What does this mean for a church?
If a stranger walked into our parish on a Sunday, what would they see? Would they see a crowd of people engaged in the worship of an all-powerful, all-merciful God who is the center of their lives? Or would they see a group of people who can’t wait to get out of the church and get on with their real lives?
Unfortunately, our parishes too often resemble the latter. In the past few years I have become convinced, that a key part of evangelization involves forming intentional disciples. Cultural change in our parish is necessary to achieve this.
I think it’s always a challenge. I mean, we’re living in an increasingly secular culture. We’re being called to this new missionary journey as a Church. And the only way forward is for every single Catholic to pick up that call to first be a disciple. That is the answer, I think, to our cultural ills.
But when we look at our parishes, we see that there are only a handful of people engaged in parish life. How can cultural change happen when you only have a small percentage of parishioners to work with? But small numbers are no reason to be discouraged.
The interesting thing is that 1% is not a bad place to start. We can move from that 1% down the different tiers of parish life – the weekly Mass goers, the semi-engaged, etc. It’s never bad to start with a small group who understand and embrace what is going on.
There is a huge cultural shift that happens in our parish and leadership when we realize how much of what we do as parish is stuck in maintenance mode. We’re kind of in neutral, and year after year do the same things – churn things out, just “doing church” and expect things to change. When we really start to look at the reality of what it means for a parish to exist to form disciples of all its members, and then to move outside the walls eventually and “be church” we can be challenged into action and create a shift.
So, we help people connect with the idea that culture change really happens when 3% of any given parish are really disciples, really following Jesus Christ in that way. What culture change is, I think, is when that number begins to double, and then triple, and continue to grow over time. And that’s slow work that requires a commitment and focus on the real mission over the long term.
While cultural change in our parishes is a necessary and exciting prospect, it’s not a quick fix. Forming disciples is not something that happens overnight but is a journey that our parishes need to be intentional about how we accompany our parishioners.
Really, what we’re trying to get our parishes to do is emphasize people over programs. Really walk people through this clear path of becoming a disciple and accompany them in relationship along that journey. And because of the nature of the human heart, and what it takes to open up your life to Christ, that inherently takes time.
Our process is simple, and we will not be taking off in a direction toward parish renewal. What I am really trying to do with our process here at Holy Family is help the parish identify and then build, craft, and prioritize a clear path to discipleship so that we each individually and collectively as the church of Christ may fulfill our mission.
Fr. László Nagy