Dear Catholic Parishes,
You are not in competition with one another. Stop acting like it.
If only that’s all I needed to say on the topic. Catholic parishes in the same town or neighboring towns are not in competition with one another. You are not working to “steal Catholics” over to your parish with your activities, events, programs, liturgies, prayer groups, or service opportunities. Not even with your religious education program or Sacrament prep. The parish across town is not your enemy or even your friendly competition unless it’s on the sports-ball field/court/track.
The other night I was at a new collaborative parish and one of the members of the team said something about how others in the town see the Catholic churches. He mentioned to this community figure about how the parishes were now combining and working together and the guy’s response? “Finally.”
It is not only the perception of the parishioners that the parishes are competing with one another, but also the perception of the community. Let that sink in.
I’ve been to a lot of parishes and while you might be shaking your head thinking, “That’s not happening in my town. We’re not like that. I can skip the rest of this article.” I want to challenge you for a minute and ask, “Is that true?”
We hear from parishes all the time that they’re worried about other donation efforts in the area or even from dioceses that the annual appeal is in competition with the parish offertory or even that the offertory is in competition with their capital campaign. Let’s stop.
While it is true that we are competing for people’s attention because they only have so much of it to give, that doesn’t mean we should be competing with one another (or even between ministries at our parish).
Our goal is to win souls for Christ. It’s not to get the most people in our pews – even if we have to steal them from other Catholic churches in town. It’s about getting people to Heaven!
When I go into a parish to create a plan and ask them “What’s life been like in the past few years?” I hear a lot of, “Well when we started this new faith formation program we lost a lot of people to St. Joseph across town.” Then I spend time at St. Joseph and they’re proud of their influx of new people that they got from St. Mary. They’re happy that they’ve grown in the past five years.
While their parish has grown in the number of registered parishioners in the past five years, the Church has not grown. They’ve only redistributed in the city. We didn’t win souls for Christ. We didn’t live our mission of “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Growth is bringing fallen away Catholics back to the Sacraments and a relationship with the Lord. Growth is accompanying people through RCIA as they go from non-Catholic to Catholic. Growth is sharing the Gospel in a compelling way that introduces people to a life with Jesus who have never known Him.