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: Summer reading for kids

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SummerReading

Kids are smart. That’s why Tamara Conley, research librarian at St. John Vianney Theological seminary, Cardinal StaffŸord Library is such an advocate for kids reading as much as possible.

“Kids should be reading something. Anything. If you want to develop literacy, then you have to read,” Conley said. “No one ever had a bad summer because they read too many books.”

Conley writes reviews of children’s books for Catholic Library World magazine, available at the seminary library. She and other Catholic librarians across the country evaluate literature written for children and young adults, and rate it according to both literacy levels and the values it teaches.

She said it’s important for modern parents to be aware of that their children are reading, and especially the values
their books teach.

“So many kids in Catholic schools get such a good education that they’re able to read things they may not be ready for,” she said. “Books are very influential, for good or for bad. Just like you know what they’re eating, you should know what they’re putting in their brains.”

So, when the summer-time boredom sets in, it may be tempting to grab whatever books are most enticing in the
library display. Conley said that while the desire to read is good, parents can use books to help form their children by
doing just a little bit of research first.

“We all have to develop our faith, and reading is a good way to do it,” she said. “I think reading about the saints in particular is good, because they recognize that there are people just like them, and they form an attachment.”

She also recommended parents discuss reading material with their children.

“Books can be a good way to start a conversation, and a good way to catechize,” she said.

One way for parents to do this is to read what their children are reading.

“It’s important for parents with advanced readers to read what their kids are ready to read, to make sure the maturity level is appropriate,” she said.

However, she said she realizes that it would be very difficult for parents to read every book their child does. That’s why she recommends parents use all the resources
available to them, including Religious Education teachers, parents of older children and parents who are willing to share the reading burden.

“Public librarians can help you too,” she said. “That’s their job, and they’re trained to do it. They can find book
reviews.”

Conley said that book series can be especially appealing to kids during vacation months, as they have more time to read through them. Below are some of her top choices for young readers, from publishers that she said parents should look into.

SaintsAndMe2
SAINTS AND ME

Conley said these long picture books use bright colors and fun stories to teach young readers about the saints. They
also help develop reading skills.

“They’re good for early readers because it teaches them literacy, as well as important content about the saints. It’s appropriate for their developmental stage,” she said.

The stories are followed by word games and« activities to help reinforce the lessons.

ChimeTravelers2_DC
CHIME TRAVELERS
The Chime Traveler books are based on a group of friends who clean a chapel together. When a bell rings in the chapel, they are transported to the time of different
saints. Conley said this story outline allows the books to teach life lessons without becoming dull.

“These books are so much fun. They’re great,” she said. “The child in the story learns about the saint, but it doesn’t
become too preachy.”

She said the books are great for young readers ready to make the switch to chapter books.

“It’s a big deal for a little kid to move from a picture book to a chapter book. It’s a good starting chapter book for a 7 or 8 year old, if they’re a good reader,” she said.

RedBlazerGirls_DC
RED BLAZER GIRLS
Conley said that this series is different from others on the list because it doesn’t try to explicitly teach the Catholic faith. Instead, it shows a group of friends in a Catholic
school solving mysteries.

“I love this series because it’s about Catholic school girls, who are taught by nuns, and even the title refers to part of
their uniform. I don’t remember having any books growing up about Catholic girls in a Catholic school,” Conley said. “The faith is part of their lives.”

The girls in the series are in seventh grade, which Conley says makes the series ideal for readers a few years younger.

“Kids like to read about kids a little older than them,” she said.

EncounterTheSaints2
ENCOUNTER THE SAINTS
This series is written by a variety of authors, so the style changes from book to book. They are simple biographies of the lives of Ÿdifferent saints, meant to be enticing to
young readers.

“They show us how the saints lived in a very accessible way,” Conley said.

The books feature saints who were priests and nuns, married and single. Because of the diversity of people covered, they can be appealing to both boys and girls.

JPI2High_DC
JPII HIGH
This series follows a group of friends who attend a Catholic High School together. The content of these books
is more advanced, but Conley said that can foster good conversations about issues the readers are actually facing.

“These are the problems normal kids handle in high school, but its explained from a Catholic perspective. It’s not preachy,” she said. “It’s also a good conversation starter for parents.”

She said the books are intriguing to middle schoolers because the kids in the series match up with where the readers are developmentally.

“These are questions that these readers will have,” she said.

She said the series also demonstrates how friends in this age group help each other, which is important to pre-teens
and teens.

“They work with their peers to learn their morality,” she said.

 

 

Be sure to checkout book programs this summer! Barnes & Noble and your local library should all have programs:

Arapahoe County Library
Littleton Public Library
Boulder Library
Douglas County Library
Poudre River Library 

Barnes and Noble also has a reading incentive program.