Be My Witness!

New Program Helps Catholics Welcome Friends and Neighbors to a Vibrant Community of Faith

Studies show that more than 75 percent of Catholics do not participate actively in parish life.  Everyone knows a family member, friend or neighbor who feels alienation.  In survey after survey, those we care about report a need to encounter God and experience the blessings of belonging to a caring community of faith.   Parishes have a critical opportunity to offer support, meaning, and hope, especially with inactive Catholics. 

How can parishes respond to this challenge?  The Diocese of Buffalo will offer parishes a unique approach entitled Be My Witness: Formation for the New Evangelization from RENEW International which is inspired by Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel.  Parish leaders will have the opportunity to learn about Be My Witness at a special Showcase Experience offered on March 10, 2017 at the Catholic Center, 795 Main St., Buffalo, NY.  

Be My Witness works in two integrated phases. Phase 1 gathers the pastors and key leaders, to explore and address five key areas of parish life: enhancing Sunday worship, creating a welcoming environment, fostering a sense of belonging, witnessing to faith in word and deed, and reaching out in a spirit of mission. With feedback from the RENEW Parish Assessment tool, the team will develop a parish pastoral plan for evangelization by exploring a series of learning videos, meeting guides, and planning tools.

Phase 2 of Be My Witness builds on the first phase by encouraging parishioners to become what the pope calls "missionary disciples." Adults of all ages and walks of life can participate in parish small groups to explore their call as Catholics to reach out to others in their daily life.  With RENEW's video and print resources, they will receive strong encouragement to lend their energy to parish outreach.

Throughout the process, RENEW International pastoral representatives will train and coach participating parishes as they develop their pastoral plans and establish the parish small groups. Program elements are also available in Spanish as Sean mis testigosDownload Flyer

Parishes can learn more about Be My Witness and register for the showcase on March 10th with Dennis Mahaney at 716-847-8393.


Is your parish resolution to be more like Velcro or Teflon?

In the New Year, some churches are resolved to be like Velcro, while others are more like Teflon.  Which is yours?  Growing congregations are serious about getting folks to drop in, and stick around.  Pew Research Center recently confirmed the most gifted churches in the eyes of newcomers are the ones offering: quality of preaching (83%), warm welcome (79%), engaging worship (74%), proximity to home (70%), children's ministry (56%), seeing family and friends (48%), getting opportunities to make a difference (42%).  A concerned parish can simply address any one of these factors to attract folks, many of whom will stick around.  These churches strive to be like Velcro.

When LifeWays dug a bit deeper into the motivations of people who are looking for more out of their experience at church, they asked "What factors cause church members to attend more frequently?" Respondents to the LifeWays study reported the following top three reasons: Growing closer to God and becoming more intentional in their relationship with Jesus Christ (49%). Simply put, people want to know God and do what keeps them close to God. Somewhat less significant, but still a major factor is a change in life situation. When faced with hardship and family crisis, people reach out to God and seek the support of the church (19%). Not insignificant is the convenience of weekend worship (10%).

Interested in a New Year resolution that can produce real results for your parish, and make you sticky and sweet to those still church shopping. People want to encounter God. They want to be part of a community of intentional disciples who will help them to love God, love God's people, do God's will and lead others to God. Real success can be less about doing more things, and more about doing the right things. In the final analysis, most people are motivated by the most important reasons. How about your folks? You might start by asking them why they decided to stick with you. The Office for Evangelization and Parish Life can help parishes that want to get serious and strategic about getting more folks to show up and stick around.

You might want to use a parish vitality survey that measures engagement factors and overall satisfaction with parish life. You might want to collect a few guest surveys and see why visitors decide not to stay. Perhaps it is the parish's online threshold that needs some updating. Contact Dennis Mahaney or Deacon Bill Hynes for more ideas 716-847-8393.

Evangelization starts with looking inside-out

Our parish has a clear sense of purpose.  We are a parish for newcomers.  This was an easy choice for a parish surrounded by refugees and immigrants.  Perhaps we are not so unique, if one considers that more than one in ten people relocate each year, and that rate doubles for young adults.  This means that every year another 15% of those living around your parish is a newcomer!  See how easy it can be for a parish to grow?  Just look inside-out?

Fr. Bob Zilliox, the new pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine in a much more established area, is excited for the opportunity to put evangelization practices which he learned from Msgr. John Zeitler of fond memory, who taught him that when newcomers call to register, the secretary should not just take down their address and send out a box of envelopes.  Instead, they should be warmly welcomed and told that the pastor would prefer to come to visit them, bless their home, and share about how the parish can serve them.

During this pastoral visit, the pastor has the opportunity to get to know newcomers and let them know how valuable they are to the parish.  Best of all, it happens on their home turf.  Much can be learned by observing where people live.  Is there someone at home with particular needs: mobility issues, a talented musician, or a child with special needs?  How people live is one window to their soul.  A simple house blessing can become a heart to heart exchange, or even a time of reconciliation.  There are plenty of home blessings published, including one listed below under the heading: What Catholics can do... 

Clearly, not all pastors have the time to do this for every newcomer, so why not equip parish volunteers?  What if just half of our parishes implemented this approach in some way?  There are plenty of customizable, welcome brochures and cards available for free.  These can be combined with a few items of information, about your parish and the surrounding community.  Perhaps the parish can add a hand-made rosary from the ladies guild, or a Jubilee Year of Mercy medal, as a house-warming gift.  Going to them can sound like an inside-out approach, but it works. 

We are assured by Pope Francis that a merciful heart is motivated to go beyond one's comfort zone.  A merciful heart takes initiative to meet others.  It is ready to embrace everyone in the name of Jesus.  Pope Francis insists that a merciful parish is able to be "a place of refuge for those who are without a home or who have lost their home... able to build a home and a family... A merciful heart cans share bread with the hungry and welcome refugees." - World Youth Day in Blonia, Poland.  What do you have to lose?  Evangelization can happen inside-out or outside-in.


According to the most recent report from the Pew Research Center, we are in a growth market.  Why?  Because religious participation continues to decline in America.  Among these findings: The share of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" that God exists has dropped eight percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.  The percentage of adults who describe themselves as "religiously affiliated" has shrunk six points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent.  The shares of the U.S. adult population who consider religion "very important" to them, pray daily, and attend services at least once a month have declined between three and four percent over the last eight years.

Another recent survey concluded that for the first time in the history of America, 55% of Catholic Americans have left the church and 77% of these have little intention of returning.  Oddly, this is at the same time that Pope Francis is the most influential person in the world - digital or real, parents remain the most influential person in the lives of young people and a friend's invitation is still the most effective way to get someone to come to church.  What does all this say?  We are in a growth market. So what is going wrong?  Read more...


We have all heard the disastrous reports regarding declines in church attendance.  And yet, for a brilliant moment, all this will seem like just a bad dream as our ranks swell on Christmas.  Like Joseph and young Mary, they will wander up to our doors, wondering if there is room at the inn.  Those least expected, like shepherds and kings, will fill our ranks as well and many of them will be young.  Can we recognize Christ in their company and be Christ-bearers for them?

The iGeneration, Y-Generation, Millennials, Mosaics - whatever the label, they may be the game-changer generation for our parishes. Read more...


The single most effective strategy used by churches that grow is small faith groupings. The family is the most organic of these.  But parishes are also investing in intentional associations of people that have an explicit organization connection with the parish.  The Paulists and Renew have several excellent products and one of the most promising new products is ChristLife.  Any parish can leverage the small group process to grow.  Interested?  More information can be obtained here. Read more...


Is your parish growing?  But more importantly, how do you think about growing?  Is it numbers?  When it comes to church growth little is measured by the numbers.  Churches can grow numerically for a variety of reasons, some of which are deceiving or merely coincidental.  As with so many other living things, when it comes to vitality, numbers are at best symptomatic of growth, not the cause or the purpose of growth.  Read more...


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? Many Catholics have been generously sacramentalized.  Some are even sufficiently catechized. But too few are adequately evangelize.  Could it be that we have lost the capability to warm hearts that yearn for Christ?  Read more...


No outreach initiative is only about getting people to show up at church.  Worship is essential, but not sufficient.  And for some it isn't first.  The Eucharist is an invitation to live out our baptism - grow in faith, by sharing that faith, and be transformed by faith.  We are commissioned to keep the faith, but not keep it to ourselves.  And isn't the parish is bigger than those who come to Mass every week anyway?  Thriving parishes are helping their people to: name it, claim it, tame it and aim it.  Do your people live their faith so abundant that it is attracting attention?  Would anyone outside the parish, notice or care if your parish moved or closed tomorrow?  Jesus offers life in abundance and Jesus claims a growth paradigm for His Church!  Ask yourself, where do we GROW from here?

And more Catholics will be returning on our second busiest day of the year which is (guessing?)... Ash Wednesday.  What is your plan?  Read more...






These sites are not an endpoint, but rather a first step toward welcoming Jesus into your life.  Read through these sites, reflect in prayer on what you see.  If you feel inspired, maybe you will wish to share them links to a close friend, then engage them in a fulfilling discussion about Christ's message. Conversations like this will bring you both to a furthered understanding about our Lord's teachings.