In 1 Samuel 17, we read the story of David—young, inexperienced and seemingly ill-equipped—standing before a huge giant, Goliath. Beginning the process of changing the culture of your parish can also feel like taking on a giant. There are two possible attitudes when facing a giant. One is to say, ‘It’s too big. There’s nothing I can do.’ The other is to say, ‘It’s so big I can’t miss!’ The five-systems framework outlined here is a great way to make an effective start on the ‘giant’ of growing a more missionary and fruitful parish.
A healthy body is made up of a number of different systems: the skeletal system, the circulatory system and so on. When one of the systems in our body fails to function correctly, it affects the health of the whole body. We become sick, and our entire body feels it. This is also true of parishes.
Healthy things grow and produce fruit. Acts 2:42–47 describes an ‘ideal’ Christian community, a ‘body’ that is healthy and growing. From this passage we can identify five interdependent systems: worship, evangelisation, discipleship, fellowship and service. In a healthy parish, each of these systems functions well. A malfunctioning system makes the whole parish ‘sick’, inhibiting its ongoing fruitfulness.
Your parish leadership team might consider performing a ‘health check’ on your parish, identifying systems that are not working optimally so that you can plan to bring the ‘body’, your parish, to better health.
‘… as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread’ (Acts 2:46)
Is your celebration of the Eucharist a moving and transformative experience that brings people into an intimate encounter with Jesus and with the community around them? As Catholics, our main act of worship is the Sunday Eucharist. Parishes can greatly improve the quality of their worship by paying attention to:
‘And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:47)
Does your parish have an intentional process that explicitly proclaims the kerygma and brings adults into a personal relationship with Jesus? Healthy things grow and produce ‘babies’. A clear sign of a healthy parish is that new adult Christians are being ‘born’. Opinions differ about what evangelisation is. It is frequently confused with discipleship. Your team needs a shared understanding of what evangelisation is—and isn’t—before you do a ‘health check’ of this system:
‘They devoted themselves … to fellowship … All who believed were together and had all things in common.’ (Acts 2:42, 44)
Is your parish a meaningful community where people are known and loved and are supported in their call to holiness? Healthy parishes are like a family and have a strong, welcoming community life. Many parishes are socially active, with sports clubs, dancing, barbecues, concerts and the like. But this is not necessarily fellowship. Fellowship may include socialising but cannot be reduced to it. It occurs in a community formed around the Gospel, and its purpose is to love and support each other on the Christian journey to holiness. Ask yourself: Is everyone in your parish known by name, loved and cared for? Does fellowship only extend to certain kinds of people? Are people with disabilities or different ethnicities or different socioeconomic situations somehow implicitly excluded?
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ (Acts 2:42)
Is your parish a place where enthusiastic followers of Jesus are supported in a lifelong process of growing in their loving and serving of God? Discipleship is about nurturing people who already love Jesus and who want more. Discipleship includes catechesis but cannot be reduced to it. People can take courses but not live transformed lives; they can know about God but not know God. Research tells us that the majority of baptised Catholics are not disciples; they have been sacramentalised but not evangelised. Parishes that nurture discipleship expect that conversion is a lifelong journey of ever-deepening relationship with Jesus. The parish can assist disciples by supporting their growth in faith, knowledge and prayer through a range of experiences of catechesis, Scripture study and so on.
‘All who believed were together and had all things in common, they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.’ (Acts 2:44–45)
Does your parish have a missionary culture that calls its members to service both within the parish and outwards to those who do not yet belong?
Analysing the overall health of your parish through a thorough and honest evaluation of each of these systems is a great starting point for developing a parish-renewal strategy.
Used as a diagnostic and planning tool, the five systems from Acts 2:42–47 can help you to grow a healthier and more fruitful parish. This might seem like a giant goal, but with the Holy Spirit—and with time, effort, effective leadership and strong teamwork—you can’t miss!
The Archdiocesan Animation Team is available to discuss strategies with you and/or your team and to facilitate sessions (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just ask!
Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week: ‘Balancing holiness and mission’