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: St. Bernadette’s Parish provides ministries with big reach

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St. Bernadette’s Parish provides ministries with big reach

Lakewood church is home to deaf, Native American, homeless ministries

Roxanne King
20160221-Churches-StBernadette (1)

St. Bernadette Parish, the pioneer Catholic church of Lakewood, outgrew its first worship space just 18 years after being founded in 1947. Today, the half-century-old church remains large enough but needs updated to better serve its exceptionally diverse congregation.

In addition to ministering to the faithful of central Lakewood, the parish heads Colorado Catholic Deaf Ministry, is home to St. Kateri Native American Community, runs a school and soon will be host to Marisol Home, which will provide transitional housing to homeless women with children.

“One holy, Catholic and apostolic church is a pretty good description for our parish,” said the pastor, Father Tom Coyte.

“Catholic means universal,” added pastoral associate Julie Plouffe, “and there is so much diversity represented in this one worship space: the deaf, Native Americans, service to the poor and the homeless, and to our school.”

Deaf ministry

When Father Coyte was named pastor of St. Bernadette’s two and a half years ago, he quickly realized his handsome church was in need of repairs and renovations—from the essentials of updating the heating, cooling and electricity, to improving the sanctuary for comfort and hospitality.

He wants all of his parishioners, including the deaf, to be able to enjoy full, active participation in the church liturgies. When Father Coyte arrived to St. Bernadette’s, the deaf community, which he’s led for 45 years, came with him.

“We became aware of how difficult it is to participate visually in our liturgies here,” Father Coyte said.

Because it’s essential for the deaf to see what’s being signed, the parish plans, among other improvements, to elevate the altar platform to increase visibility for the congregation. (The change will also aid seeing the schoolchildren when they take part in liturgies.)

Deaf ministry enables the hard of hearing to serve as lectors, ushers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. It offers interpretive services for weddings, funerals and religious education classes, and organizes retreats.

“Deaf ministry is an archdiocesan outreach to all deaf persons and their families to be fully involved in parish and Church life,” Father Coyte said.

Services include religious education and interpretive outreach, and signed weekly Masses at two other parishes—one in the Colorado Springs Diocese.

“We also go to Pueblo and have been to other states,” Father Coyte said.

St. Kateri Community

The St. Kateri ministry, in which some 60 people from across the archdiocese representing about 10 Native American tribes celebrate a weekly Mass incorporating Indian traditions, has been at St. Bernadette’s since 1985.

“They’ve been embraced by the St. Bernadette community,” Father Coyte said. “They have a beautiful spirituality.”

Kateri ministry exists to evangelize and serve the archdiocese’s Native American community and provides religious education and community building.

Aid to the poor, homeless

Last fall, the Kateri community, which had turned the parish’s old convent into a chapel, moved their weekly Mass into the church proper. Catholic Charities is leasing and transforming Kateri’s former home for worship into a home for single-parent mothers with children. Marisol Home, set to open this year, will be able to shelter up to 18 families at once.

“St. Bernadette’s will be providing a lot of meal support and volunteer hours,” Plouffe said of the Marisol ministry.

Ministry to the poor and homeless has long been a cherished activity of the parish, which helps a near daily stream of indigent from Lakewood’s Colfax corridor with food, rent assistance and resource referrals.

“We reach out to many needy families in our school as well,” Father Coyte said.

Vast outreach

This spring the parish is launching a three-year, $1.5 million capital campaign to fund necessary improvements to make St. Bernadette’s more beautiful, functional and welcoming for its diverse congregation.

Just as the church’s unique ministries stretch beyond its parish boundaries, Father Coyte said so, too, does its need for donations.

“Our outreach is much larger than St. Bernadette Parish,” he said. “We’re a relatively small parish of 700 to 800 families, yet our ministries are quite ambitious.”

To Donate

Call St. Bernadette Parish, 303-233-1523