Doing something amazing for the Church
Every serious Catholic wants their parish to be amazing.
But a vibrant parish that is on fire for the Catholic faith, that offers great opportunities for catechetical and adult faith formation, that cultivates a welcoming presence, and that provides important ministries does not just happen.
Denver’s Bishop-elect Jorge Rodriguez says a new program co-founded by Legatus members John and Mari Ann Martin is already setting new parishes — including his own — ablaze for Jesus and his Church.
For the last two years, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila has been “promoting among the Catholic community the formation of disciples — and the Amazing Parish program — to revitalize parishes and bring back Catholics to our pews,” the bishop-elect told reporters at the Aug. 25 news conference announcing his appointment.
Holy Spirit inspiration
John Martin, a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter, and Patrick Lencioni, a nationally renowned business consultant, know that an amazing parish is the end result of organizational health, a commitment to prayer and a focus on evangelization and Christian discipleship.
“Our goal and hope is to build healthy parishes that are warm, loving, excited, on fire; that make strangers who open the door feel warm and loved; and that reach out to those who have left the Church,” said Martin, who co-founded the Amazing Parish program with Lencioni in 2013.
Hundreds of parish leadership teams from across Canada and the United States have attended Amazing Parish conferences in Denver and Detroit. Lencioni and Martin are planning a conference next March in Atlanta that they hope will draw 250 parish leadership teams and 1,500 people.
“It will be our largest one yet,” said Lencioni, a New York Times best-selling author who founded The Table Group, a California-based business consulting firm.
Martin and Lencioni, both devout Catholics, were feeling moved by the Holy Spirit a few years ago to do something important for the Church. They were brought together by a mutual friend, Curtis Martin, the founder and chief executive of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
Lencioni took a flight from California to Denver in early 2013 to meet John Martin for the first time. Sitting together in Martin’s kitchen, they didn’t know ahead of time what they were going to be talking about — or even why they were meeting.
“John’s wife Mari Ann came down and asked, ‘What is this all about?’” Lencioni recalled. “We said, ‘We don’t know. We think we’re supposed to do something together.’”
The picture began to emerge when the pair drove to FOCUS’ headquarters to meet with Curtis Martin, also a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter. Together they went to Mass, and during their subsequent meeting, the news broke that Pope Francis had been elected in Rome.
“In hindsight, we both see the hand of the Holy Spirit in it,” John Martin said.
“Things just started to happen from there,” said Lencioni, adding that he and Martin went to a coffee shop in Denver a short time later with some like-minded people and started brainstorming on how they could help the Church.
The group asked themselves a simple question: What is the greatest need of the Catholic Church that we would have a reasonable probability of creating something that could address that need?
“We spent two days praying about that, whiteboarding about that, thinking, trying to figure out what we could do to help the Church grow, to stop the decline, to help the Church become evangelistic and have a missionary outreach,” John Martin explained.
The answer soon revealed itself, addressing the area where Catholics most directly interact with the universal Church: their local parish.
“The parishes are like the outposts of the Great Commission,” said Lencioni, who explained that the group wanted to be obedient to what they discerned the Holy Spirit was saying to them.
The next step was figuring out how to strengthen parishes. About a month later, Martin and Lencioni convened a larger group of people from various Catholic ministries and organizations. They spent two days asking themselves what constituted an amazing parish.
“We had to figure out what it was if we wanted to help the Church build parishes in a better way,” Martin said.
The end result was a model informed by Church teachings, papal documents and best business practices. The group identified seven traits of an amazing parish that they further distilled into three basic building blocks: a reliance on prayer, organizational health, as well as discipleship and evangelization.
The most important block is prayer.
“An amazing parish should have prayer at every level from the pastor to the leadership team, the parish staff, parish council, and the altar society,” Martin explained.
“Before doing anything, we have to start by asking ourselves, ‘Are we submitting all this to God and turning to him in prayer for the intentions of our parish?’” said Lencioni, who added that it takes more to revitalize a parish than simply changing its management style.
“We need to pray for them — and to pray for the parish programs and ministries — to discern them and pray that God bless them,” Lencioni said.
Along with a solid prayer life, an amazing parish needs to be a strong organization with solid management practices.
That’s not to say that the parish team mindlessly follows directives from the pastor’s office. A healthy parish requires the leadership team to trust one another, to have frank discussions and to engage well in conflict so that the team can then buy into commitments and decisions. Team members must also be willing to hold one another accountable and to prioritize the parish’s collective interests ahead of personal or departmental goals.
“The biggest paradigm shift here is that the pastor can’t do all of this alone, and he needs a team around him to truly rally around and share responsibilities for everything that has to happen in the parish,” said Lencioni, noting that many pastors generally were not trained early on in how to assemble a budget or build a management team.
“No catechetical or faith-formation program will achieve its full potential if the parish is not run like an effective organization,” Lencioni said.
A prayerful, well-run parish, he said, also has to be outward looking and prioritize forming Christian disciples in the pews who dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ — and who want to bring the Gospel to their families, relatives and neighbors.
“That’s the ultimate goal, to have every faithful Catholic being a disciple-maker,” Martin explained. “That’s Christ’s model. It’s the Great Commission. If there was an overriding marching order from above, it’s to make disciples of all nations.”
Lencioni added that no two parishes, even if they incorporate the three building blocks, will be exactly alike.
“There is no cookie cutter parish,” he said. “Parishes have different charisms. The parish has to look at who’s around them, what’s their situation and where did God plant them. A parish is not just its campus. It’s the entire district that they serve.”
The Amazing Parish program’s website offers resources, webinars, videos and reading materials for parish leaders to study. Lencioni and Martin have held three conferences in Colorado and one in the Archdiocese of Detroit to bring parish leaders together and share best practices. The conferences feature well-known Catholic speakers such as Curtis Martin, Matthew Kelly, Jeff Cavins, Matt Maher and others.
In a letter to his fellow bishops earlier this year, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit endorsed the Amazing Parish program, saying he was edified and energized by the presentations and conversations he had throughout the three-day conference last April.
“More than 200 of our parishes participated in this conference to strengthen our parishes in sharing best practices and to be re-energized and more fully equipped for the New Evangelization,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote, adding that the conference had left a “profound impact” on the archdiocese.
Bishop-elect Rodriguez also wholeheartedly endorsed the program, saying, “We’re doing this Amazing Parish project and there is a lot of life. As much as we present the true Jesus, I think people will come back [to the Catholic Church] because they really need it.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer