Frustrating as it may be for some of us, it is nevertheless completely understandable that many Catholics do not evangelize. After all, many do not know what evangelization is, never mind how to go about doing it, and doing it well, at that. The parish, too, should get at least some of our sympathy, for even though the problems we experience at the parish level are very different, the challenges can seem just as overwhelming.
But what exactly is the problem?
Simply put, it is the problem of too many options.
Like a buffet dinner placed in front of a hungry man, we too can be completely unsure of where to begin when it comes to evangelization. Add to this our very unrealistic desire to have our one choice satisfy all of the needs of parish life, and we have quite the problem on our hands.
But that’s what we want, isn’t it? One neat and simple solution. And we also want the Bishop to single out our parish as the one that is getting it right. We want our parishioners to say, “I like it here. This is my home away from home.” And yes, we want more people in the pews and more money in the donation basket because as much as we hate to admit it, without both the parish will simply not survive.
But a vibrant youth program will not help with the sacramental programs. An active bible study will not make the choir sound any better. And no, an outreach ministry of any kind will not stifle the endless debates over who has the right to which meeting room.
Those who work in parish life ministries know this can only happen if a thorough and all-encompassing renewal takes hold of the faith community. A desire to not only improve the individual ministries and programs of the parish but the whole of parish life.
This is the kind of problem that stops parish evangelization before it even begins because the gains made from taking any course of action seem to be far too few and too slow to affect everything, and so we get discouraged and often don’t do anything at all.
Those who work in parish life ministries (that is, clergy, office staff, evangelization and leadership teams) know this can only happen if a thorough and all-encompassing renewal takes hold of the faith community. A desire must take hold that not only seeks to improve the individual ministries and programs of the parish but the whole of parish life.
So the question remains, how do we do that?
One very effective solution to this problem is known as the one percent rule, and it comes from habit formation theory. Quite simply this is when we break down a task or goal into its smallest parts and improve on each of those individual parts by a mere 1%.
Now, I know how it sounds, because to me it sounds like at that rate nothing will ever get done. And yet, it is hard to argue with the many testimonies of people who have implemented the one percent rule in their own lives to achieve large and seemingly unattainable goals. Some have won world championships in their sport of choice. Some have beat debt and amassed great wealth.
Could we not do something similar when renewing a parish?
Certainly! We would just need to begin with a very clear goal by asking questions like: What do we want to achieve? What do we want the parish to look like? Who do we want to reach?
Once our goal is clearly formulated, we would continue by breaking it down into bite-size, manageable actions that over time would transform our parish into a thriving and dynamic community.
If our end goal is to have just that, a renewed faith life and social life on the parish level, we would begin by addressing some of the things that we believe would lead us to that state, such as:
Beautiful and reverent music.
Outreach to the poor program.
Ministries specifically geared towards the broken or wounded individuals in our community (whether mentally, spiritually or physically).
Rest for Father so that he doesn’t experience burnout.
An exciting Bible study.
Support for parents.
… and of course, the list could go on.
We would then say to ourselves, “what is the smallest improvement that we can make in every one of these areas?
Perhaps the choir begins to practice once a week.
Perhaps we just make an announcement once a month that we are collecting nonperishables.
Perhaps we assemble a small team to call or write letters to those who need to know that they are not alone.
You see where this is going, don’t you?
If we go on making improvements like this, one small one after the other, not HUGE changes but tiny, almost imperceptible changes, I have no doubt that in the course of a year or two, the parish would be in a much better position than it is currently in.
And while it may not be the jewel of the diocese just yet, your parish would be well underway to achieving what thousands of us all crave: a parish that feeds us with the Eucharist, a home away from home, and a community that we are proud to belong to.