Taking people from ‘nones’ to regulars

Amazing Parish Conference debut highlights parishioner experience

Nissa LaPoint
Father Michael White, left, Patrick Lencioni, center, and Tom Corcoran talk about creating an amazing Sunday experience at the first Amazing Parish Conference Aug. 27-28 in Denver.

Catholic heavyweights behind a Denver-launched parish revitalization movement shared with evangelizers across the country last week the keys to converting the unchurched into front-pew regulars.

Some 140 parishes and organizations from as far as New York and Canada gathered for an invitation-only workshop called The Amazing Parish Conference Aug. 27-28 in Denver to help churches become more vibrant centers for an encounter with Christ.

The first conference, funded by the local VINE Foundation, drew Catholic leaders including Jeff Cavins, Curtis Martin and Chris Stefanick to present with businessman Patrick Lencioni seven identified traits of an “amazing parish”—a reliance on prayer, a real leadership team, a clear vision, the Sunday experience, compelling formation, small group discipleship and missionary zeal.

What’s missing is not the sacraments, according to key organizers. What’s needed is a church filled with hearts on fire for Christ, and parishioners helpful to fallen-away Catholics navigating their way back to church.

“Yes, the Eucharist is enough, but so many people need more to understand that,” Lencioni, author and leadership consultant, said to the packed conference room inside the Hyatt Regency. “Those people out there who are former Catholics or Catholics going other places—they’re hungry for what you have. We know the most important part. This conference is about all the other things.”

Founders are calling it a Holy Spirit-inspired movement that began on the day Pope Francis was selected pontiff in March 2013.

Co-founder John Martin of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver told the Denver Catholic Register they want attendees to have “a zeal to take their parish to a level where parishioners are active disciples for Christ.”

 

Hearts on fire
This personal zeal is necessary for a transformation, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said during his talk on evangelization.

“If we don’t have the fire in us it’s because we’re living a lukewarm and superficial existence,” he told the crowded conference room.

He urged pastors and parish staff that the best incentive for sharing the Gospel message comes from inside, from contemplating Christ in love.

“The fire begins to grow as I spend time with the one I love and when that fire grows then the Holy Spirit can use me,” he explained.

Parishes were asked to brainstorm ideas for putting this into action.

The bishop added that true zeal begins where natural enthusiasm ends.

“When you reach the end of natural enthusiasm and spiritual failure and weakness and you can’t go on, invite the Lord then a real transformation can happen and then real zeal begins.”

 

From consumers to disciples
Conference talks were built on the idea that a parish is where most people come to know Christ.

An alarming number of Americans are missing this opportunity, according to the Pew Research Center. “Nones” or those with no religious identity are a growing 19 percent or one-fifth of the population—and a third of adults under 30—researchers found in a 2012 poll.

Father Michael White, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., and associate Tom Corcoran, shared how they shifted focus to these unchurched people.

Instead of adding more programs and ministries, the parish prioritized the Sunday experience and mobilized the help of regular parishioners.

The people in the pews were no longer approached as customers, he said.

“We were not leading people and we were not making disciples, but we were creating religious consumers in our parish,” Father White shared about the programs and activities they labored to provide. “So much of it was a waste of time.”

Together the pastor and associate authored the books “Rebuilt” and “Tools for Rebuilding” about the lessons they learned.

They asked attendees to brainstorm on ways to reach the unchurched by reevaluating their worship music, the message given during homilies and how ministers affect the Sunday experience.

“I want to see the average parishioner reawakened,” said Cathy Gold, parishioner at the 5,000-family St. Patrick’s Church in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “Everyone should be sitting on the edge of their seat.”

After the discussion, Father Jarek Pochocki, O.M.I., pastor of St. Lawrence the Martyr and St. Patrick churches in Hamilton, Ontario, said he and his parishioners could work on reaching out to the small and diverse community.

“The topics seem obvious but this (conference) really reinforces our understanding of it,” he said.

During the conference, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver celebrated Mass. Matt Maher led an evening of music, and adoration and confession were made available.

Lencioni presented on “a real leadership team,” Lisa Brennikmeyer presented on “small group discipleship,” Martin on “a reliance on prayer,” Cavins on “compelling formation,” and Matt Manion joined Lencioni to speak on “a clear vision.”

 

Resources
The Amazing Parish movement has provided free resources for Catholic leaders, clergy and laity, to achieve the seven traits at www.amazingparish.org. Key organizer Dominic Perri said the movement will also provide consultants to help parishes become thriving centers.

“The response has been tremendous,” he said during the conference. “There’s a tremendous hunger for this. … We’re here to serve the (parishes).”

 

 

COMING UP: David Card and his goals for Regis Jesuit High School

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-2-06-39-pm

For David Card, sending his children to a Catholic school was an easy decision.

“I think there’s something fundamental and holistic about bringing your faith and your spirituality into your full development process,” he said. “I’ve never considered anything else for my kids.”

In August, Card began to serve as the first lay president of Regis Jesuit High School, and second alumnus in the role (Class of 1987). In his new role, Card says he hopes he can make the possibility of an education at Regis a “real option” for qualified students with little financial resources.

Card replaces Rick Sullivan, who served as interim president of Regis Jesuit since Father Paul Sheridan resigned from the post due to health issues at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.

Card worked as Director of Development at the school from 1999 to 2003, and has served on Regis’ board of trustees for the past year.

Most recently, he served as president of Escuela de Guadalupe, a dual-language Catholic elementary school in Denver. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado Denver and a bachelor’s degree from Regis University in Denver.

Denver Catholic sat down with Card, to speak with him about his new role, the school, and his philosophy on Catholic education.

Denver Catholic: What are the emotions that come to mind in coming back to your alma-mater to serve as its President?

David Card:  I’m excited for sure. Through Ignatian spirituality, the spirituality given to us by our founder, St. Ignatius, one of the things that’s really been internalized by me is this idea of indifference. That it’s not really what I want, but “Where is it that I am to be?” I’ve had that feeling about Regis for a long time. So there’s a contentedness with that. Certainly, in reality I know it’s a big job, so I’m excited, and there’s also some anxiousness, but the support I’ve received from the community has been enormous.

Denver Catholic: Would you mind elaborating on the foundational pillars that a student at Regis Jesuit will be formed in upon graduation?

David Card: I think (the pillars) really reflect the kind of inquiry that we want our students to engage in. This is all in the foundational spirituality of our Catholic Church and our Ignatian tradition. One of the things Regis really excels at, and Jesuit education excels at, is it provides wonderful pathways, especially for adolescents, to develop an authentic relationship with God.

Also, through the process of discernment what we’re trying to develop is a listening skill in our students. . . This way, they can listen for the signs and ways in which God is calling them to be and to serve. They have many opportunities to explore their gifts and talents, to be really cognoscente of the larger community and the world they live in. Also, they have the opportunity to have real practice in service so they can animate their lives with that service.

Denver Catholic: What are your future goals for Regis Jesuit?

David Card: We adopted a strategic plan on the board a little over a year ago. Excellence, which pertains to our students, to our faculty, and our facilities is one of the pillars. We really want to focus on the inclusiveness of Regis in terms of its diversity. . .We constantly have work to do in maintaining and developing infrastructure for the school, strengthening our financial resources, and get better at marketing who we are and what we do.

I think in general I want to imagine a school that any family who desires especially a faith-formative, rigorous education and thinks “I want my kid to go there” also feels like that’s a real possibility. I’m not sure that’s true right now. So, I really want to work on that. . . I think the most important thing is to continue what we’re doing here and ensuring that our people are exposed to our Jesuit Catholic tradition and that they’re preparing to bring that forth into the world.”

Denver Catholic: Speaking through your experience, what is necessary to propel Catholic education as we continue into the 21st century?

David Card: I think we have to be intentional about our mission. I think we have to be ever more creative in the way that we convey that. I think our culture can be challenging for that. At the same time, we have to continue to recognize that God is present in our culture.

I think on a practical level, the biggest challenge facing Catholic education is financial accessibility. We wrestle with that here (at Regis) and we’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure that really any student who’s academically qualified, along with the parents of that student, feel like this is a real option for them. We do a lot to support that but certainly, we have to do more. There’s always a constant tension between having a quality faculty and putting the resources in place for that to occur, and then having a tuition rate and a financial aid program that can really be accessible to every family.

Denver Catholic: With so many options that parents have in educating their children, why Catholic education?

David Card: I think there’s something fundamental and holistic about bringing your faith and your spirituality into your full development process. To me it is, I’ve never considered anything else for my kids. So I do think that more and more families are hungering for that. Even if they don’t have a faith tradition, they’re concerned about the lack of boundaries for the development for their child.

We’ve always been strong academically. Kids get an excellent college prep education at Regis but if it were just that, we wouldn’t be all that distinctive. I think it really is engaging kids in service, having them really look at themselves and try to figure out “How is it that I am and is there really an opportunity for me to hear where I’m called to be?”