Monday, March 23, 2015

Suggested Ground Rules for Meetings...and Life as well.

These were Suggested Ground Rules at a training conference I recently attended, and I feel it applies to more than just meetings.

  • Actively contribute to discussions.
  • Volunteer for assignments.
  • Discourage outside interruptions.
  • Attend Meetings.
  • Start and end meetings on time.
  • Focus on agenda items during meeting.
  • Solve the problem or make improvements in accordance with the four keys to quality.
  • No "war stories"
  • Listen and show respect for the views of other members.
  • Concentrate on what is being said and allow the person who is speaking to finish.
  • Complete work assignments on time.
  • Avoid disruptive side conversations.
  • Evaluate each idea on its own merit.
  • Make decisions based on Facts.
  • Come prepared.
  • Keep comments brief.
I feel many can benefit just by following these rules, even if only a handful are applied.  Applying all would be most beneficial.

- MO

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Rebuilt - The Story of a Catholic Parish

Whoa....That is my reaction after I finished reading this book within 4 days.  I could not put it down!

No book has transcended my views on the mission of a Parish, and its timing is impeccable as St. Alphonsus begins the Journey of Parish Transformation.

This may be a longer post, but I encourage you to read all the way through, especially if you don't have time to read the book in it's entirety.

NOTE: This is not necessarily a thorough Review, but rather the most important points that stood out to me.  Majority of text is verbatim or paraphrased from book.   I added my thoughts under 'Mark's Take:'.

Part 1: Naming the Problem

Ten Things their Parish got wrong:
  1. We assumed if we did more and did it better, people would grow in their maturity and commitment.
  2. We thought if we did more and did it better, people would automatically give more (money).
  3. If we did more and did it better, we took it for granted that people would automatically get involved and help out.
  4.  We looked to our stalwart church-goers (senior citizens) as our natural allies as we tried to move forward.
  5. Little did we appreciate how detached the second and third Generations of demanding consumers had grown.
  6. ...We didn't understand how marginalized the whole enterprise of faith and religion had become in the lives of our 'parishoners'.
  7. Despite our best efforts, we really were not reaching our student population.
  8. We didn't understand how profoundly uninterested the non-church-going population had grown, how distrustful of any outreach efforts we made, and how cynical they could be about all organized religion.
  9. We were not turned toward God.  We were not relying on his leadership.  And we were not looking to go where he was blessing.
  10. We thought this would be easy.  
Mark's Take:  If St. Alphonsus could make a Top Ten List, ours would be very similar.

By turning towards God, the Parish found where to take first steps.  Scripture makes it clear that God expects us to be faithful and fruitful.  God Doesn't want his Church to fail.

How do we do it?  How do we make our parish church grow?  Wrong question.  We don't make it grow; only God does that.  As St. Paul teaches, God is the agent of growth in his Church:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God caused the growth.  Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth...For we are God's fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:6-7,9)
God's will is growth.  One of the key factors in moving forward, when we finally did, was our willingness to learn how to move forward by turning to people who already were doing so.

By turning to God, activities had purpose rooted in why the Parish exists. 

Mark's Take:  This is not only the way to approach Parish life, but one's own life.  Let God Lead, and he will guide you.

Part 2: Finding a Way Forward

Lost People in Churchworld

What is the mission of the Parish?  Does each Parish need to make a new one?

Nope!  God already gave us a Mission: Make disciples.  That's it.

Mark's Take: Simple and accurate!  Why do we make things so complicated?

Disciples are students.  Always learning and teaching others what they learned.

What about the Lost? 

Lost people aren't evil or immoral or even bad.  They're just mixed up about God.

People can fall into dechurched category (Used to go to Church) or unchurched (never been to Church).

Mark's Take: I know many, many people in these categories, and I have failed to make Church exciting to any of them.

These people miss out on God.  It should be one of our Goals to bring them the joy and happiness God has brought to our lives, and to be a disciple.

Nativity (Parish in book) was never even in the business of reaching the lost.  Nativity was irrelevant to the lost.  And we wanted it to be that way.  They were going to start challenging churchpeople, and seeking lost people.

Mark's Take: St. Al's has unique opportunity here because our Lost can include people who hop from Parish to Parish, and those cradle Catholics that stopped attending mass in Adult years.

The people who don't feel welcome aren't present to tell us why.  People at Nativity were not accustomed to being challenged; they didn't want to be challenged.

- One specific challenge we made was for people to begin serving the parish ministries and begin caring about the lost, because that is basic, obvious way consumers start growing as disciples.
- We did convince some parishoners to start greeting people at the church doors, a couple times a month, and several others to field questions and provide guest information.

We even started using the homily more intentionally to shape our congregation with challenges we wanted them to consider.  It didn't always work, and some people resented us.
When you start moving in the direction God is giving, unexpected, unexplainable, and amazing things start unfolding.
When you start moving in the right direction, the "right" people start stepping forward.  To be honest, there was some criticism that was heartfelt and sincere, and even helpful.

Nativity enabled and even encouraged members to remain demanding consumers and we ignored everybody else.

Finding a Way Forward:
  1. Define your mission field - We aren't here to simply serve the congregation; we're here to reach those who live within the parish.
  2.  Describe the "lost" in your mission field.  
  3. Design a simple, specific invitation strategy. - Disciples bring their faith into everyday relationships.  Nearly all the newcomers to our church in recent years (700 last year) have come from decurched backgrounds because of personal invitation.
Mark's Take:  This aligns with the Parish Transformation.

Part 3: Developing a Strategy

Weekend Focus:

It's all about the Weekend!
The weekend is the number one opportunity for people in the community to connect with the church.
Their staff was too busy Monday through Friday to worry about Sunday.  The weekend was an afterthought.

The Eucharist is central to our Parish and our weekend worship.  They started focusing the weekend on the perspective of lost people.

What they had was a program; what we needed was a worship program.  Disciples Sing!  The music must be all about attracting the lost and growing disciples through worship.

Mark's Take:  I truly feel we have a wonderful worship program at our liturgies, but I can attest at the 5:00 Sunday mass its excruciating to hear the silence from the congregation to sing the hymns.  Might be the size of St. Al's, or songs we select, but its a gap that we can address.

Accessible and Attractive:

Little things become big things!

Creating Ministry Teams that serve a purpose to attract people and make the weekend experience accessible.  

Host Team: Adds words to the welcome!  Their goal is to greet everyone who comes through any of our doors.  There is nothing quite as welcoming as people who are happy to see you.

Mark's Take: I tried this approach at the 5:00 Sunday mass on 2/22/15.  IT TOTALLY WORKS!  I have no empirical evidence that it led to a person singing or giving in the collection basket, but I know they felt welcomed when I handed them a hymnal.

Information Team: The team provides visitors with details about programs and services, and helps members sign up to take the next step in discipleship.  

YOU CAN DO THIS! => Start by putting information that parishoners actually want in one place (website): how to join, get envelopes, how to sign up for programs, service, events...everything in one place.  Engage 3 to 4 people who are friendly and enthusiastic that can be put in your church lobby.  Highly visible and accessible.  Keep handouts to a minimum.  

Operations Team:  Sets up and breaks down for programs and services.  They wash windows, vacuum carpets, keep the place clean throughout weekend.

Teams work together in a Strategic Way. 

Mobilize the Next Generation:

Little Kids are a Big Deal!  The Mass is neither children's ministry nor "family time".  It's time we give to God.  They focused on helping those families of the dechurched feeling welcomed.  Start by creating programs and ministries for Children for the weekend.  This is not babysitting.  All activities revolve around the weekend message rooted in Christ's Mission.

Kids programs don't have to be expensive, and you really can get adults and young adult volunteers involved.
Great children's programs will ensure that the kids keep their parents coming back.
 Make the Message Matter:

The Word of God has the power to change people.  For a few minutes each week, we get to share the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is unparalleled opportunity to help church members go deeper.

Do you see those skilled at their work?  They will stand in the presence of kings.  (Proverbs 22:29)
Preaching God's word and preparing to preach God's word demand discipline, and discipline is no fun. Scripture describes the power of words!  When you are faithful to the Word of God, you get to see the power of God at work in your life.

We just started using Gods' word; and then we started to see God's power at work.  Money didn't fund the strategy; it followed it, and it came in response to the preaching. 

Mark's Take:  Although the Authors are pointing towards a homily, I feel this applies to all of the Parish in how we preach God's word, not just by our words.  

Build From Below: 

If you examine your personal history, you will find a story of relationships.  We grow and develop and change with others.  ...Parishes are simply no longer the social centers they once were.  Whether its the endless options to utilize time, or the impersonal feeling of a Church, people have view Parish Life quite differently now. 

Small Groups have the ability to personalize one's Christian Faith.  By no means was Nativity successful with every Small Group endeavor, but they kept trying and learning.  Today, there are small groups for men and women, seniors and young adults, couples groups, mom's groups... These are in addition to the Weekend based ministries.  

What we Learned about Small Groups:
  1. Small groups are small.
  2. Small groups are integrated into the life of our parish.=> Small groups are not intended to be stand-alone communities.  They must remain in communion with the other small groups and ministries.  
  3. Small groups are delivery system for pastoral care.  
  4. Small groups are about life-change. =>  A place we can find support, but they're not 'Support groups'.
  5. Small groups are our schools for discipleship.=>  Healthy churches aren't just growing; they're growing disciples.

Don't Rob God:

Jesus talked about money all the time.  When it comes to money, people don't know how to live because they don't know how to give.  GIVING IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT.

Catholic giving at the parish level is abysmal, consistently at or near the very bottom of giving levels among Christians.  It is a scandal that dishonors God and belies a certain a level of immaturity.  It takes money to run a parish.  Giving is even more important when it comes to discipleship.  This topic is ignored as a spiritual issue.  Why?

Fundraisers are not the answers to your financial woes.  It's like fruit.  Fundraising is all about going for the "fruit", plucking it off branches, shaking it out of the tree, gathering it up from the ground.  It is sometimes successful short-term but it is a losing long-term strategy when it comes to church funding.  
Successful church funding should be about planting fruit-bearing trees - Parishioners who are givers.
Raising Givers

When it comes to our money, God wants us to test him and see if he will not be faithful.  It's a challenge.  

Tithing is the gift of 10 percent of what we have or earn, given to honor God.  Tithing is established as the consistent standard for worship-giving throughout the Bible beginning in Genesis.  
Tithing is just the threshold - the place to get started.
 Start with Yourself

We couldn't expect our Parishoners to start giving (more or at all) if we weren't giving ourselves.  

We challenge our members to be come one of the following:
  • Planned Givers - Designating money in their budget to give
  • Priority Givers - Giving to God before other expenses
  • Percentage Givers - Giving a percentage, not a dollar amount
  • Progressive Givers - Increasing the percentage regularly 
We have become convinced that percentage giving is the majore cultural shift in getting our parish on the right track.  We only talk about giving to our parish once a year. 
People's hearts certainly won't change overnight, but if you really live out what God teaches about money personally and then preach it, God will begin to change people's hearts.
Mark's Take: Once I realized why God asks us to give, it became so much easier to make the personal commitment to give back to God.  If we give people the reasons to give, and make it easier for them to join the Parish, be involved, and give regularly, the stewardship of the Parish will rise organically.

Get the Parish out of the Pews

Ministry is supposed to be a Team sport.  Our churches will be unhealthy consumer-driven assemblies if people are not pressed to get involved and help out.  Every member is a minister.  To be a place of energy and excitement that is irresistible to outsiders we've got to get the insiders out of the pews.  
How do you get people to serve?  We preach it, all the time.  Not when we need help, not just when we're desperate: all the time.
To make ministry accessible, we have a program called 'First Serve'.  It's simply a chance to try one our ministries on a single serve, one time only basis with no obligation to join.  Make commitment small and manageable.  Think of requesting someone to commit to two hours, twice a month.

We encourage ministry teams to socialize together regularly.  Most all of the office work is handled by parishioners.

Don't get discouraged and don't give up!

Our parishioners should be serving and our parishes should be models of service in our communities and beyond.

When there is no leadership, parish efforts only happen from time to time, with no real impact beyond stand alone projects themselves.
 Focus your Efforts for the Greatest Impact.
Get Everyone Involved!  As long as parishioners see missions as someone else's job, they're acting like customers.  Everyone has to serve. How to get involved should be the easiest thing imaginable in your church.
History is shaped by leaders.  Noting great ever gets accomplished without great leadership.  And lots of bad stuff happens in the absence of it. 

Jesus is the model of leadership.  And he leads from the cross.

Mark's Take: It has been obvious throughout my life where Leadership has been absent, especially when I personally failed to step up.  Having good Leaders doesn't mean things will always work out, or that everything is perfect, but it will give you/team the best opportunity to keep learning and improving. 

You are not alone.  God is with you.

Make church matter.

Mark's Take:  There are moments in life when a Book feels like it is speaking directly to you, when you needed someone to speak to you more than ever.  This was the Book I needed to help guide me back to God in search for Leadership in my life.  The Parish Transformation is a daunting task for St. Alphonsus, but I know it will be a journey we can continue to learn and grow from as long as we put God first. 

NOTE: There is much more in the book I couldn't cover in one blog post, but I hope you take away some great ideas to apply in your Parish, and please read the book if you have time.