3 Ways of Thinking That Will Kill Parish Renewal Before It Begins
By now, I hope you have read the few articles that I have written on gaining confidence when evangelizing. In them, I speak about our identity as Catholics and precisely why it makes sense that you should be out there evangelizing.
But just in case you haven’t, we can sum up the message there by saying: our identity drives our action; it answers the why.
In other words, I evangelize because of who I am.
But the goal of evangelization or rather what I want to accomplish by evangelizing is a very different matter. And it is here that I most often encounter parishes that are really struggling to turn the tide on the empty pew crisis.
In these all too common scenarios, the parish and pastoral team are indeed willing to evangelize, they might even have the right why behind them, but their goals (at least in the short term) are killing them.
So let’s take a look at what is definitely going awry with their efforts in order to avoid these pitfalls ourselves.
Wherever Christianity exists, wherever the parish springs into existence, we should not find perfect men but better men. Individuals who are willing to let the experience of Christ change them.
1. The Insistence on Returning to Something
Returning to some things in the faith is not harmful in the least, in fact, the more we return in belief and practice to what the Church already is can only help us to evangelize.
The danger comes in when we are trying to live the Church as it might or could be in our minds. When we say things like, “well the Church will one day be okay with this or want to do this very thing.”
A similar danger occurs when we push to live the faith the way that it was lived in centuries past. This too is a mistake.
That’s because in every generation and in every place, the evangelists of the time had to figure out the best way to reach their contemporaries with the same timeless Gospel.
And so, St. Francis of Assisi created the crèche.
Saints Cyril and Methodius created Old Church Slavonic, and St. Thomas Aquinas penned the Tantum Ergo.
In other words, they came up with new ways to captivate the human imagination of their time with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel. We have to do the same thing.
BUT THE MISTAKE IS EXPRESSED IN OTHER WAYS TOO.
Insisting that our parish must bring back a bake sale because it used to be widely successful or that the parish choir must sing certain songs because it used to be such a hit with a certain crowd; these and numerous other examples are the mistake in action.
That being said, I understand the reasoning quite well and on the face of it, it has its own logic.
It’s something like, “we used to have lots of people here with us when we did x, so maybe if we could return to doing x, those same people will return to the parish.”
Unfortunately, this approach rarely works.
A BETTER MINDSET and goal to set for oneself is not to return to something but indeed to be the first at something.
This is when the pastor or parish team says to themselves, “what could we do to reach these people today?”
And that makes a LOT more sense, especially since this is a new time, and a whole new group of evangelists are taking on the task.
2. The Insistence on Defending Something
We all understand the need for defense. It has its place in sports, board games and even in war. But when it comes to evangelization, defense often has very little to do with it.
Since its beginning, Christianity and the Holy Spirit that empowers it have been on the offensive.
Yes, sometimes these upward and outward movements have been quiet.
Sometimes the movements are subtle, but Christianity from its first moments, have exhibited a power capable of keeping the pressure on the enemy’s gates.
We must be sure to evangelize the same way.
And yet, today conference and retreat abound which have as their theme that of a defensive Christianity.
THAT IS A MISTAKE
The sooner we let go of the mindset that says hold on to it at all costs, the sooner we can grab ahold of the new harvest in front of us.
3. The Insistence on Perfecting Something
The final mistake in parish renewal worth mentioning, is the idea that we must perfect our Catholicism.
And if that sounds strange to you, it should.
This is when we say to ourselves and our communities that we are not good until we solve the problem of homelessness in our neighbourhoods.
Or when we say that we are not truly modest until our skin is appropriately covered from head to toe.
It is the mentality that doesn’t strive to make us better but robots and it is a death note to communities.
That’s because wherever Christianity exists, wherever the parish springs into existence, we should not find perfect men but better men. Individuals who are willing to let the experience of Christ change them.
True evangelization looks very much the same. It has to have the parish saying, “how can we become better in our outreach, in our dialogue with God, in our worship, in our study…” and so on. “Let’s get better,” that is a motto worth putting on the parish bulletin.
Now I hope you can appreciate the fact that this list was not meant to be all inclusive.
In fact, I am sure that you and I can already name at least another five mistaken ways of thinking that are slowing down evangelization in the universal Church.
Be that as it may, if we don’t change our way of thinking about the three goals above, true renewal is going to be incredibly difficult to achieve.