Part 1: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish

By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt

ACF510BCAN YOU HEAR the death knell ringing in your parish? In these times of declining membership, can the Catholic Church in the United States breathe new life into the Body of Christ? Is a resurrection possible? If we focus on the basic mission of the Church, namely, to take the Gospel into the world (to evangelize), we have reason for hope—contrary to prevailing perceptions.

In the broadest sense of the word, evangelization is spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the narrowest sense, it is presenting the Gospel in such a way that those who hear it are led to respond in an “aha” or “now I get it” moment. In between the broadest and narrowest sense lie catechesis, faith formation, liturgical celebration and theology.

On the practical level, the parish is both the object and the subject of evangelization. In this setting, two dynamics work simultaneously: A parish must be evangelized and a parish must be evangelizing.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay, Ohio, is a “megachurch” with a census of 10,000 members ( Holy Infant Parish in Durham, North Carolina, is a moderate-sized parish with 771 families (

Both parishes give witness to the power of taking evangelization seriously. They provide encouraging examples of American parishes which are both evangelized and evangelizing. They give witness to a healthy vision of Church in our day.

A Catholic Megachurch

St. Michael, founded in 1839, is the sole Catholic parish in Hancock County, Ohio, in the Diocese of Toledo. It fits into the category of “megachurch,” that is, a worshiping community of 2,000 or more members in attendance every week.

The new church, built to accommodate the large congregation, seats 1,500. It is a beautiful, modern, inviting structure in the Romanesque style. Although the structure is as large as a cathedral, it maintains the feel of a parish church.

The parish plant is a complex of church, school (three rooms of each grade), gymnasium, auditorium and offices. As impressive as the buildings are, more remarkable are the active involvement of the parishioners in church ministries and the enthusiasm of their participation in liturgies.

The pastor, Father Mike Hohenbrink, believes the enthusiasm and participation of parishioners flow from their openness to the Holy Spirit. The people have been invited to take their faith seriously.

Geri Leibfarth, the parish's director of religious education, suggests that there are three essential steps in the process: “Keep the people informed, provide opportunities for faith formation and then send them out in a variety of ministries.”

She credits the pastor with the ability to “connect with the parishioners and learn their needs. Father Mike is good at that,” she says about the priest who has been pastor of the parish since July 2000. “We have to listen first. Programs that don't meet the needs don't work.”

One of the needs obvious to St. Michael's membership was ongoing adult education. A monthly systematic study of the faith titled “What Do Catholics Really Believe?” has an attendance of some 300 members. Parishioners asked for a parish mission and over 400 attended the four nightly sessions offered during Lent in 2007.

Father Norman Langenbrunner, a parish priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has written for Catholic publications as well as for The Gettysburg Experience. Jeanne Hunt, advisor for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press, preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.

Part 1 of 4 parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.

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