There are three that are most popular. Each approach can be adapted to local circumstances. Deciding on which approach is best for a given parish will likely take into consideration several factors that may include: particular local needs, the leadership style of the pastor, leadership abilities in the congregation, the cultural groups present in the community as well as the relative strengths and weaknesses of the approach itself. All approaches presume a commitment to collaborative leadership, unity and parish vitality. The approaches are:
1. The Planning Council assists the pastor and staff in intentional planning - prayerful discernment of parish priorities, involving parishioners in shared leadership, consensual decision-making and strategic planning.
2. The Coordinating Council is a representative body of leaders from all organizations and ministries that meet regularly to share information and coordinate on the most significant activities in the parish. Smaller parishes use a “community meeting” variation of this approach.
3. The Managing (projects) Council is a small group of leaders who manage and pursue particular priorities or implement particular projects as directed by the pastor.
Each approach has a particular focus, responsibilities, structure, membership, leadership, term of service, and style of meetings. Each has particular strengths and weaknesses. A full description for all three approaches is included in the links under "Additional Resources" (see below). No matter which approach is adopted, there are practical matters that are required for effective council development. These include: creating position descriptions, selecting members, providing training, establishing appropriate committee structures, setting meeting agendas, publishing meeting minutes, reporting to the parish community, maintaining inter-parish, vicariate and diocesan linkages, and ensuring the transparency of council proceedings.
Every council should have an executive structure that includes the pastor, chairperson, and secretary. This group is responsible for creating the working plan and calendar for the year as well as assembling the agenda for each meeting. This group should insure that significant time is given to prayer and study.
Approach A is highly recommended in this Diocese because intentionality and planning for the future insures parish vitality. Strategic planning keeps a parish focused on its priorities while allowing for cooperation with neighboring parishes in response to the emerging spiritual needs of all Catholics. The pastoral council is often the most effective planning group in the parish when it is partnered with the resources of the pastoral staff, trustees, parish finance council, vicariate council and diocesan pastoral council.