaching is catechetical preaching. The point of Eucharistic preaching is not to try and be primarily pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, or catechetical–a Eucharistic homily should be just that, a  sermon given to a gathered community of faith, intrinsically linked to the liturgical action of the Mass.

And, in order for Eucharistic preaching to be able to most authentically be what it ought to be, we need pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, and catechetical preaching — so that together these many forms of Catholic preaching can truly complement each other, together carrying the weight of the Church’s preaching. 

Additional Citations:

[1] GDC, para. 52.

Image Credits (in order):

Icing on Cupcake:

Tent Pole:

Atlas with Weight of World:

Evangelistic Preaching: Defined, Unpacked, and Applied for Catholic Parishes — Part 1

As promised, I’m going to try and walk through a presentation I gave on Evangelistic Preaching in a series of blog posts over the coming weeks…Slide01

The Venerable Paul VI  boldly proclaimed, “the Church exists to evangelize” – so how do we do this with our preaching? What is evangelistic preaching for us in a Catholic setting?

Evangelistic has an edge to it. A certain connotation. It even has a bad rap. We might think of tele-evangelists or a preacher pounding a Bible on a pulpit, asking “if you were to die tonight, do you know that you’re on your way to heaven? Not too many people think first of our Catholic Church when they hear the term evangelistic preaching.


And for Catholics, preaching has a certain connotation. For the typical Catholic the pew, preaching = Eucharistic homily. Period.


And this goes for those outside the visible boundaries of the Church as well–ask the average American who is “allowed to preach” in Catholic churhes, and they’ll say, “men only,” “priests only.” Because for most people, preaching = Eucharistic homily. (I even hear my theology professors sometimes make that assumption.)

But, our Church has been talking about types of preaching that aren’t necessarily a Eucharistic homily, for over a century…

Slide04In some cases, the reference is an allusion brought out by context, i.e. if the “liturgical homily” holds “pride of place” among the ministry of the Word, which includes “pastoral preaching,” then pastoral preaching does not simply = liturgical homily (CCC, 1993). In other cases, such as Fulfilled in Your Hearing, it’s an explicit statement, “preaching is not limited to the Eucharist,” with suggestions for where these other forms of preaching are found, i.e. “evangelistic gatherings.”

In any case, it’s clear that in our Church documents, preaching isn’t limited to Eucharistic homilies.

Image Credits (in order):

Man with Bible:×360.jpg

Preaching at Mass:

Additional Citations:

Evangelii Nuntiandi no. 42, 43; Fulfilled in Your Hearing p. 2; Code of Canon Law 1983 Can. 770; CCC para. 132; Complementary Norm on Canon 766 (Lay Preaching)

“Preaching and Singing God’s Word: A Ministerial Partnership” — Fr. Jan Michael Joncas, 2013 Marten Program in Homiletics and Liturgics

On February 8th, Fr. Jan Michael Joncas presented a lecture, “Preaching and Singing God’s Word: A Ministerial Partnership” at the University of Notre Dame as part of the Marten Program in Homiletics and Liturgics. I was fortunate to be able to attend the evening’s Mass and lecture, and share the following notes. 

Lecture Notes:

Central theme — a plea to clerical preachers/presiders and church musicians to form a covenant (truce or brit) with the following ten precepts.

  1. Coordinate ministerial plans (i.e. communicate early and openly about choices of lectionary texts, liturgical texts, prayers, special blessings, etc.).
  2. Do not be the cause of violations of conscience (i.e. Priests, do not attempt to change out a hymn that was carefully selected for the liturgical setting for an insignificant reason. Musicians, do not select music that is clearly inappropriate for Mass).
  3. Appreciate the music of spoken language.
  4. Allow music to illuminate an event.
  5. Examine musical forms to potential structure some sermons.
  6. Engage in preaching inspired by the presidential texts.
  7. Engage in preaching inspired by the communal liturgical prayers (i.e. Kyrie, Gloria, Profession of Faith, Sanctus, Agnus Dei).
  8. Explore using “hymns of the day” (a Lutheran custom).
  9. Evaluate regularly and systematically (evaluate the preaching, music, flow of service, etc. from the perspectives of ministry team and people in the pews from different demographics).
  10. Nurture ministerial spirituality of both clergy and musicians.
Fr. Jan Michael Joncas (