Church Growth - The Next Evangelization
Parish success might come down to the answer to a simple question: Why aren't we growing? I am convinced that the next evangelization can start with this answer. Why? Because we listen with a mix of astonishment and disbelief to Easter stories of a powerful young church. Why aren't we just as Spirit-filled today? Because, many Catholics have been generously sacramentalized and some are even sufficiently catechized. But, too few are adequately evangelized.
Could it be that we have lost the capability to warm hearts that yearn for Christ? The urgency of that question is just as clear today as when Pope Francis posed it at World Youth Day 2013. All we need to do is observe the average age of Mass attendees over the next few weeks. Today, less than one-third of all Catholics attend Mass every Sunday. According to Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, over two-thirds of Catholics spend more time each Sunday in various online pursuits. Perhaps part of the problem is that too many Catholics still think that their faith is a Sunday-only activity.
Historically speaking we are victims of our own success. Some of us still recall a time when new churches were being built, and we needed ushers to pack them in on Sunday. Twenty hours of faith formation per year is insufficient, particularly in the culture of distraction we we inhabit. And while Catholics represent the largest user group on social media today, most of us are ill-equipped to share the beauty, goodness and truth of our faith in this online forum. There is a hunger for meaning today as great as in the earliest days of the church. We should be growing again!
Pope Francis is right. We need Catholics who see the missionary call in their baptism, both at home and online, in the workplace and in the larger community. We need parishes that can equip people to connect with newcomers, welcome visitors and engage returning Catholics. We need parishes that are creative and entrepreneurial enough to inspire young Catholics with the joy of following Christ. Why isn't growth our goal?
Growth-oriented parishes will take advantage of the welcome opportunities that come so regularly at Christmas, from Ashes to Easter, as well as at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Growth parishes will align the megaphones of social media within the parish for outreach with a messages of hope. These parishes will have a welcome center, and hospitality will be everyone's business.
Growth parishes will benefit from a system of outreach and welcome for newcomers and returning Catholics. These parishes will use intentional small groups to encounter Christ, follow Christ, enjoy Christ and share Christ. Growth churches will invite young Catholics to plant the seeds of compassion in their community. To do so we only have to be willing to discard the comforts of the consumer-driven church and be open to something new. 'God is not afraid of new things! That is why God is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.' - Pope Francis 2014