Rationale and Response
In every age the Church fulfills its great commission by responding to the spiritual hungers of God’s people. In July of 2010, the Pope announced the creation of a new pontifical council for a New Evangelization and charged it with the task of re-vitalizing the faith of Catholics and equipping them to respond to the needs of a new generation.
This Diocese has experienced what could be the largest restructuring in the history of the American Catholic Church. While the restructuring program in this Diocese has formally concluded its aim is yet to be fully achieved. That is because the aim has always been the spiritual revitalization of parishes. Now is the time to take strategic steps forward on the path to parish vitality.
Whether or not a particular parish has directly experienced internal changes the religious landscape around all our parishes has shifted dramatically. Catholics are still grieving and leaving. New parishes are struggling to welcome newcomers and rebuild community. Some Catholic leaders have lost confidence as Catholics have drifted away. Some parishes, out of fear of instability, are resisting change at all cost, choosing instead to continue to do the same things, in the same way, and expecting different results.
There are many hurdles to parish vitality in the new religious landscape. Inactive Catholics in the United States constitute the second largest religious group in the country and make up the majority of those who attend evangelical churches. According to the National Study on Youth and Religion (2005), the Catholic Church is among the least successful at evangelizing its young people. These hurdles are significant, but not insurmountable for it is the Spirit that guides and empowers us.
Successful Catholic parishes are beginning to see the importance of working together in responsive approach to audiences in the new religious landscape. These audiences are attracted to a Church that is engaging and imaginative. They want to grow in faith through conversation and encounter. They expect access to spiritual content online. They desire worship and learning experiences that are inspiring and transformative - head, heart and hands. They want to contribute their talents in a significant way. They want to belong and to grow. In short, people today want to be affected by their participation in church. This is good news because responding to these demands can also transform and revitalize the parish.
Churches that are thriving, and not just surviving, are those that are moving parishioners from being merely involved to being fully engaged. These churches are becoming strategic about pastoral planning. These churches focus on mission over maintenance. This is an ambitious agenda for some parishes. And because there are no roadmaps into the future, this agenda will involve blazing new pathways. It may involve rethinking old assumptions. It may change the way a parish operates. But parishes willing to think strategically, and act boldly will find new partners in the work of the Gospel. No matter what lies ahead, these parishes will thrive. The Diocese of Buffalo will help parishes take the next steps forward on this path.
The Foundation for the Roman Catholic Diocese has chosen Pathways to Parish Vitality as the natural progression for parish innovations that began in either the Adventures in Lifelong Faith Formation or Millennial Milestones projects. Pathways for Parish Vitality provides the comprehensive framework to maximize the success of several programs and evangelization initiatives currently being conducted in parishes including Strong Catholic Families, Strong Catholic Youth. Still, there are no prerequisites for participating in the Pathways to Parish Vitality project. This initiative will be coordinated by the diocesan offices of Parish Life and Lifelong Faith Formation. Join us on a pathway to parish vitality!
The Pathways to Parish Vitality will equip parishes to accomplish two key goals for parish re-vitalization - to foster parishioner engagement and build parish capacity for mission and outreach. This can be accomplished in many ways some of these include:
Goal 1: Foster parishioner engagement:
- move parishioners from being merely involved to fully engaged
- targeted outreach in the new religious landscape (e.g. inactive Catholics, families or spiritual seekers)
- bridge the divides and create a culture of welcome through small faith communities
Goal 2: Build parish capacity:
- assess the functionality of existing parish organizations for engaging in mission
- adopt collaborative outreach strategies in a parish and parish cluster
- utilize digital technologies to enhance parish outreach and engagement efforts
There are clear pathways to parish vitality. To thrive and not merely survive in the years ahead, vital parishes will learn to be strategic and responsive to the signs of the times. This conviction is at the heart of the Pathways to Parish Vitality project. To obtain the necessary information and take action you only need to view the project proposal and attend a free conference at Banchetti Restaurant, 550 North French Rd., E. Amherst, NY 14228 on May 20 or 21, 2011. To register call 716-847-5501 or email email@example.com.
Parishes in Pathways to Parish Vitality are learning:
- How to move Catholics from being merely involved to fully engaged
- How to navigate in an emerging religious landscape
- How to establish a clear and compelling sense of parish purpose
- How to make strategic choices for parish vitality and growth without taxing already overworked pastors and staff
The planning conference equipped parishes to transform parish priorities into a plan of action. Participants followed a strategic process for pastoral planning, and answer the issues arising from a mission-centered approach to parish vitality. Interested parishes will be instructed on the steps of the grant writing process.
In preparation for the planning conference:
- review conference materials
- consider the most significant implications - what challenges your notion of parish purpose and what gives you hope
- assemble the parish team and invite them to view the materials and videos from the last conference at this website
- choose either Friday, May 20st or Saturday, May 21st to attend the planning conference
- discuss ways to enrich parish programs to reach beyond those already engaged and address young families, Millennials and iGeneration?
- use tools in the conference materials to consider particular parish needs, culture and purpose
- assess your capacity for innovation
This initiative is made possible by the generous funding of the Foundation for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
For more information on Pathways to Parish Vitality project...
Office of Parish Life - Dennis Mahaney
795 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203
Department of Lifelong Faith Formation - Mary Beth Coates
795 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203