The Top Four Priorities for an Evangelizing Parish

In 2007, Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires gave an interview to Sefania Falasca for the journal, 30 Days. There, he said something that would prove a hallmark of his future papacy as Pope Francis, something that poses a profound challenge to us today: “precisely if one is faithful, one changes.”

What did he mean?

We all know how radically, and how quickly, our world has been changing around us. It’s now become painfully clear that if a parish is to be faithful to Christ’s “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples,” it needs to change. It needs to engage in the “missionary conversion” of not only its pastoral practice, but even its own culture (The Joy of the Gospel, 27).

The “culture” of a parish just means the sum total of what it truly values as revealed by its actions, especially by how it chooses to spend its time and money. To be an evangelizing parish simply means that the value of making disciples shapes its culture more than any other value. From this, every decision flows: “Will this help us make disciples?”

Pope PreachingThis is what the Pope calls the “missionary option”:

“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” The Joy of the Gospel, 27

This brings us to the top four priorities for a parish whose pastoral practice, life, and culture are shaped by this missionary impulse:

  1. Pre-Evangelization: This is where we intentionally seek to build trust, good will, and friendship. It’s where we try to foster curiosity, openness, and spiritual seeking. It’s where inviting, welcoming and hospitality become the number one priority. It’s where we try to create a genuine spiritual home that welcomes everyone, because for most of us these days, “belonging” comes first; “believing” and “behavior” (hopefully) follow.
  2. Evangelization: This is where we preach the kerygma: the Gospel of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. It’s where we witness and share our faith story, and where we offer opportunities for personal encounters with Christ. Its goal is conversion: “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to him” (National Directory for Catechesis, 47).
  3. Discipleship: This is where we offer ongoing faith formation, catechesis, and the sacramental life. Where we offer ways for going deeper in prayer, maturing in faith, growing in knowledge and holiness, and experiencing renewal. It’s where we experience that “every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 120)
  4. Mission: There is where we focus on service, on being outward bound, taking responsibility for our own local “mission territory”. It’s where we actively engage, invite, and evangelize others, especially those furthest away. It’s where we commit ourselves to social justice and to the poor, and seek to incarnate the mercy of the Father. It’s where together we “boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 24.)

Question for Discussion: What do you think have been the top three values that have shaped the culture of your parish?

4 replies
  1. edumer1@verizon.net
    edumer1@verizon.net says:

    Thank you for this article. Looking at the top 4 priorities, I can truly say that I am proud of our small rural parish, St. Mary of the Assumption in Pylesville. Our pastor, Henry Kunkel, is open to and supportive of his parishioners taking on the call to be a missionary disciple. We have seen renewal through the ChristLife program which teaches us the process of having a relationship with Christ that is too good not to be shared. Our other ministries (Knights of Columbus, Health Care, Liturgy, Religious Education, Outreach, Adult Education, Vacation Bible School…) are all led by such faithful people! It is a welcoming place, one people travel to when another parish may be closer because of the richness of relationships formed here. We look forward to being a part of the Archbishop’s plan for spreading the Gospel.

    • John Romanowsky
      John Romanowsky says:

      Thanks very much for sharing about your parish with such enthusiasm, Ellen! It’s great to see. I look forward to visiting soon. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help as you continue down the path of missionary discipleship.

  2. pascosi
    pascosi says:

    Great article. Two values that shape my parish are Mass and orthodoxy.

    #1 By “Mass” I mean that is what draws everyone together and is certainly the “summit” of our parish’s life (praise God!). The part where we need change: For many it seems that Sunday Mass is the “sum” of their parish life. There is also an individualistic mentality / spirituality present, where large numbers of people go to Mass, but have no living connection to the Church’s mission in the parish and fall into a “practical relativism”. For many reasons they lack a sense of belonging. This includes people who are very faithful, but sometimes I fear portions of our parish fit into Pope Francis diagnosis of the many ills that prevent the fruitfulness of the mission, “In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine, and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time” (Joy of the Gospel, #95).

    #2 I would say that we are an “orthodox” parish for the most part (again, praise God!). I think a lot of people in our parish pride themselves on the fact that “we are right” as Catholics. The part that needs to change: Sometimes it leads to a triumphalist attitude or a Catholicism that prides itself in having the answers, but often is “unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center…” (Joy of the Gospel #49). One other way I think we need to change: I think we have orthodox preaching and faith formation, but sometimes it is very hard to make the connection to our contemporary lives. We talk (and sing hymns) about the Church, Jesus, sacraments, prayer, truth, devotion, Mary, etc. But sometimes I feel there is a disconnect from my everyday life. Sometimes the language used or even the melody and the instrumentation feel very removed from contemporary society. It can feel as though it is a foreign language sometimes. If we are to be effective evangelizers, we need to pay attention, “to actual people, to using their language, their signs and symbols, to answering the questions they ask” (Joy of the Gospel, 154).

    I write all of this not to “blame” my parish, but to point out areas I see where we need to change. And I know the Gospel always begins with me. And a change of heart in my own life, so that I can be part of the change.

    Can anyone else relate to the values I mentioned above?

    • John Romanowsky
      John Romanowsky says:

      Peter, thank you for your thoughtful response. This is the kind of reflection and discernment we’re all being called to these days. And thank you for making the important point that it’s not about “blame” at all: we are all being called to this challenging “missionary conversion”, starting with ourselves, first and foremost. We look forward to working with you and your parish as we embrace this challenge together.

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