“We tried that before.”
“We did that one time.”
“It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.”
These are the most common excuses I hear when I make recommendations, suggestions, and comments as my parishes are evaluating survey data to prepare to publish their Parish Vision Plan.
What’s a Parish Vision Plan? It’s a 3 year plan for the parish to focus intentionally on communication, formation, prayer, evangelization, hospitality, and service. The pillars of a parish’s efforts in ministry. We start with a survey to learn where parishioners are and what they think about these areas of parish life.
The survey results are always very interesting. When everyone has a chance to air their grievances anonymously, they share it all. I’ve read everything from “Father is an amazing spiritual leader” to “We have two popes and one of them is a communist” to “Bring back the choir director from 1955” to “Our music isn’t modern enough.” If they think it, then they write it down.
Not all of these comments are particularly useful, like the person who responded with “Illinois” when asked “What keeps you from meeting your Sunday obligation to attend Mass?” What do we do with that answer?
Many of them are extremely useful though, especially when asked about their hopes for the future or how the parish can help them share the Gospel with family and friends who have fallen away from the faith. Parishioners have a lot of great ideas for their parishes, and it’s my role as the Coach to help the team see the usefulness of it.
However, the most common thing I hear from the team is “we did that one time” or “that’ll never work here” or “we’re too conservative/liberal/rural/urban/suburban/diverse/low income/old/young to do that.”
The truth is that those are all just excuses. I’m not suggesting we do the same things over and over again when we know they don’t work, but I am going to suggest we try to do the same things again but differently or just try them again because it’s a new day. Also, maybe we didn’t give our full effort the first time.
For instance, one of ideas of a parishioner was to have the youth minister visit the 8th grade classrooms throughout the year to get to know them and invite them to youth ministry in high school. This is a great idea if you have a school, and a definite must if you have a religious education program (which I know you do!). It helps teens get excited about what they can be part of, although it doesn’t guarantee that they will join high school youth ministry, it does up the chances.
As I suggest it to my parish teams, I’m always ready for the excuses. “We did that one time last year, and it didn’t help.” “There’s too much on the youth minister’s plate, they can’t do that right now.” “Kids aren’t interested in hearing from them.”
But aren’t these all excuses for when we don’t want to do the hard work? I’ve said them all before, I’m a recovering excuse-aholic.
So what should we do? We can try one more time. We can try it just a little differently. We can think outside the box. We can remember that everyone’s on a faith journey, and we’re all in different places.
Think of something in your parish, a big thing like a new ministry or a small thing like a conversation, that you can lay down your excuse and just start again. What would it be? What different could it make? What excuse can you crush?