Part 2: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish

By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt

ACF510BStrong Lay Participation

“There are over a hundred ministries in our parish,” a parishioner explains, “and several of them are to people outside the parish. We take care of our own, but we don't stop there.”

Asked what sustains him at St. Michael's, parishioner Chris Brooks says, “In brief, God's grace through the Eucharist. I also experience his love through the church members.”

Beth Seman has been a parishioner her entire life “and it feels more like my family every day. We have a vibrant parish with over 100 ministries available for all ages. A person can choose to be part of a ministry by simply praying. Or a person can become involved, using God-given gifts and talents to minister to others. There is something for everyone.

“Our current staff and ministry teams are just as dedicated as our priests. Their hard work really shows,” Beth adds. “We have also been blessed by many parishioners willing to volunteer their time and talent.”

According to Father Mike, “St. Michael's has benefited from strong lay participation over the past 40 years. Their good understanding that they are Church has helped them to be faith-filled and to search for ways to grow in faith. Our history of parish retreats, enrichment programs, participation in RENEW [a spiritual-development program] has raised the bar for them to be active in ministry.”

About 40 percent of the congregation attends Mass regularly, which is about 10 percent above the national average. Father Mike maintains that his people take prayer very seriously, a reflection that “prayer calls us to ministry and ministry calls us to prayer.”

In a parish-sponsored synod (a gathering of parishioners for assessment and planning), members agreed to renew their efforts in Catholic education for adults and youth, to be more welcoming and inviting, to improve their marketing and advertising, and to engage in additional outreach.

City flooding in 2007 prompted community-minded parish members to launch “Calming the Waters,” a flood-relief outreach to citizens hardest hit by the deluge. Other parishioners offer year-round support to an adopted parish and school in Belize, a small country with the highest unemployment rate in Central America.

“The parishioners have taken ownership,” Leibfarth says about these and other forms of parish outreach. “I believe that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Father Mike is understandably proud of the physical plant, but he knows that there is more to a parish than a “build it and they will come” dream. “We have the facilities,” he says. “Now we can focus even more on the mission and ministries they imply.”

The megachurch is not the only successful model for the evangelized church. Every type of parish church has the potential for realizing the mission of evangelizing and being evangelized. Within each parish there are all the charisms necessary to make Church.

When the U.S. bishops issued Go and Make Disciples, their 1992 national plan and strategy for evangelization, they outlined three basic goals:

1. To encourage Catholics to get excited about living their faith and sharing it with others.

2. To invite our fellow citizens to listen to the Gospel and to become members of the Church.

3. To promote Gospel values in society so that the power of Christ may transform our nation.

The bishops then listed dozens of strategies for achieving those goals, such as programs for renewal, Spirit-filled celebrations of the liturgy, better catechetical materials, formation of diocesan-evangelization committees, review of hospitality, ecumenical outreach and parish-education programs geared toward social justice.

Clearly, it is not the size of a parish that determines its spirit, its outreach, its power to evangelize. Every ecclesial assembly has the potential. The deciding factor appears to be whether the assembly is “called forth.”

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


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