A Glimpse of Parish Life as a “None” Parent via”Losing Our Religion”

9781479883202_fullFor the past week, we’ve been diving into key points and applications from Christel Manning’s “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”. In closing, I’m sharing her own personal experience encountering a Catholic parish as a “None” parent. I’m thankful to Manning for incorporating her own personal experiences into her valuable work of sociology.

Manning, like many other parents who identify as “None,” experienced new questions during the “early childhood” stage of her daughter, Sheila. Embodying the diversity of her framework for understanding the beliefs of Nones and range of options to offer worldview formation for their children, Manning took up the recommendation of a Catholic friend, and enrolled her daughter in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at her local parish. Here’s her reflection:

The teacher leading the program was a lovely woman, gentle and non-dogmatic and so good with kids. My husband was initially opposed to any kind of church-based education, but I convinced him to give it a try…I enrolled Sheila for the first year. She loved it…When we went to England for Christmas, my husband’s family was duly impressed with Sheila’s knowledge of religion…At the end of the school year, however, the doctrinal basis of the program became more clear. The first year curriculum, geared to very young children, was centered on the idea that God is a good shepherd who will take care of you–a fairly generic concept that I could accept. By contrast, the second-year curriculum involved teaching children the Catholic creed and preparing them for first communion. I did not feel comfortable with that. Parents were encouraged to attend church with their children, and in talking to other parents I realized that everybody else was actually doing that. I felt like a fraud. So the next Sunday, I went to mass and I took Sheila with me…There were rousing hymns singing glory to God, prayers, a reading from the Bible, a homily on a topic I cannot remember people lined up to receive communion. The hymns struck me as militaristic, the Bible reading felt irrelevant to my life,and the prayers reminded me that I do not believe in God. Sheila was bored and fidgety. I was bored and alienated. It was clear this was not the right path for us. I was disappointed, but also relieved. (192)

Take Aways

  1. What appealed to Manning?
    • the recommendation of her Catholic friend, who did not hesitate to share an experience that was positive for her child with her “None” friend —> personal endorsement/invitation is the most powerful marketing
    • about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? We see it in her own layperson’s description, “a Montessori-based two-year program for preschoolers and kindergarten age children that allows children to choose from various religion-themed play activities rather than imposing a unified curriculum on them” (192). While this is incomplete in a technical sense (i.e. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is in Catholic language a “systematic” catechesis and stretches to age 12) it reveals what resonated with a “None” parent —> our marketing “key words” for outsiders do not need to be what’s most theologically important to us “church folks”
    • the Level 1 (ages 3-6) emphasis that “God is a good shepherd who will take care of you” was experienced by Manning as pre-evangelistic, it connected to her existing values –> the Church’s teaching on the role of pre-evangelization should not be overlooked 🙂
  2. As described in her research, it was her interest that convinced her husband to allow the “testing the water” in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. After the child’s interests/needs, spouses exert the second most powerful “push” to explore religious worldviews. And it’s usually the woman. –> #MarketToMoms #ConnectWithMoms

  3. Those familiar with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) will notice that Manning’s perceptive description isn’t quite accurate, i.e. our “insider” understanding of different “Levels” each spanning approximately three years is not clear to her. And this isn’t her fault, she’s not trying to be a catechetical expert (and yes, the parish mentioned runs typical Level 1 and 2 CGS programs). This impacts her expectations and understanding. –> When describing catechetical programs to parents, let’s remember that they don’t have the time to research or prepare to be familiar with our “insider” language.

  4. Manning takes her daughter to Mass. (!!!) Did you catch that? How blessed are we to receive such seekers in our midst! Remember, Manning is a “None,” her husband initially opposed the idea of having their daughter attend Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Manning herself already feels “uncomfortable,” and yet, she still goes. This is a huge leap on her part. –> Our attitude toward seekers should respect and honor the risks they’ve already taken to encounter us on “our turf,” rather than veil a disdainful or critical, “where have you been all these years?” We rejoice (note Jesus’ 3 parables in Lk 15) that the Holy Spirit has led them this far.
  5. Manning finds the Eucharistic homily at Mass to be forgettable. –> #AlwaysBeEvangelizing. While Mass isn’t “for” seekers, seekers are present. Preaching matters–it’s worth spending the time, bringing in the team, and preparing for the sake of those who might only be giving Mass one try.

  6. The music and lectors didn’t captivate Manning either –> Movements like Amazing ParishRebuilt, and Divine Renovation all emphasize the importance of the “Sunday Experience.” They’re right. (Other evidence supports this too).
  7. Manning’s daughter was bored and fidgety. –> While liturgically oriented Catholics may love having their young children with them at Mass, it’s unlikely a seeker or “None” will find that experience life-giving. We shouldn’t force them to by failing to care enough to offer a memorable and engaging experience for their children. It was Sheila who indirectly “brought” her mother to Mass this time–imagine if Sheila had spent the car-ride home telling her mom about the kids she met, how much she loved the singing, how fun it was–many parents would come back a second time (or more!) simply because their child had a great experience. That’s how us parents work 🙂

Again, I’m grateful to Christel Manning for sharing so personally in the conclusion of her book. Rarely do we get such a detailed description of how a “None” parent/child can go from non-attending, to catechesis, and even make it to Mass. 

Having concluded this series on Losing Our Religion, what new thoughts are you thinking about “Nones” as parents?

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“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #5, Nobody Likes a Seemingly “Forced” Religious Identity

9781479883202_fullParents who identify as “None” worry about their kids just as much as religious folks.

Key Point #5: “None” Parents Worry. But Nobody Likes a Forced Identity

As Christel Manning observes in,  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”:

“Unchurched Believer* parents often worried when their children showed no interest in religion.” (164)

At the same time:

“Another parent, a Philosophical Secularist whose teenagers had become born-again Christians, worried about their future while trying hard to remain true to his commitment world view choice. The hardest thing as a parent was, as he remarked, ‘not to criticize them when they became Christian.’ Instead, he hoped ‘the children will find their way back [to something closer to the parent’s worldview] when they go off to college.” (164)

Parenting is not for the feign of heart! Regardless of whether or not a parent identifies with a religion, parents worry about what worldviews their children absorb and identify with.

None parents especially value what sociologists call an “achieved identity”–meaning a person’s act of choosing beliefs/worldview–rather than an “ascribed identity” where a worldview is embodied simply because someone was raised that way (58).

*Note: for descriptions of Unchurched Believer Nones, Philosophical Secularist Nones, and more check out my series on “Losing Our Religion”  here.

Ministry Applications

What’s the “so what” for us?

  • We can think of ourselves as partners with None parents, even if we do not share the same beliefs. The None parent who laments their child’s lack of interest in religion is someone we can empathize with, without an attitude of, “well, what did you expect?!? not having faith yourself!” Likewise, the Secularist parent who is shocked that their teen is attending parish LifeTeen with friends can still be invited to be part of the community in a way that doesn’t force belief (i.e. invitations to potlucks, etc.)–this shows love. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care for them and their child, regardless of beliefs.
  • None parents value the idea of choice (“achieved identity” not “ascribed identity”). Offering opportunities to explore the rationality of Christian belief resonate with those seeking to make an “informed” decision.
  • That our contemporary culture places a positive value on “achieved identity” isn’t a bad thing! It’s the cultural context that allows non-Catholics to perceive a freedom to come explore Catholic Christianity. Historically, the normative experience of Christians in the early Church was indeed a “believer’s” baptism and profession of faith. It was a choice during the centuries when the # of “born Christians” was fewer than the number of “convert Christians.” We need not fear elements from our Tradition that emphasize this.
  • Given this cultural context, it’s important that we emphasize opportunities for those who were “raised in the faith” (aka “ascribed identity”) to also experience “achieved identity” without “switching” to a new religion. Talking about Baptism in the Holy Spirit, deliberately preparing for and reflecting on the meaning of renewing one’s baptismal vows at Easter, and more from our Catholic faith are ready-made for this! 🙂
  • We can also explore how to avoid giving children, teens, or parents the perceptive experience having been “forced” into an initiation sacrament–something that would “feel” like “ascribed identity.” Catechesis of the Good Shepherd models this with regards to a child receiving Eucharist, explaining, “at the annual announcement of the celebration of first communion, the children respond according to the desire for the sacrament and their personal maturity, which is discerned with the help of the family, the catechists and the priest.” With regards to Confirmation, check out these reflections from Fr. Gareth Leyshon of St. Philip Evans,  Chris Wesley of St. Joseph Parish & Marathon Youth Ministry, and Fr. Peter Dugandzic of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Interestingly, our Tradition does not mandate a precise age for sacraments of initiation, instead offering guidepost-based ranges and language that include parental insight into discernment, for example:
    • on Confirmation, the Code of Canon Law (CIC) states, “Parents and pastors of souls…are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time” (can. 890)
    • on Reconciliation and Eucharist, the CIC explains, “It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible” (can. 914)

Feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications of Manning’s book in the Comment box. 

 

Christian Unity 2017: Working the Vineyard

Vineyard 002Welcome to the Octave Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at Practical.Catholic.Evangelization.

I don’t think this can ever be a happy, celebratory week–as this time of prayer and reflection exists due to our human sinfulness, our giving in to the temptation to divide what God has drawn together in His family, the Church. But, I do think it can be a time of deep appreciation for the reality that, despite our sins of separation, there’s a tremendous amount of practical wisdom, knowledge, and practical spirituality for the the ministry of evangelization we’re all called to. Lessons to be learned from looking outside the “visible boundaries” of churches (as the world sees it).

Just look at Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources’ 2017 list of major trends for churches:

  1. Renewed emphasis on evangelism.
  2. Renewed emphasis on practical ministries.
  3. Increased frequency of allegations of child sex abuse in churches.
  4. Increased financial fraud in churches.
  5. The multi-site movement becoming a neighborhood church movement.
  6. An acceleration of church closures.
  7. Church acquisitions becoming normative.
  8. Worship center downsizing becomes normative.
  9. Longer pastoral tenure.
  10. The remarkable shift toward continual learning.

Rainer comes from a Southern Baptist, evangelical perspective, and predominately writes for established churches. Yet look at his list–practically, we’re all wrestling with similar pastoral issues. We’re co-workers in the same vineyard of the Lord, especially when our “vineyards” exist in similar cultural, geographic spaces.

Think through Rainer’s list through a Catholic lens, for example:

Renewed emphasis on evangelism and practical ministries, like hospitality and discipleship? Big yes for Catholic parishes and dioceses.

Better operations to prevent child sex abuse and financial fraud? Absolutely. Look at the great work to offer standards of excellence from the Nat’l Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.

Leaders thinking through the right-sized organizations and footprint for the Body of Christ in local communities, including neighborhood ministries, multi-site parishes, consolidations, and more? Yes. Big time in Catholic dioceses–and it doesn’t always have to be negative either. We can learn from our separated brothers and sisters and new structures for new times can be a good thing.

And finally, longer pastoral tenure and a shift toward continual learning? Yes again! The Rebuilt Parish Association, Divine Renovation Network, Amazing ParishParish Catalyst, and the Evangelical Catholic all represent huge growth showing that learning must be continuous for practical-minded, evangelizing leaders. Fr. James Mallon, founder of the Divine Renovation Network, clearly advocates for longer pastoral tenures within dioceses and deliberate stability and mentoring relationships designed to foster healthy and dynamic organizational cultures.

So this year, during these next eight Octave days, I’m going to share some of my favorites from “outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church” that offer me grace-filled practical wisdom for understanding how we participate in God’s mission of extending the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the world. So, stay tuned! 🙂

 

Book Review: The Rebuilt Field Guide

Are you a parish that just can’t seem to get started on moving from maintenance to mission?

A place where money, staffing, your community (and more) have been viewed as insurmountable barriers to evangelizing?

A parish that gets (or has gotten) bogged down in long-term strategic planning or any attempt to do something “big”?

The Rebuilt Field Guide: Ten Steps for Getting Started (Ave Maria Press, 2016) fills a niche by providing one of the most concise and all-in-one starter tools available to help parishes become evangelizing environments. At less than 100 pages and less than $10, this is a book that anyone can make it through, that any team can use to avoid becoming paralyzed by the myriad of (great!) ideas for evangelizing, and instead get to doing, learning, and adapting in one’s own parish setting.

Coauthors Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White pull together ten hands-on chapters, each a stand-alone exercise designed for a small (5-8 person) group of parish leaders. There’s a devotion and prayer prompt, excerpts from Rebuilt series books, discussion questions, space for your personalized parish reflections, and a final “rallying cry” to implement and preserve in single steps to move from maintenance to mission in the typical experience of parish life. Some exercises might take a week to complete, others months–the overarching point is to get moving. Start the engine. Begin driving, rather than merely watching the New Evangelization in whatever circumstances your parish may find itself.

How is this book different than the original “Rebuilt” or “Tools for Rebuilding”? At it’s core–this is much simpler. Very little back story on Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD (the authors’ parish), not a focus explaining the roots of our theology of evangelization, and no advanced steps that presume a level of staff capability and past progress. If you doubted that Rebuilt was relevant to your parish because Church of the Nativity just seemed so “different,” then this is the book for you, because it’s all about your parish, your community, your unique setting to live out Jesus’ instructions to go and make disciples (cf. Matt 28:19). This would be a boring book to read by yourself–because it’s all about the future of your parish.

The coauthors are spot-on as they explain:

It matters not at all what kind of parish you have: big or small, urban or rural, affluent or struggling. To undertake these exercises, you don’t need any particular resources, additional staff, or budget, and you won’t have to hire a consultant. You really only need one thing: a team. (viii)

And this matters. While there are more and more parishes implementing concrete changes to be evangelizing places for all who enter, sadly, the reality is that most Catholics are not in these parishes. The typical American Catholic experience is of maintenance, not mission. And in these churches there’s not a groundswell of action. Instead, there is often slow decay, sadness, hopelessness, or a sense of inevitability–that “religion” just isn’t a thing anymore, that the best that can be imagined is a well-managed decline.

The Rebuilt Field Guide offers the concrete basics to get moving. And moving counts, as Fr. White and Corcoran note, when “you apply or adapt what you think might work in your setting” the process itself teaches you “more about what actually does work for you.” Waiting to have a perfect grasp of Catholic theology of evangelization, dynamics of a healthy and learning organization, ministerial leadership, and more before starting will likely only keep you waiting. This book provides a path for learning by and while doing.

If you’re searching for a deeper theological understanding of the New Evangelization or comprehensive guide to parish renewal, leadership, and planning–this isn’t it. It’s something wholly different and uniquely suited to help parishes get moving. To take the first steps on a journey the world needs each and every parish to take.

Disclosure: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Rebuilding Your Message: Big Idea #3, Even the Best Can Rebuild

Digging deeper (beyond a review and key takeawaysBig Idea #1: Series, and Big Idea #2, Always Be Evangelizing) with Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilding Your Message (2015), today I’m pulling highlights about the systematic side of regular preaching–stuff that can benefit even the most spiritually graced preacher with natural and developed talents. These are ideas that can help a parish with a prayerful and gifted preaching pastor (or pastors) move from a place known for transformative and authentic individual Eucharistic homilies, to a place where that powerhouse preaching of the Word of God spills over, shapes, and colors entire systems within the parish.

communicationCommunication is always a two-ways endeavor. The best preaching (on paper/in theory) isn’t the best if it’s not fully heard in a way that leads to life-changing shifts in attitude or action. The most gifted and well-formed preachers and communicators can benefit by considering the process and systems for communication as a whole in the parish. How does the Sunday Eucharistic homily connect to everything in parish life?

Key Lessons for Great Parishes/Preachers from Rebuilding Your Message:

1. Have a Preparation Process that’s More than One. Outstanding preachers already know that preparing takes time.  But what about when there are more and more demands on your time (especially as a priest)? Have a process. “If you develop a basic process for preparation and presentation, you will find it much easier to survive and even thrive in communication” (41). And, bring all of your assets into this process/system, “while only [Father] Michael can preach it [Eucharistic homily], several people help to write the message” (41). This sets the conditions for sustainable quality.

But, don’t let it end with proximate preparation for a Eucharistic homily. Have a system for the message to overflow! [Patrick Lencioni does a great job describing this in The Advantage, naming it cascading communication.] “Regardless of the size of your parish, and the size of your staff, a team of people is the key to effective communication” (202). “This requires internal communication that precedes your general or church-wide communication” (202). The odea is that every children’s liturgy of the word leader, every usher, every deacon, etc. are all on the same page about the key messages of a particular homily/series

2. Use Series (p. 128-129). Now, we’ve talked about series in general before (and here’s Fr. White’s personal blog-pitch) but what I want to emphasize here is that using a series is not a crutch. Not some type of aid for those who “aren’t good” at preaching God’s Word. Taking the time to systematically plan series of sermons into the liturgical year is about the hearers, especially the unevangelized or those needing to take further steps as disciples. Here’s why: a) series develop into conversations among hearers–conversations keep the message in our minds and spur us to go deeper, b) a single message rarely converts minds or hearts (see strategy # 7 here), and c) a series creates alignment and focus in the parish, to “move the parish in a disciplined direction,” with a series (vs. a stand-alone, one Sunday theme) adult formation, youth ministry, and children’s formation can all move together, so that families and friends can support each other–so that synergy happens. It takes momentum to get things rolling in people’s lives, and the power of a series theme to align everything in parish life for a particular season helps create that momentum.

3. Plan Long Term. “You should plan all your communication as far in advance as possible. If you’re preaching, plan out a season or even an entire liturgical year. If you’re teaching or responsible for adult faith formation, look ahead each semester to the next semester (56).” This ensures all of the communications (preaching and teaching especially) tend toward a central vision, and every key leader in parish life can align their work and ministry to support it optimally. This also saves time–since by having a “lens” of a long term plan, staff and key volunteers can be on the lookout for examples and opportunities to connect to preaching themes. [Because seriously, emphasizing local testimonies or examples is way better than using an Internet search engine to find “off the shelf” pastoral examples for preaching!]

4. Resound the Message. Find ways to re-emphasize and repeat (with slightly difrerent messengers, twists, formats, etc.) your well-planned Sunday Eucharist messages. One of my favorite ways Church of the Nativity (the authors of Rebuilding Your Message) do this is by using what they call endnotes. Endnotes happen after Mass and include another statement of gratitude and encouragement to visitors, “sum up the homily,” and “remind people what our basic message was and the challenge offered to them in the message”–“a bottom line that they can carry with them out of Mass and into their week” (108-109). Usually this  includes a concrete action-step, something that week they can do that supports the main message of the homily. For example:

  • A prayer card after a message on worry
  • Breakout talks/sessions on relationship issues (i.e. married couples, caregiver relationships, parents of teens, etc.) after a homily series called “Tough Love”
  • Invitation cards to hand out to unchurched friends after a homily series on evangelization

Endnotes are rehearsed, not a reading of announcements (at Nativity this happens before Mass, since “regulars” more so than guests are likely to be there early and have a need to hear announcements). The speaker for Endnotes is polished and is aiming to make a solid impression. It’s key that the speaker (ideally) not be the celebrant or homilist–since having different faces and voices for the same message helps it to resonate more, to be more memorable, and to potentially give an alternate path to “hearing” if someone had a “block” (of language, internal bias, etc.) that impacted the hearing of the homily.

5. Integrate Concrete, Local Action. Let the Eucharistic homily truly be for this particular community. If a homily is about relationships in the Christian life, talk about small-groups (and ideally be having small-group launches soon in your parish!). If it’s about repentance, talk Confession times, etc. (162).

6. Go from Audience to AudiencesSpeak to different places of faith. “Comfort outsiders” by acknowledging them, but also making it clear what’s not for them–i.e. discerning percentile giving (aka tithing), praying about how to take a step into local mission, etc. (182). Say it aloud. This is not for you. On the other hand, make it clear that for longtime parish attendees, you’re asking them to take concrete steps in discipleship, to commit to prayer, to serve, etc. Don’t be afraid to speak to different audiences (i.e. youth, parents, etc.) in giving applications for a homily focus (198).

Interested in learning more? Check out these podcasts and share your insights in the Comment Box.

Rebuilt Podcasts (related to this post):

Image Credit:  “uncoolbob” via Flicker, CC BY-NC 2.0

 

Rebuilding Your Message: Big Idea #2, Always Be Evangelizing

Continuing to dig deeper  (beyond a review and key takeaways and Big Idea #1: Series) with Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s Rebuilding Your Message (2015), today we’re highlighting an endemic debate in Catholic (and even wider Christian) preaching–preaching to mixed audiences, audiences of believers, seekers, and everything in-between.

White and Corcoran assert that it’s a pervasive misconception that:

“if you try to reach lost people then you are abandoning the work of growing disciples… preaching to lost people helps church people because it forces you to return again and again to the basics, which our church people need as much as anyone else…[it] keeps us from sinking into theological language and churchy insider language that not just for the lost, but a lot of church people don’t really understand…it strips away the pretense so many congregations operate under that we’re an assembly of fully formed disciples” (p. 157)

I agree–it’s a false dichotomy to pose preaching initial proclamation and response [aka evangelistic preaching] or pre-evangelistic preaching as an either/or or in competition with preaching for discipleship, stewardship, mission, etc. Why? Because these moments and stages in the life of a seeker/believer are just that–stages and phases–they lead into one another, and support one another.

A personal response to the Good News in relationship with Jesus Christ is the essential foundation of all future conversion and integration of the life of a disciple. By re-framing, repeating, reminding, and re-imagining this foundational life-changing conversion (cf. Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est §1) time and again in all preaching, we both strengthen and clearly communicate that foundation, so that none walk away with the misconception that “the church just wants my money” or “that parish just wants everyone to be busy and involved.” But instead, walk away understanding “ah ha, Jesus loved me first, as I grow in relationship with Him, empowered by the Holy Spirit, _________________ becomes part of my life and response.”

Secondly, as White and Corcoran note, preaching to mature disciples involves forming believers to be proclaimers, to be evangelists. One of the best ways to “teach” evangelization is to hear the Great Story of Rescue by our Loving God over and over again. In different contexts. With different examples. This is a very human, and very effective way to learn. I see it in my own small children, as they hear a narrative again and again it doesn’t become boring (to them 😉 ), it becomes more real, their ability to retell the story grows. The same is true for us when we hear how much God loves us and how much God does to Rescue us from sin, sadness, and ultimately death.

Finally, we should always be evangelizing in our preaching (regardless of the more proximate or specific topic/theme/purpose) simply because the world needs it.

As a much younger adult, I once heard a fundamentalist Baptist pastor poignantly pour out how regardless of if it was a wedding or a touring choral group the congregation was hosting, he felt the burden of always finding a way to include the initial proclamation and offer a concrete option for response–because what if someone came to visit, just for the music with a deep need for healing in their life? What if that was God’s plan, and he as a pastor decided to take a break and remain silent that night? And I know he’s not the only pastor to discern his words this way.

So what about me?

Lost and Found Bullion
Image: Eric Golub, CC-BY-2.0

As a Catholic pondering the great images of Scripture, I think this applies to us too. the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Lk 15:3-7) and the Parable of the Lost Coin (Lk 15:8-10) give us striking examples of a preferential care and concern for the “missing” one, the one most in need of foundational Love and healing.

If God acts this way, it’s certainly not wrong for us to use our words similarly, to always cast at least one line (using a fishing metaphor) for those away from the flock, for those whom God loves more than we can ever fathom, this side of eternity!

In closing, avoid creating division over this question. Seek integration, so that while a message might have a main focus of one purpose, it always includes evangelistic invitation and response (even if it’s just in a tangent–presented with clarity and directness). If you feel like “that’s nice, but I don’t have the time”–I urge you to reconsider. Don’t think so small. Be creative. Read a book like Rebuilding Your Message and find the ways to move beyond A vs. B, and find a C option that works for you and opens your preaching, speaking, and teaching up to the Holy Spirit as a way to communicate the Good News of God’s love to everyone.

 

Do You Have a Volunteer Pipeline?

One of the biggest hurdles that many parishes face when trying to dramatically improve the experience of attending or growing as a disciple is a feeling of complete and utter scarcity when it comes to “volunteers.” Now, I’m not a huge fan of the word “volunteers” as applied to our Christian service–but I’ll use it for the sake of clarity here.

Church of the Nativity (Timonium, MD) has been through various initiatives for volunteer recruitment and formation–most notably “First Serve,” a try-it-on-for-size volunteer opportunity and combines discernment and on-the-job training for potential and new volunteers.

In a recent Podcast, Nativity leaders reflected on realizing they needed to adapt their system to meet changing circumstances. While First Serve is effective in providing a steady trickle of new volunteer ministers, it doesn’t have the capacity to develop a large number of new volunteer ministers all at one time–something Nativity is anticipating needing. Many parishes might be in a similar situation when significantly changing or expanding programs. This is a classic example of the saying (quoted on the podcast), “Systems work. Until they don’t.”

What Nativity is considering for a “bigger pipeline” is a big push to first simply learn more about serving, then a meeting (really more precisely “an event”) that includes prayer, praise, and worship followed by more information on the specific opportunities.

While this sounds vaguely similar to the classic “ministry fair” Sundays at many parishes–I think it’s a bit different. “Ministry Fair” makes it seem like this is an optional extra, and something one is shopping for (like a consumer). In some sense each table with a different ministry is competing with each other for the same “pool of recruits.” At the most foundational level, the challenge is to ensure the pipeline is rooted in initial conversion in Jesus Christ and desire to continue as a disciple, while at the same time acknowledging that there are some who will be converted through the process of volunteer ministry (and having the reflective moments built in to foster these opportunities).

Whatever your strategy for cultivating ministry volunteers as a part of discipleship (because how many disciples are not called to serve?) Nativity always provides a firm reminder that desperation and nobody-but-I-can-do-this are attitudes that do not belong anywhere if we’re serious about sharing the Good News of relationship with Jesus Christ and the empowered discipleship that can ensue. Bulletin calls and no development/support might get you out of a short-term volunteer crisis, but it’s no way to form disciples. Similarly, insisting that you don’t need lots of empowered volunteers not only leads to current staff/volunteer burnout–but it also thwarts the possibilities of the Holy Spirit alive in other growing disciples.

As you head into the summer (a great time for volunteer development) consider, what is your volunteer pipeline? What’s the fruit? Does it cultivate disciples?

 

Pipelines
Image: “Pipelines,” licenced under Creative Commons 2.0 by Claus Gerull