Growth Has Little to Do With Numbers

Is your parish growing?  But more importantly, how do think of 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 an outcome of growth, not the cause or the purpose of growth.

Nature is filled with examples of plants that seem dormant for years before explosive growth, demonstrating that the vitality is in the roots, long before it is displayed in the shoots.  Perhaps this is why Jesus found faith the size of a mustard seed an apt analogy for vitality in faith.  A parish is similar in that the most significant changes can happen below the surface, long before anything is evident by way of outward evangelization.

Authentic growth happens inside people, before it is visible outside of them.  Likewise, the only sustainable numerical growth in a parish is symptomatic of the faith growth happening in each and every parishioner.  What is happening to our people?  What is the result of our programs?  What is happening "below ground" in the hearts of our parishioners?  What is happening in our relationships at Church?  How connected is your parish to the community around it?  Do parish leaders still think of growth in terms of dollars and collars or nickels and noses?  Do less tangible metrics count when parish leaders plan direction and set priorities?  Christ-centered relationships cause transformation and transformation drives our roots more deeply in the Lord, just as it energizes us for our mission in the community.

Authentic Church growth is founded upon transformed people who are filled with a sense of purpose, and who are in vital relationships with others both inside and outside of the Church.  According to the Gallup research that produced the book Growing an Engaged Church, thriving parishes pay attention to the connection between the people and the mission.  No people, no mission.  But just as certainly, no mission, no people.  Gallup praises the small church group for its capacity to call and confirm people for mission and ministry today.

Most essentially, our Church is a communion of faith communities - one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Intentional participation in small church groups can make faith a daily reality for participants who often report changes in themselves, and their families.  Growing churches give high priority to all kinds of small group experiences which raise intentional disciples who are nourished and challenged for living faith out loud.

What about my own parish?  Is it a communion of communities - united, set on God's intentions, open to all, and active in the community?  Are our parishes developing authentic and reliable relationships for their parishioners?  Do these parishioners have opportunities to consider their own spiritual growth together, beyond the mandatory hour of worship each week?  Do our parishes invite people to tell stories of growing, contributing, and belonging in the parish?

Recall the vitality of the early Churched who caused the Unchurched around them to remark "They must be His followers.  See how they love one another!"  We still hear stories of the sustained impact of Renew groups that were started in this diocese over thirty years.  These small church groups encouraged Catholics to encounter Christ, find their joy in Christ, follow Christ and grow by sharing their faith in Christ.  Several parishes are using the ChristLife process to grow in Christ.  For more information, contact me at, call 716-847-8393.

Consider more from these articles and resources:

Annulment Writing Workshop - Interested in sponsoring an workshop for Catholics seeking an annulment?  Bulletin announcements regarding the dates and the parish hosting the workshop are sent to all the parishes in the Diocese approximately six weeks before each workshop.  These sessions offer an overview of the annulment process after which participants work on their annulment applications with the help of annulment companions.  Many people find that they can complete the initial paperwork in one weekend.  The $20 registration fee includes snacks, breakfast, lunch, a booklet on the annulment process, forms, and all the help you need.  If you have any additional questions, need any help, would like to work with an annulment companion or attend one of our workshops please contact Barbara Wyse at 633-7786 or

Visit these web resources:

Consider the following printed resources:

When Someone You Love Leaves the Church (Lorene Hanley Duquin, Our Sunday Visitor, 2001)

Faith Rediscovered: Coming Home to Catholicism by Lawrence S. Cunningham (Paulist Press)

Christian Hospitality (Archdiocese of Louisville, KY)

Practicing Catholic by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk (St. Anthony Messenger Press)

Returning Home to Your Catholic Faith: An Invitation by Sally Mews (Liguori Publications)

While You Were Gone: A Handbook for Returning Catholics by William J. Bausch (Twenty-Third Publications)

When They Come Home: Ways to Welcome Returning Catholics (Melanie Rigney and Anna M. Lanave, Twenty-Third Publ 2009)

The Mission Driven Parish (Patrick J. Brennan, Orbis Books 2007)

Could You Ever Come Back to the Catholic Church? (Lorene Hanley Duquin, Alba House, 1997)

"Seeking an Annulment", "Top 10 Reasons to Come Back to Church" and more.and other pamphlets by Lorene Hanley Duquin and others from Our Sunday Visitor (800-348-2440); ($14.95 packets of 50) Leaflets Liguori Publications (800-325-9521); ($6.95 packets of 25)

A Time to Listen . . . A Time to Heal: A Resource Directory for Reaching out to Inactive Catholics. No. 5-306 (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 800-235-8722,

Yes, I Can Believe (Frank DeSiano, CSP, Paulist Press).

Awakening Faith (a six-week, 90 minute session program published by Paulists Evangelization Ministries) is designed to invite both inactive and even active Catholics "to feel something about their faith again".

Catholics Continuing the Journey (a faith-sharing program for small groups by Sally Mews) a six weekly two-hour session for those who have recently returned to the Church and for others who are seeking to renew and strengthen their faith. Inviting Catholics Home (a six-week session aimed at helping Catholics return to Church) by Sally Mews.

101 Questions & Answers on the Bible (R. E. Brown, Paulist Press)  

Catholic Q & A: Answers to the Most Common Questions about Catholicism (J.J. Dietzen, Crossroad Publishing)

Remaining Catholic: Six Good Reasons for Staying in an Imperfect Church (Rev. Martin Pable, ACTA Publications)

Why be Catholic? Understanding our Experience and Tradition (R. Rohr & J. Martos, St. Anthony Messenger Press)

Catholicism: Now I Get It! by F.S. Smith (Our Sunday Visitor)

Faith sharing materials - many choices available for online purchase from  The Impact series booklets are designed for small groups (six sessions every two or three weeks).

For more assistance with outreach to inactive Catholics, contact Dennis Mahaney in the Office for Evangelization and  Parish Life, 795 Main St., Buffalo, NY 14203 or call 716-847-8393