Silos, Sacred Cows, and Ministries Without Alignment for a Vision

Great analysis from Thom Rainer of how we in parish life become too busy, without growing more missionary:

  1. Activities became synonymous with ministry. I am familiar with a missions support group in a church. It includes over 30 people, representing over 20 percent of the weekly worship attendance. The group is very active with fellowships, meetings, and speaker events. But the missions support group has never supported missions, nor have they ever been involved in missions. But they sure are busy.
  2. Programs and ministries are added regularly, but few or none are ever deleted. This reality is glaringly obvious at a church in the Southeast with an average attendance of 60. The church has 15 committees and nearly 30 different programs and ministries throughout the year. They almost have one ministry or program for every member. They add some activity every year, but they never delete the dead or useless activities.
  3. Programs and ministries become sacred cows. They were once the pet project of a particular member or a group of members, alive or deceased. The thought of eliminating the non-functional ministry started by Sister Harriett or Brother Frank 35 years ago is deemed blasphemous.
  4. The alignment question is not asked on the front end. Even a good ministry may not be the best use of time for a church. In one church, the membership voted to initiate a ministry because one person had become a believer through the ministry in another church over a two-year period. But the church members never considered if there might be other ministries that could be more effective and better aligned with the direction of the church.
  5. Silo behavior among the different ministries of the church. A worship ministry in the church began a new ministry that required extensive volunteer help. But the leaders never considered they were hurting other ministries in the church. Members don’t have unlimited time; they have to make choices.
  6. Lack of an evaluation process. Most churches have an annual budgetary process. That is an ideal time to ask tough questions about existing ministries and programs. Very few church leaders take that opportunity.
  7. Ministry becomes facility-centered. In other words, if it’s not happening in the church facilities, it’s not “real” ministry. As a consequence, we keep our members too busy to do ministry outside the walls of the church.
  8. Lack of courageous leadership. It takes courage for a leader to look at the busyness of a church and say “no” or “enough.” Some leaders would rather not rock the boat and, as a consequence, lead a church toward mediocrity and malaise.

Here’s the challenge.

Make a change.

Take up one of these eight “how” statements, and imagine how you could shift your process, re-think assumptions, adjust decision-making structures, communicate with the parish, or whatever it takes, so that all aspects of your ministry are fully aligned with your vision.

Barn and Silos
Silos: Quaint on the horizon, but really, not how we want parish life to be organized. Image: Michael Hart Photography, CC BY ND 2.0

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Vision in a Homily

So your parish has a vision, and maybe even a catchy vision statement–now what?

Vision that’s not communicated broadly falls flat. Because the point of vision is that it guides everyone. Not just the elite. Not just leaders. Everyone.

VISION
How to communicate broadly in a Catholic parish?
The Sunday Homily.

I can hear the mental excuses now. All the reasons why your parish can’t communicate vision in homilies, how the people won’t like it, how it can’t be planned, there’s not enough time, etc. But, none of the excuses override the critical importance of preaching the vision, frequently and repeatedly, to the broadest parish audience.

As Fr. James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation and The Divine Renovation Guidebook, explains:

I remember catching myself saying once, ‘But I spoke about that in a homily last year.’ It is foolish for us preachers to think that most parishioners are going to remember something we said two weeks before, never mind a year before. In truth, if the sign on the bus is to be plainly recognized, we must speak about vision over and over again. In the last three years, I have committed myself to preaching some form of visioning homily at all the weekend Masses every three weeks. I am convinced that this is necessary (Divine Renovation, 255).

Sometimes it can be tempting to think, it’s in the bulletin right? We’ve got a sign up? The staff knows? It’s on the website? But that’s not enough, “there are no shortcuts when it comes to communicating vision: it takes time and intentionality” (DR Guidebook, 60).

Let’s start with the practical: what is a visioning homily?

  • not simply information, but the inspiration and motivation “to desire that preferred future and be wiling to make the changes necessary” (DR Guidebook, 60)
  • “A homily that attempts, in some way, to address the question of why are we here, where are we going and why we do the things we do, or are trying to do the things we are trying to do” (DR Guidebook, 62)
  • “Preaching about the mission of the Church and the future of your parish in a way that all your parishioners can hear and understand” (DR Guidebook, 62)

Does it really need to be repeated so often?

Answer: Yes. Here’s why: “If a parish is becoming truly missional and is innovating, there will be ongoing change within the parish. Change must always be explained in light of the vision” (Divine Renovation, 256). Most people don’t love change. By communicating the vision frequently (as Fr. James Mallon does, roughly every 3 weeks) the parish helps each and every person know and understand how concrete changes and decisions fit into the big picture, and help guide the efforts.

Okay, I’m ready. But what goes into a visioning homily?

Drawing from Divine Renovation (pg. 256-257), here are the key elements in a visioning homily, with examples from a visioning homily (Groundbreaking 05: Vision, April 24, 2016) at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD.

  • Answer: why are we here? Remind the listeners why the parish exists, what God has called you to, what your mission is. For Church of the Nativity, it’s growing disciples while growing as disciples. This gets mentioned twice in the first four minutes (at 1:50-2:08 and 3:50-4:04).
  • Name: what’s not right at the gut level. Scratch the point of dissatisfaction that people are experiencing. Help everyone feel the need. For Church of the Nativity, it’s that it’s “hard to invite people to come people to church when there’s no place to park and no place to sit” (4:30-4:45). This is something tangible. Lots of people in the parish may have experienced this…tentatively thinking about inviting a friend to Mass, but wary of doing so because of the seemingly crowded experience.
  • Explain: why the current situation or past models won’t work. This might include some transparency or vulnerability. Or showing how the parish has “done its homework” in trying to address the point of dissatisfaction in the past. Aim to be clear and honest about how a particular [old] way of doing things isn’t working, but without blaming people, staff, specific groups, etc. Since Church of the Nativity is addressing how to accommodate growth, the leaders share what they’ve done in the past or tried (different times, off-campus sites, etc), and how these solutions don’t effectively lead toward the parish’s vision (1:00-1:22).
  • Inspire: capture imaginations, invite people to dream. Encourage everyone listening to join in the “imagine if…” for the parish. What could it be? This is a time, not for information, but to make our hearts leap, make even the most change-averse person in the pew have a momentary optimism about the future. In the example from Church of the Nativity, Brian Cook reminds the community of pieces of plywood the parish had “filled with the names of all your friends, family members, co-workers…people you’re praying for, that one day they’ll come to church and meet their Heavenly Father…this project is about making room for them, all of them” (5:30-6:00) and continues to spur the imagination as to the wider significance of the parish’s direction, that “This new building can stand as a hopeful sign that intentional growth is still possible…that God is still using the local church to change lives” (6:10-6:41).
  • Share: the plan for how we’re getting to where we’re going. This part is the most intuitive. We like to talk about what we’re doing. But remember, this is just one of five key elements. Without the other pieces, this part of a visioning homily can quickly become a litany of information, rather than the transformation that’s at the heart of vision and change leadership. Church of the Nativity puts it concisely: it’s about “creating empty seats at optimal times” and that phrase is used at least four times in the 7-minute vision-casting portion of the Sunday message (remember, repetition works!). The “how” is that as the parish responds to the call to “invest your treasure in the Church” this will result in hearts “connected to the Church” and the “growth in faith that comes somewhere outside of your comfort zone.”

A well-crafted visioning homily weaves these elements together, independent threads yet repeated and interrelated. There’s a logical flow from reminding who we are, to identifying and understanding the “situation” (Name & Explain), to inspiring, and only then speaking the plan.

A visioning homily doesn’t need to take a lot of time. While this entire message from Church of the Nativity is “long” (20 minutes in total) by most Catholic standards, the vision casting portion is solidly within the first 7 minutes. Visioning homilies can be done in any Catholic parish on a regular basis.

The other lesson from the Church of the Nativity example is that a parish need not have a singularly incredible, awesome, best-preacher-ever to communicate vision. Brian Cook, Tom Corcoran, and Fr. Michael White (the 3 speakers in the Church of the Nativity message) are ordinary folks, just like you. They stumble on their words (as we all do). It’s not always the most beautiful language. And think about it–if you’re preaching on vision once every three weeks, not every one is going to be your personal best. The point is, they commit. They do it. One doesn’t have to be an especially-gifted dynamic preacher to communicate vision. Check out their book, Rebuilding Your Message (and related podcasts) for practical tips on how any disciple of Jesus Christ can grow as a communicator.

Do you have a great visioning homily to share? Post a link in the Comment section to help us all grow in this essential area of parish ministry.

p.s. Download the “Groundbreaking 05: Vision” example I used here. All vision casting elements are present within the first 7 minutes. I’m not sure how long beyond March 2017 the download will be available, but all key excerpts are in this post–viewing is optional 🙂

Christian Unity: Giving Tuesday and Beyond

Ever hear of #GivingTuesday?

Think how much giving as part of our call to discipleship has changed over the past decades, or centuries–new means (i.e. electronic transfers), new opportunities (due to affluence), and new needs (due to growing inequality). And yet in church-world the conventional wisdom is that nobody likes to talk about money, right?

As part of our learning approach to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, today I want to share a quick example of how inspiring and positive asking for money can be when it’s authentically part of a call to discipleship and vision for a church going forth with Jesus Christ to spread the Gospel.

Check out this Rise capital campaign video from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC and read more about how giving as an act of discipleship doesn’t need to stop churches from dreaming and asking big.

risologo5

 

 

Book Review: Divine Renovation Guidebook

My last book review covered a great “jump start” book, The Rebuilt Field Guide, one “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.” Today I’m looking at another new book for pastoral leaders: Fr. James Mallon’s Divine Renovation Guidebook: A Step-by-Step Manual for Transforming Your Parish (23rd Publications, 2016). At a quick glance, one might think, “oh, so this is the workbook version of that other book that same priest-guy wrote, right?” Wrong. The Guidebook is a book jam-packed with it’s own value, it’s the pastoral planning book for evangelizing parishes.

dr_guidebookPastoral planning has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades. Not outwardly, I mean, who can rationally oppose the idea of planning for the future? But, from the surge of materials encouraging pastoral plans that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, what fruit have many parishes seen? It’s possible to write an exceptional pastoral plan to maintain exactly what you’ve got in your parish right now. It’s also possible to write an exceptional pastoral plan and simply leave it on the shelf. A check-the-box binder that maybe the bishop required of you.

What a newer crop of resources from the Divine Renovation, Rebuilt, Parish Catalyst, and Amazing Parish teams articulate more clearly is that strategic pastoral planning isn’t a silver bullet. An exceptional pastoral plan accomplishes nothing if there’s no operational leadership, no culture or systems that support and align with the plan. And this is where the Divine Renovation Guidebook shines. It’s a workbook for developing a legit longer-term pastoral plan to rival anything you’ve done before, while ensuring that your parish becomes more and more mission focused along the way. Operational effectiveness, strategy, and leadership are embedded–it’s not an option–you can’t simply write a plan and skip taking a hard look at your concrete processes and leadership culture.

The original Divine Renovation was a deep theological look at many of the assumptions and cultural patterns that contribute to the vast majority of Catholic parishes in North America existing as maintenance outposts, rather than centers of missional outreach. That book is a great read, that I’d highly recommend for anyone (in addition to the podcasts delving into more detail on sacramental preparation, catechesis, etc.). The Guidebook is less widely relevant in that it’s for parish leaders, but more practically impactful. This will enable you to not just understand the situation of modern parishes, but concretely change and plan so that the joyful, Good News of life eternal in Jesus Christ can be heard and experienced wherever you are. I highly recommend it for every senior leader, especially pastors, in a parish setting.

Tradition and “That”

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

What might the “that” be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a version of this post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.Com

 

Vision and Implementation: Louise de Marillac & St. Vincent de Paul,

Ever heard of the St. Vincent de Paul Society? Probably. The group has a bold vision in the U.S. to end poverty through systemic change.

Interestingly, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was not founded by St. Vincent de Paul, but instead created by a young French law student, Frédéric Ozanam. Ozanam placed his new society under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul, due to St. Vincent’s devotion to the poor of France.

But, what I didn’t know about St. Vincent de Paul or the society bearing his name (until reading Ann Garrido’s Redeeming Administration, Ave Maria Press, 2013). There was another leader, a lay woman and mother–Louise de Marillac–who played a key role in enabling Fr. Vincent de Paul’s efforts to grow to scale. After receiving a particular message in prayer at Pentecost in 1623, Louise met Fr. Vincent de Paul in the context of spiritual direction. Louise began working with Vincent’s various confraternities and identified the need for “a religious community of peasant women” who could work across class and cultural boundaries to better reach the poor.

This was a radical and innovative idea. It challenged the status quo of (usually) only wealthy women entering religious life. It also came with implications. Recognizing God’s call in the uneducated and poor meant needing to better design formation programs for the new community and establish effective and mutually understood working relationships with wealthier confraternity members.  [This congregation of women eventually became known as the Daughters of Charity.]

Growing to scale in any ministry requires that we find ways to recruit and form new leaders, new collaborators, new missionary disciples for the work of Jesus Christ. Let us, like St. Louise de Marillac, be creative in vision and steadfast in implementation when it comes to addressing our world’s most pressing needs!

 

Ceiling over "St. Louise de Marillac"

Image: David Shane, via Flickr (CC 2.0 license), ceiling over “St. Louise de Marillac” at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Why Vision? From Fr. Theodore Hesburgh

Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., passed almost a year ago to this day. My husband reflected that the breadth of his leadership is something we’re unlikely to see again in the near future, due to greater specialization and shifts in culture. Nonetheless, his longevity and stature give us reason to pause and consider his contributions to our understanding of vision. He wrote:

Or as an old Sicilian proverb (that may or may not be old, or Sicilian, but is quoted here) says, a fish rots from its head.

As a leader, you need to know the vision of your ministry/organization, and just as importantly, so do your stakeholders! This means your key collaborators, supporters, volunteers–everyone. We can’t go anywhere effectively, until we have an idea where we’re going, what’s the desired future worth sacrificing, praying, and working for?

Trumpet boy

Image: “Trumpet Boy,” by Tormod Ulsberg via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 licence