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)


Phrases to Ripen Conversations

Justin Chua (Flickr) CC BY ND NC 2.0

Spreading the love of God is inevitably a personal, relational experience. We know as Christians that–if we stay at this “evanglism” thing long enough, we’re going to have to talk to people. And this can seem like a burden for many of us. It can also seem fruitless. It’s possible to do a lot of talking, but continually miss the mark on creating a space where the person you’re talking to can feel safe enough to be open, to be a bit vulnerable. It’s this point of vulnerability where those unique relationships that carry us through life start to form, it’s where love is tangibly experienced.

While there’s no silver bullet to cultivating conversations like this, here are some key phrases (in no particular order) to keep at the ready:

  • Ask “How are you?” With meaning. And conviction. Give the patient listening space for an answer, and take whatever comes seriously and reverently. Follow ups like, “ah besides school, how’s the rest of life going?” can help keep this question going, allowing a person to slowly reveal what they choose.
  • “Sometime, I’d like to hear more about your spiritual journey…would you be up for that?” (h/t Cru “SomeTime,” Overview). This question “asks permission” for a future opportunity, an interval that allows a person to accept and prepare to share, without feeling imposed upon.
  • If someone’s already sharing a bit about their life, work, hobbies, passions, a deeper follow up could be, “…in all that, what are the things you really want to be true of in life [or in this season of life, the coming year, etc.]?” (h/t Cru, “New Years Conversations”).
  • “Can I pray for you about that?” or “Is there anything I can pray for you for?” For a person who is uncomfortable with religiosity, you could even phrase it, “Is there anything you’d like me to pray about or just keep in my mind for you? (while it sounds weird for us Christians, many people of no faith at all “like” the idea of prayer or others thinking about them.
  • “What was your religious background growing up?” in a relevant conversation, is a good gentle “on-ramp” to talking spirituality since it doesn’t force a person to speak about present beliefs–only about the past, and area where their may be shared humor, or silent/serious wounds to enter into.
  • Life Goals/Careers: “What do you like most about what you do? How about the least?” “What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life?” “Tell me about your greatest success or greatest failure along the way?” “What’s the greatest piece of wisdom ever passed on to you?” “What three principles have benefited you the most thus far in your life journey?” “What’s your ultimate vocational dream?” “What did you see yourself doing career-wise when you were eighteen?” (h/t Doug Pollock, “99 Wondering Questions”)
  • “For [insert your own situation: i.e. someone just starting out, someone with young children, someone retiring, etc.] what advice would you give about what you think he purpose of life is”? (h/t Doug Pollock)
  • After someone has shared a bit of their biography in facts, “ah, in all that…what would you say some of the major turning points in your life have been?” (h/t Pollock)
  • Relationships: “How did you meet your husband/wife (or boyfriend/girlfriend)? What have you learned about yourself through marriage (or dating)? (h/t Pollock)
  • Influences: “Has there been one book/movie that has greatly influenced you?” “Besides your parents, is there any one person who stands out as having had a major influence in your life”? (h/t Pollock)
  • “What, if anything, causes you to be hopeful about the future?”
  • Personality: “As people get to know you, what do they enjoy most about you?” “As people get to know you, what do they enjoy least?” “As people get to know you, in what area do you feel most misunderstood?”
The point of these phrases isn’t to reach some specific conclusion, or even lead directly to an initial proclamation of the Gospel–the point is to create a space for a person to be heard, to be able to share a little deeper or more personally than our busy world typically allows (or even wants!) people to share. They allow a person to be known in ways they may be craving for–that inner loneliness we sometimes feel, even when surrounded by caring people. When we have listening conversations, we ourselves can be more vulnerable with others, building the trust that’s a bridge to the Gospel–a concept written about by Sherry Weddell in Forming Intentional Disciples and inherent in our Catholic conept of “pre-evangelization,” as moments that connect the values someone actually/inherently experiences to who we know God personally to be.
Do you have other great phrases to help “ripen” conversations? Feel free to share in the Comments.

Six Discipling Resolutions for Fall Ministries

It’s that time of year when many ministry staff and volunteers are preparing to launch or re-start initiatives, groups, programs, and more, as students and adults transition back from summer vacation season. Sometimes we can get caught up in the complexity or scale of our plans and forget our key foundations.

I’ve been reading Chris Wesley‘s Rebuilding Youth Ministry, and while the book is a great strategic guide for youth ministry, it has a straightforward clear message for all of us–from RCIA to adult small groups to kids faith formation and beyond. Drawing from Rebuilding Youth Ministry, here are six resolutions to help keep a more personal, discipling focus in your fall ministries.

1. Remember, the vast majority of people are “relationally driven,” not event-driven. Make sure forming friendships and relationships are an ordinary, intentional part of your ministry.

2. Never assume a particular point in one’s spiritual journey or baseline religious knowledge from any participants. Yes, the bulletin announcement may have read, “grow deeper in the faith through a Bible Study of John’s Gospel,” but the reality is that some who attend may be functional agnostics, others might have erroneous notions of “Church teaching.” And this is a good thing :-) as long as you stay away from assumptions and get to know participants.

Read more here

Review of Chris Wesley’s “Rebuilding Youth Ministry”

Rebuilding Youth Ministry: Ten Practical Strategies for Catholic Parishes (Ave Maria Press, 2015) is the third in the “Rebuilt parish” series–following Rebuilt and Tools for Rebuilding. I recommend this book for anyone in a specialty/functional area parish ministry–i.e. youth ministry, adult faith formation, young adult ministry, children’s religious education, RCIA, etc.

Now, this might strike you as a curious recommendation–I mean the title says youth ministry and it’s about youth ministry–but the value of this book as a resource for ministry leaders goes well beyond youth ministry.

The Big Picture

Rebuilt and Tools for Rebuilding focus on renewal from the perspective of a parish leader–a pastor, pastoral council, or pastoral associate. Rebuilding Youth Ministry is different. It’s a shorter, more focused primer on how to plan and specialty/functional ministry in the parish–through the lens of youth ministry. It’s an easy read filled with clear explanations of leadership and management basics, ideal for someone who has theological training, but wants to be more effective in ministry, without the detail that HBR or SSIR articles on leadership and management provide. Wesley writes for youth ministers, but what he says is so practically applicable, any leader of a parish formation/catechetical ministry could benefit from reading this. Read it and substitute your functional area (i.e. adult faith formation, RCIA, etc.) for youth ministry 🙂 it’s a fun and useful thought experiment.

Nuts and Bolts

The starting premise (provided by Rebuilt parish authors Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran in the forward) is simple:

Students…are an important part of the Church right now. God very much desires a growing relationship with them and has granted them gifts and talents to serve him and his family. (vii)

Basically, if you’re only concerned with youth ministry for the sake of the future, you’ve got an inadequate view of how the Holy Spirit can use all believers, today, for the sake of the Gospel.

So how to respond? Have a sense of irresistible, joyous urgency that “every even remotely interested teen living within your parish boundaries needs to be connected to a small group that is focused on evangelization and discipleship (growing a relationship with Jesus and learning how to serve him)” (25).

Whoa! (You might be thinking). That’s impossible. Youth ministry in my parish has been a struggle of kids not showing up, burn out, parents forcing kids into Confirmation, etc. If Church of the Nativity is having success, I want whatever program they’re using…

And this is where Wesley urges us to change our thinking. Stop with programs, retreats, and events as silver bullets–“teens are not event-driven; they are relationally driven. The last thing they need is another program” (9). [Note: kids and adults are probably the same way 😉 hence why I recommend this book to those with no connection to youth ministry.] Wesley accurately observes, “you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with the concept that relationships are essential to a person’s faith journey” (29). But putting this into practice is a challenge in many parishes because we try and think big too quickly–skipping the critical step of building a “structure of authentic relationships” (29).

To build strongly means to grow a solid foundation of vision, mission, a volunteer team, parish buy-in and resourcing, prayer, personal ministerial identity, and more–and this is what the ten strategies of Rebuilding Youth Ministry help walk us through. Each chapter dissects one strategy and includes concrete “First Steps” that ministry leaders can immediately begin to discuss and take action on, developing (step-by-step) the sustainable ministry Wesley describes.

In Summary

Overall, Wesley focuses on ministerial strategies rather than specific tactics/techniques, programs, curricula, events, or formats–and this is a good thing. It’s a discussion of how to think, envision, and build/develop–rather than a simple prescription of what to do. All too often parishes focus on what to do and doing more, rather than on the deeply rooted, essential vision and relationships behind ministry growth. Rebuilding Youth Ministry challenges the assumption that “more is better” in when it comes to ministry (or parish) health. It’s an outstanding guide for anyone ready to honestly assess and renew youth ministry in a parish setting. And, (if you can think outside the box a little) it’s also widely applicable for all parish ministers–something I’ll be diving into over the next few weeks with some of my favorite takeaways from the book.

Your thoughts? Have you read this book or applied parts of it? What were your experiences? Share here or on Twitter using the hashtag #RebuildingYM to continue the conversation.

Disclosure: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. Opinions expressed are my own, completely honest enthusiasm. 😀

Ideas for Genuine Inquiry in RCIA via Garry Poole’s “Seeker Small Groups”

In Seeker Small Groups: Engaging Spiritual Seekers in Life Changing Discussions (2003) Garry Poole proposes small groups led by ordinary Christians as the best way to engage and evangelize seekers.

Okay, so what does he mean by seekers? For him seekers=non-Christian, a spiritual seeker, a seeking friend–it’s interchangeable for someone who has not personally received Jesus Christ as forgiver and leader, no matter how far along they are in their spiritual journey (p. 32). The Christian’s goal then, “is to understand a seeker’s perspective and figure out the best ways to challenge that seeker about what it means to know God. And, then prayerfully attempt to give him or her opportunities to receive Jesus Christ as the only means of finding forgiveness and true relationship with God” (p. 33).

A Seeker Small Group (SSG) is 2-12 seekers and 1-2 Christian leaders who meet to discuss the seeker’s spiritual concerns, questions, and issues. What a huge point! The leader doesn’t really set the agenda or decide that the seekers should hear about, say, styles of prayer, the Catechcism, what RCIA is like, etc. [and yes, I know that these things happen during RCIA’s inquiry phase in many parishes]. Poole notes that Christians often spend time answering questions that seeker’s aren’t asking. We just want to share the Good News before even engaging with the seeker’s actual objections, confusion, etc. SSGs are  place to understand the seekers’ past religious experiences, Biblical understanding, spiritual questions, barriers/objections, and places of spiritual blindness (=where the seeker holds a theology that misrepresents Christianity).

Seeker Small Groups get started through relational evangelism. People in the church inviting friends, relatives, co-workers, acquaintances, and the like. Of course, many people hear about Seeker Small Groups on Sunday–but there’s always a bridge of trust. “If we build it, they will come” simply doesn’t work for seekers. We need to build the relationship and interest first–whether trough church events or conversation at a softball game. Churches can establish affinity-based seeker groups (e.g. men, women, neighborhood, etc.), launch them before or after a popular Sunday service, or jump-start many of them through a large weekend event or outreach moment.

My thoughts on how this might translate for Catholic parishes:

1. I think we’d have a much more difficult time convincing/empowering typical parishioners to feel comfortable/competent in leading one of these groups. In principle, any Catholic Christian should be able to facilitate one of these seeker groups and have the basic ability to discuss core, kerygmatic beliefs. Unfortunately, the perception I observe is that most parishioners feel that there’s a tremendous amount of catechetical knowledge that’s essential for them to have before they “lead” any group. But, this misses the point–the seeker is wrestling with core issues, like does God exist? and any Catholic Christian should be able to share with authentic conviction how he/she came to this belief.

2. We’d have a different theology of who is a seeker. We wouldn’t call a “seeker” synonymous with “non-Christian,” since for us, seeker would also likely include many of the baptized who have drifted away or not responded to their baptismal vocation. We’d likely have many seekers who consider themselves “cultural Catholics.” This is all okay–just something to be aware of when reading Poole’s book.

3. Seeker Small Groups could function as a pre-inquiry or inquiry phase for RCIA. The fact that these groups are relatively small and meet for a defined, but short (6 wks or so) length of time means that–bam!–problem of not knowing how to start year-round RCIA is solved. 🙂

4. Poole writes that Seeker Small Groups show that seekers really matter (p. 34). Seekers matter to God, so they should matter to our parishes. When I think about typical parish offerings–eh, there’s not always a place set aside for seekers. We need to to that, instead of expecting seekers to conform to our ideas of how they should come to know/meet Jesus in the midst of the local parish.

Sound intriguing? Poole’s book is easy to digest and is basically a handbook on how to lead these small groups. I’ll be covering some of the basics in future posts, but if you’re an RCIA leader or involved in adult faith formation–I definitely recommend this book. For me it presented a whole realm of new ideas on how much seekers can actually be engaged through the local church.


Cru Inspired Thinking

I recently had the privilege of getting to attend a Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) vision dinner (also called a “fellowship dinner”–here’s an example of one from a different region and some tips that explain what these are all about). I left filled up with thoughts, ideas for evangelization, and a curiosity about the many legacies of Cru in my life. Here’s a few thoughts:

1. The dinner was filled with real life testimony. Call it telling “glory stories” or celebrating “wins,” but the idea is the same. There’s something powerful about affirming the presence of God and the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our ministries. Read more…

2. The quickness of “win, build, send.” Like FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) the mantra or process for discipleship is the simple, “win, build, send.” One of the students sharing her testimony had her adult re-conversion (aka the “fundamental decision” in the language of Pope Emeritus Benedict in Deus Caritas Est, §1) to Jesus Christ in the fall. By the next summer she was doing initial proclamation of the Gospel and relational evangelism overseas on a summer-length mission. FOCUS operates similarly. While it’s not explicitly rejected, it seems like in typical parishes, we don’t expect or support this in adults. Many adults have the sense that the amount of formation before one can be “send” to verbally share the Gospel is quite high–that it requires vast intellectual formation that would take years to acquire. While on-going formation is a lifelong Christian discipline, there is something important about encouraging and affirming people in their ability to authentically share the initial proclamation of the Gospel, the kerygma right away. Authenticity and realness of conversion goes a long way.

3. Spiritual surveys can bear real fruit. I was reminded how these are a mainstay of building a ministry for Cru. Spiritual surveying is about conversation first, collecting data second. They are easily adaptable as an evangelization technique in Catholic parishes. has some great resources and how-to articles, just search for “survey” or check this list.

4. Indirect influence matters. As I listened to the various speakers talk, I thought about how, though I’d never gone to a Cru (then Campus Crusade) small group Bible study during my undergraduate years, I was indeed touched by their ministry. The last time I moved, I found a box of papers from college. In one folder was a collection of “Every Student” newspaper ads with apologetics and/or evangelistic messages. I’d cut these out in college. Because they spoke to me and gave me ways to defend my faith in a skeptical, indifferent, and sometimes even politely hostile college environment. I’m also pretty sure that Cru helped to sponsor some of the many auditorium-filling Christian speakers that came to our campus to speak about the rationality of our faith, the created order, and more.

5. Cru’s Catholic legacy. For anyone familiar with Cru and FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), it’s pretty obvious that FOCUS is a “grandchild” of Cru [with FOCUS founder Curtis Martin as the first generation fruit of Cru, so to speak]. As I left the dinner, I was thinking about how amazed Cru founder Bill Bright might have been, back in the 1950s or 1960s, if someone had told him that in just a few decades there was going to be a Catholic version of Cru on campuses across America. Oh how the Holy Spirit can work, well beyond the limitations of our vision or imagination!

This made me a bit curious about Bill Bright, and so I found a library copy of Bill Bright & Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America and gave it a read. Interesting to hear about the struggles Bright had with seminary education in contrast to his evangelistic ministries, his belief that denominational churches weren’t really ready to disciple and continue to form the “converts” made by Campus Crusade, his various initiatives that were not specifically focused on the relational evangelism that I’ve always identified with Cru, and more. It seems that he started out a bit anti-Catholic (thinking that the election of JFK would be the last free election in America, due to JFK’s relationship with the Vatican), but really evolved throughout his life–becoming open to Catholicism through the charismatic renewal, receiving support for the 1979 Jesus film through Catholic channels, and eventually signing onto the Evangelicals and Catholics Together ecumenical statement in 1994.

The relationship between Cru and FOCUS reminds me of some of the glorious truths in the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), §3-4:

  • the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them [separated brethren] as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church
  • Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren
  • Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.

In that spirit, as a Catholic in a parish blessed to be hosting FOCUS missionaries who minister at our neighboring university, I’m thankful for how God used Bill Bright in a way that is indirectly producing spiritual fruit in my very own parish.

Small Group Nuts and Bolts — Some Concrete Tips from Ben Reed

There’s both a vision/strategic side of growing small groups for catechesis and evangelization in your parish, and a nuts and bolts side that addresses practical questions. This podcast (and transcript…so you don’t have to listen!) from Ben Reed via UnSeminary.Com offers some much appreciated nuts and bolts operational tips.

When to launch groups? The main times are January and August because these are two times of the year when people are looking to make new commitments or schedule changes. Other times for smaller new launches might be April or October, or specific outreach building off of a conference at the church. For Catholic parishes, maybe this means an opportunity for launching small groups right after a summer festival/feast or other popular community event involving the parish?

How to get people into groups? Have an easy on-ramp. Meaning, have a small group presence at the event/time period that’s going to propel people in. For Catholic parishes, I’d say this means something special after Masses on Christmas Eve/Day and Easter to give a tangible “next step” for those who might be coming back to Church, new to the parish, or in a “pre-discipleship” stage of their faith journey.

Who should be a small group leader? First off, having a “robust leadership development process” is critical because it enables Reed to take risks on people who haven’t previously led groups or wouldn’t be one of the “usual suspects” within a parish for such facilitation/leadership. Given the size of Catholic parishes (median 1050 or so families) in order to reach a large portion with small groups, most parishes will need to develop many more volunteer leaders than currently utilized in parish life. Reed also acknowledges that getting existing leaders (i.e. ministerial staff, deacons, parish council members, Knights of Columbus leaders, etc.) is important too, and I’d add that for these folks, serving in small group leadership positions shows how important this is to the parish. It models discipleship for the rest of the parish. It shows a team effort (staff/clergy/volunteers/laity) rather than one group placing a burden on another. 

Okay, what’s this robust leadership development process at Reed’s church? Reed uses 5, 1-hr seminars to coach and develop small group facilitators. The first two seminars happen before a group launches. Then the leader is linked up with a coach who will provide one-on-one mentorship as the leader is continuing with a group over many months. During the actual group leading time period (months, years, etc.) the leader will complete the remaining three 1-hr seminars. The seminars are about information transfer, the one-one-one coaching/mentorship is the relational aspect of training. 

When and where do small groups meet? Reed explains:

we define a small group as a group of people who are taking steps of faith together. It doesn’t matter where you meet. It doesn’t matter how long you meet. And so we have chosen a unified vision. Some churches have chosen kind of different paths for small group and Sunday School classes, but we have chosen a unified path that allows us to have a streamlined training process, a streamlined development process.”

I think the streamlined leader development and training process could be a huge “win” for many understaffed/underresourced Catholic parishes. By using small groups as the process or way of delivering discipleship, evangelization, catechesis, pastoral care, formation for service/justice, acts of mercy, liturgical service, etc. within the parish [read more about that here], a parish could up the quality of training, but decrease the various types of training for a more efficient and “deep” model within the parish.

Reed also notes that the church provides childcare at least one time during the week (Sunday nights) so that groups that choose to meet at this time have an option at the church building that makes it easy for families. Definitely a great idea for parishes! In many parishes childcare/nursery simply can’t be provided at most formation activities because the activities are spread throughout the week–but by massing formation groups at one time (and giving them an off campus option, say at a coffee shop near the parish) childcare coverage can stretch over a large number of groups.

And, final words from Reed on where to start:

One more thing that I would say is if you are kind of wrestling through how do we get groups going? What does it take to get groups off the ground? We don’t even know…we are exploring small groups we may do those, we may not….I would say this: grab 2, 3, 4 maybe even 8 people you know that you say these are leaders. Whether they are spiritual leaders or just natural leaders, grab those people and spend 8 weeks with them and invite them into your home. Just do life with them for the next 8 weeks and see if you like that. See if they enjoy it. I can almost guarantee that they will grow. And then you can kind of choose from there to launch out potentially 8 new groups out of that, but to start small groups, the easiest way to do that is for you to start your own small group. Gather the people that you know and start investing in them.

Definitely a challenge for me personally, especially since I’m not a staff member at my parish. My parish has many grassroots small groups of 4-8 folks, but we haven’t really been multiplying. Hmm….Come, Holy Spirit!