Great Reads: Great Catholic Parishes

If you’ve met me in person you know I’m never without a book (or 2 or 3). I think reading is the best way to live someone else’s story and experience a new adventure. In 2018 I read over 200 books and learned so many new and interesting things. This year I’m going to read a “Catholic Church Book” every month or so and share the wisdom I glean here with you … so you can either ‘get everything you need from my post and save yourself a few hours of reading’ or ‘get excited about reading it on your own.’ By “Catholic Church Book” I mean, a book that is designed to help parishes grow and thrive! I’ve got a whole bookshelf, but if you have a favorite you think I should read, let me know! I’m always in the market for a new book!

January’s Selection is: Great Catholic Parishes: A Living Mosaic – How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive by William E. Simon, Jr. (Amazon)

Great Catholic Parishes: A Living Mosaic - How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive by William E. Simon Jr. (Author), Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (Foreword)

As I started this book I was astonished at some of the statistics on the history of the Catholic Church in America. For instance in 1776, the founding year of our country’s independence, there were just 25,000 Catholics in America being served by less than 30 priests. We’ve grown just a little bit in the last 240 plus years to almost 70 million. 1 in 5 Americans identifies as Catholics and almost all of them have some affiliation with a parish. The book sets out to discover what makes a “Great Catholic Parish” as the title implies.

The Four Characteristics: According to the author Great Parishes Share Leadership, Foster Spiritual Maturity and Plan for Discipleship, Excel on Sundays, and Evangelize.

After interviewing over 250 pastors, these were the most common themes that all of their vibrant parishes shared. As I look at the list, I think “Yes, I agree 100%” about the vibrant parishes I’ve worked with.

Parishes where the Pastor ‘isn’t going it alone’ are tremendously successful. When a pastor is willing to bring in help from experts in their field, he can focus on what he’s good at and they can focus on what they’re good at. No one person can know everything from the celebration of the sacraments to the optimal HVAC system for your space and which computer would make the best server. It takes a village (or a congregation) to run a parish. Our parishes are composed of experts in their fields, so don’t hesitate to engage them in the leadership of the parish.

Additionally, having a “heart for Jesus” is the center of the spiritual life for Catholics. Parishes that are able to foster this relationship within their parishioners and invite others in are thriving. There are so many different ways to foster spiritual maturity and discipleship in your parish community, but setting it as a priority for your vision for the future is the most important. Growth will happen organically when the seeds are well planted.

When developing discipleship plans remember there are two basic groups of people in your church each Sunday. The first is a group who is very interested in growing in their faith and will eat up everything you have to share with them. They will seek it out and attend even if it’s not done very well. The second group is harder to grab. They haven’t yet shown interest and might not even have interest right now in deepening their spiritual life. This group is in need of “relevant, entry-level spiritual development opportunities” (pg 59). These opportunities need to be thoughtful, based on individual invitation, and well done.

Some ideas for fostering spiritual growth: Small Groups, Mission Work, Eucharistic Adoration, Building Community, and allocating resources to ensure these things are done well!

The busiest day at a Catholic parish is Sunday. Vibrant parishes excel at the Sunday Experience for both parishioners and visitors. The author writes about the “3 H’s”: Hospitality, Homilies, and Hymns. What is the experience like for a parishioner coming to Mass or a visitor coming for the first time to your Parish for Sunday Mass? This is the ‘central event’ for the parish.

Vibrant parishes focus on intentional hospitality from the way the exterior of the Church is landscaped to the website where the Mass times are listed to the greeters who say hello and open the door for everyone. Pastors have a love for preaching great homilies and prioritize their time during the week preparing them. Finally, the music ministry focuses on preparing a stellar worship experience that everyone can participate in. I know, I’ve made it sound so easy!

This area has some of the biggest challenges which include the spiritual apathy of your parishioners, the busyness of their lives, the pastor’s ability to preach well and his time to devote to preparation, and the talents available for your music ministry. Although these are all big challenges, none of them is insurmountable when focused on one at a time with intention.

The final area the book discusses is Evangelization. The Church exists in order to evangelization, that is to share her message of Good News. Without it we become ‘mirror people’ instead of ‘window people.’ One of the pastors uses this analogy to describe his parishioners. He says in the beginning they were mirror people, people who look at a piece and glass and just see themselves. They are slowly become window people, people who look at a piece of glass and see others outside of themselves. A focus on evangelization means we need to become window people. If we believe that the Good News of the Gospel is the best thing since Adam and Eve left the Garden, then why aren’t we sharing the good news?

There are a lot of challenges to evangelization, one of the biggest being the notion that ‘Catholics don’t do that.’ Well, we need to … as I’ve written about many times here, evangelization is the core of what we do. It is simply “sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Evangelii Nuntiandi tells us “She [The Church] exists in order to evangelize” (EN 14). So even when relating to young adults, technology, or the busyness of the world seem to get in the way, we need to determine how we will share this message.

Overall, I really loved this book. I am inspired to do more in my own parish and to help all of you! The review is long, but I didn’t even include everything that I loved from the book! In my next post I’ll share some of the best ideas I found in the book!! Get your copy here!

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