The Four Types of Parishes (Dying, Declining, Swelling, Growing)
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How is the health and vitality of your parish? Will it be around in twenty years?

Through my work at L’Alto Catholic Institute, I have come to realize that every parish in the United States can be put into one of four buckets.

  1. Dying

  2. Declining

  3. Swelling

  4. Growing (Healthy)

1) Dying parishes are on their last legs. A great example is my dad’s childhood parish. When he was growing up, there were three Catholic parishes within a few blocks. When all of the Polish people who had originally settled in the neighborhood had kids who moved out, however, they were not necessarily replaced by people who were Catholic. At a certain point, harsh as it sounds, a parish hits a tipping point where there is just not enough practically to be able to sustain a community. Revitalization becomes difficult, if not impossible. The best scenario for this parish is actually for it to combine with other communities to create a solid base from which to bring renewal.

2) Declining parishes are the majority of parishes in the United States. The scary thing about a declining parish is that it might not even recognize yet that it is declining! There may be a veneer of health. Overall attendance has stayed about the same, offertory is about where it was 20 years ago, maybe a dip of 10% or so, but underneath the surface, there are cracks. RE classes are much smaller than they were 20 years ago. There are fewer young families in the pews, leading to a higher average age. Fewer people are engaged in the life of the parish.

Here is the harsh reality. In our current context, if a parish is in “maintenance mode,” it is actually already declining. Though the facade of health is still there, and the parish might even have a lot of ministries, the failure to form disciples across multiple generations means that this parish will eventually hit a demographic cliff if something does not change. These parishes need to commit to revitalization today before they hit a point where it will become much more difficult, if not impossible.

The upside is, it is not too late! A declining parish can still turn things around by committing to becoming a Growing parish. This is a great scenario from which to drive renewal because if this parish commits to forming disciples, the people and the resources are there to actually move the needle!

3) Swelling parishes are usually parishes in areas where there has been a huge population growth in recent memory. Maybe the suburban sprawl reached what used to be a more rural community and new developments led to a huge influx of families. These are typically those parishes where you see numbers of families in the 5000+ ballpark. The diocese has yet to build a lot of parishes in the area to meet the growing need, so one lucky parish boomed seemingly overnight. The issue here is that the growth in numbers can be mistaken for overall health. Activity can be seen as vitality. If the mission of the Church is to form disciples, though, these parishes have to scratch beneath the surface to see if they are really accomplishing that mission. Just because attendance and offertory is up does not mean the Church is necessarily forming disciples. It is even often the case that, if you look at the statistics, the parish is not growing at the same rate as the surrounding area.

4) Growing and healthy parishes are those who are growing for one reason only: formation of disciples. These parishes feel different. The Adoration chapel is full. Confession lines are long. They have dynamic outreach to the community both in terms of social justice and evangelization. Members of the parish are routinely living out the mission of spreading the Gospel in their own lives. They take personal ownership for the mission of the Church, feeling deeply the call to missionary discipleship. This parish is seeing reasonable growth in attendance and offertory and it is more sustainable because it is replicating across multiple generations. Even if the parish is in an area seeing overall population decline, the numbers of families in the parish is actually holding steady or even growing.  Dozens are baptized at the Easter Vigil every year and people are having life-changing encounters with Jesus on a regular basis. This is the parish you want to be and it is also the parish Jesus wants you to be.

Without becoming a missional, Growing parish, Swelling parishes eventually become Declining parishes, and Declining parishes eventually become Dying parishes. We have already seen this happen in many communities over the last few generations.

So, how, then, do you become a Growing parish?

If I have to summarize the hallmarks of a healthy, growing parish in as simple language as possible it would be that every Growing parish is characterized by these two realities:

1) Everyone in the parish understands that the mission of the parish is to form disciples both of those in the pews and non-members.

2) Everyone has an abundantly clear understanding of the process whereby disciples are formed in the parish and how their unique gifts play a role in that process.

Growing parishes know that their mission is to form disciples, they have a clear understanding for how that actually happens in their context, and they have been faithfully carrying out that mission for a decade, leading to culture change over time.

That is it. It is really that simple. Instilling these two hallmarks can be easier said than done though!

This is adopting Christ’s own vision for the parish as your own. By making the mission to form disciples central to everything that happens, at your parish, you are living out the heart of the Great Commission. The difference maker, though, is not to allow that mission to just be a statement on a website somewhere but to also become extremely strategic as far as how that actually happens in your community.

After you have set this vision and the strategy, everything else becomes just tactics. What programs, initiatives, events, groups, etc. you use can be unique to your parish setting, as long as they are serving a clear discipleship pathway that reflects the catechumenal model and discipleship thresholds. This provides incredible flexibility as far as the actual plan as long as it all just comes back to making sure that everything that happens in your parish serves those two hallmarks. just

Tim Glemkowski
Toward a New Catholic Culture
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In the past few days, I have been invigorated by a debate that has popped up on social media. In the wake of a prominent priest’s blog post criticizing the presence of young children at Mass, there has been a push back on some of the “intentional discipleship” and “parish renewal” movements, questioning the sacramental theology and full Catholicity of such “trends.”

I think debates like these are always important because they refine and clarify the conversation. Any authentic renewal will never stray from the fullness of the deposit of faith and any attempts at parish renewal, forming disciples, etc. should always be accomplished in a way that is fully Catholic.

One part of the debate, in particular, piqued my interest, though, in such a manner that I felt called to respond. Some priests and theologians whom I respect in the Catholic Twitter-verse (enter at your own risk) questioned the efficacy of critiques on the term “cultural Catholicism” because faith is always culturally contextualized and lived. They suggested that the remedy to our current crisis as a Church will not come from focusing on parish renewal or intentional discipleship, but is instead going to be brought about by the creation of a new culture.

On the one hand, I agree with them. I think any methodologies of parish renewal that do not emphasize intentional discipleship are short-sighted and, essentially, shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Any efforts that are just about tweaking the way we do things as a parish, and are not pushing for full cultural renewal, which only comes about through forming disciples, will be ineffectual long-term simply because of the gravity of the crisis on our hands. The statistics point to the fact that we are looking at the possibility of a collapse of the Catholic Church in America in the next couple generations if something does not change.

I also agree that a new and vibrant Catholic culture is the end goal that we should have in mind! Where I disagree is this idea that you can just create a culture out of thin air. To me, looking at our bleak, post-modern, post-Christian cultural landscape and saying, “To fix this, we should build a new culture!” is a little bit like looking at a desert and saying, “We should build a city here!” As a long-term goal, it’s great, even though it will be a difficult road, but it is not something that just pops up tomorrow.

Consider Francis, Dominic, Teresa of Avila and other great reform/revitalization figures in the Church’s history. Each of them progenitors of movements that, long-term, contributed mightily to vibrant cultures. But, what did they set out to do initially? Each articulated a new and radically lived expression of holiness and mission that was incarnated in actually communities. In our current era, it is my contention that our current “springtime of the New Evangelization” will come when lay people commit to doing the same. A new and dynamic Catholic culture will follow, but it will not start there.

Culture is not the starting point for renewal in the Church. We cannot begin there. Culture is always the end product of individuals living community, holiness, and mission in a dynamic way in a certain era. How do you get you get such individuals? By forming disciples.

St. John Paul II summarized it perfectly in his 1999 post-synodal exhortation, “Ecclesia in America.” He wrote, “It is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit, sustained perhaps by social context alone, to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ.”

While cultural Catholicism should never be used exclusively in a pejorative manner, since faith and culture always go hand in hand and are mutually fed by one another, there is a very real danger in a merely cultural Catholicism that can lead to a faith sustained by "social context alone.” The critique, then, of a Church that only focuses on culture, without pushing for a living and personal faith in its members, is a valid one.

If we want to build a new Catholic culture, then we need to help people live a faith that is conscious and personal. You cannot just say “Culture!” three times loudly and have one appear. It will be the creativity of bands of well-formed, passionate disciples who renew both the culture of our Church and our world and that does take going back to basics. It does not mean that we just borrow recklessly from the evangelical world, hoping to copy-paste their structures to hopefully mimic some of their successes, but it does mean that we take Church teaching seriously on the importance of preaching the kerygma and inviting people into a life-changing encounter with a personal God which is the basis of discipleship. To do so is uniquely Catholic.

If you want to create a new Catholic culture, the only route forward is to form disciples. The horse does, in fact, come before the cart.

Tim Glemkowski
Family Prayer and Forming Disciples at Home
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“But we don’t talk to Jesus, that’s what Dad does.”

I am embarrassed to share with you that this was my three year old daughter’s response to our invitation a few weeks ago that we take time together as a family to talk to Jesus. She was confused because my wife and I normally only use that particular phraseology when we are hoping to not be bothered in some quiet corner of the house as we take as our personal prayer time.

How mortifying, though. “That’s what Dad does.” Her words struck a place in my heart where I carry my greatest fear. I will be vulnerable enough with you to admit that my single deepest fear is that, even though I will spend my whole “career” as an evangelist, helping to introduce people to Jesus, that my kids themselves with not know or follow the Lord, like the Catholic equivalent of the stereotype of the rebellious “pastor’s kid.”


This is the question that has plagued me since becoming a dad. As I raise kids in a culture that is subversive to Catholic teachings and practices, how do I help them root their identity so deeply in God that they do not walk away from Him once they leave our house? Ultimately, the terrifying part of this whole situation is that this is something I cannot force but can merely encourage. I can only lead them to the water and then invite them to drink.

My wife and I take seriously our role, not only as primary educators of our children, but also as their primary evangelists. If they do not hear the Gospel from us, and the invitation to a lifetime of discipleship, I really believe we have let them down. It was our late night conversations about how to best accomplish that that led to our recent changes in our family’s prayer routine.

For a long time, our family prayer life has read like the answers to a Catholic bingo card. We take the kids to daily Mass, we pray the Rosary together, we will even do Morning or Evening Prayer with them from the Liturgy of the Hours. But, recently, we have felt like adding a new way of praying together right before bedtime.


You see, my wife and I both come from very traditionally Catholic households, a gift for which we are grateful. For both of our families, a daily family Rosary was the norm and for as long as I can remember, both of my parents have spent the first moments of their day at the local 6:30 am Mass. Growing up, my parish offered confession times daily.

Yet, as we have talked about it as a couple, we both admitted to each other that a committed relationship with the Lord was not something we discovered until much later in life. In the fashionable parlance, I would not say that I was a “disciple” of Jesus Christ until years after I left my parents home. For all of the traditional Catholic praxis in our households, without later opportunities in life to encounter the Lord personally and then to be mentored by more mature Catholics in the discipline and relationship of a growing prayer life, the faith would have remained a cultural or intellectual reality for me more than a committedly personal one.

To put a finer point on it, I have watched too many kids from “good Catholic families” walk away from the faith to believe anymore that, in this culture, if I simply expose my kids to the traditionally Catholic elements of our faith, they will remain Catholic.

We realized that if we really want our kids to know God personally, then we needed to expose them to what it looks like to pray personally. If we want our kids to be disciples, then we need to help them see what that looks like.


So, for five to ten minutes before bed, we now talk to Jesus together as a family. The one year old has been given a bit of a pass as far as sitting still on the couch goes but my wife, myself and our three year old all sit on the couch and pray out loud, together.

We usually start by just inviting the Lord into our home, our hearts, and our time together. We use simple phrases like “Come Lord Jesus” and “Come Holy Spirit.” Then, my wife and I usually take turns sharing our hearts with God, out loud. We thank Him, commit ourselves to Him anew, say sorry, and ask for strength. We pray for healing, for joy, for grace. Then, we invite our three year old to share her heart, in whatever way she feels comfortable.

Following that, my wife and I pray over our kids out loud. We ask God to show them His love for them, to show them their identity, and we speak blessings over their lives. “You are good, Eva, and you were made good. Your heart was made to love and God is your Father. He loves you so much.” Simple, but real, things we really feel in our hearts. We are just letting our kids hear us pray them out loud.



We also ask for healing for our kids as we pray over them. For God to heal them from the hurts of the day and to heal the various boo-boos that the days activities has yielded. We want them to know that they have a Father who wants to heal and has the power to do so. Following a short time of silence to just let the Lord love us, we consecrate the day and the night to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by praying a Hail Mary together.

If you are familiar with the Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond method of prayer, which I believe to be a great rubric for building a more personal prayer life, you will recognize the outline for how we are attempting to model our family prayer time.

Having only adopted this practice a few weeks ago, I already feel compelled to share it with you because of the incredibly positive impact it has had on our family. Not only do I feel the ineffable workings of grace increasing in our home, but I have noticed a greater openness to the things of God in our kids. It has led to better relationships amongst all of us and has bonded us around prayer in a way nothing else has.


I will never stop loving the Rosary. I have done St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary almost every year for the last ten years. I will never stop loving the Mass. Daily Mass, to me, has been the perennial blessing and comfort of my life. We will never stop exposing our kids to these things. But, as I read the Catechism and St. Thomas Aquinas, not to mention Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and find within them a consistent calling to relationship, encounter, and faith in order for the Sacraments to affect the greatest possible change in the human heart, I cannot help but think that this more personal way of praying together as a family is an indispensable part of preparing our children for giving their entire lives to God for the rest of their lives.

It seems to me that until we stumbled on this new way of praying together in our fumbling attempts to introduce our kids to the Lord, our family prayer was missing something.


Tim Glemkowski
Called: An Interview with Kevin Cotter on His New Book!
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I think that Kevin Cotter, the executive director for content of Amazing Parish (amazingparish.org) is one of the more genuine, prayerful and passionate leaders and missionary disciples in the Church today. I love the concept of his latest book from Ave Maria Press, Called: Becoming an Everyday Disciple in the Post-Christian World. It’s a five-week guide to becoming an everyday disciple. To me, this book fills one of the big missing pieces in the conversation around discipleship in the Church today.

My recommendation is that you buy 10 copies of Called and work through it together with a group of leaders at your parish.

Kevin Cotter is the Executive Director of Programming at Amazing Parish. He previously served with FOCUS for 11 years as a missionary and Sr. Director of Curriculum. He’s the author of numerous FOCUS resources and five books, including Dating Detox with his wife Lisa. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Benedictine College and a master’s degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute. He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado.

Inspired by Called, and wanting to share about it with friends of L’Alto, I reached out to Kevin and conducted a brief interview to give you all a fuller sense of what inspired this book. Without further ado, enjoy!


L’ALTO: Kevin, you have been involved in the work of evangelization and discipleship for a long-time, professionally through your work at FOCUS and now at Amazing Parish, and in your own life. What do you see as the current strengths of the Church in the U.S. with respect to the New Evangelization and what are our weaknesses?

KEVIN COTTER: I believe the biggest strength is the amount of energy right now aimed at evangelization and missionary discipleship. From the bishops to priests, to the laity, there's an understanding that we can't simply continue to do what we've done in our Church and in our parishes. There's an acceptance that the secular culture has driven many people away from the Fath and that we need to do a better job attracting people to it. We must go on mission and there's still a confidence that something can be done to turn the tide. 

In regards to weaknesses, there aren't a lot of people who know how to fix the problem, so to speak. Like many things in our society, we look for quick fixes that can be provided by programs or campaigns. In reality, the problem is much deeper. We are in need of a deeper conversion if we are going to be deeply convicted about evangelization and see a significant shift at the parish level. It will take much more effort and much longer than people realize to have our Church switch to mission mode.


L’ALTO: I think that Called fills a really important gap in the current offerings and resources surrounding discipleship. What were you hoping to accomplish with this book? What was the need that you saw?

COTTER: By our Baptism, every Catholic is called to evangelize. The problem is that so few people know how to do this. We still don't have a very deep culture of the laity spreading the faith. I love the Church's call to evangelize, but it can be frustrating to be asked to do something that you don't know how to do. It's easy to talk about evangelization as a concept or a theory, but I felt like there needed to be more content on how to actually start the process. The goal of this book was to give practical steps on how to begin to evangelize. 


L’ALTO: I love how you walk the reader through an intentional process of Win-Build-Send as they journey through the 5 weeks of daily reflections. To me, this was a really unique and effective way for a book to be laid out. Tell me more about the decision to structure Called this way. 

COTTER: The goal of 5 weeks of daily reflections is to help the reader create a habit of thinking, praying, and working on how to be an evangelist (many habits take 30 days to begin to form). Each day is short enough to get through in just a few minutes and there are reflections that can lead to a time in prayer. The book is broken up into Win-Build-Send in order to show the progression that many evangelists must go through. While you don't have to uniformly progress from one stage to the next, it is important to see that we must have encounter with Jesus and His Church (Win), that we follow after Jesus and learn to be like Him (Build), and that we go out to share him with others (Send). 


L’ALTO: If you could pick one out of the 35 reflections for someone to read, which would it be and why? 

COTTER: I would start with the first chapter for a couple of reasons. The first chapter begins the week on encounter. In order to be great evangelists, we must have a deep encounter with him and continually encounter our Lord each day. This chapter uses stories from the lives of the saints and how a deeper encounter can naturally lead to following Jesus more closely and sharing him with others. I think it sums up the goal of the book well. Also, starting on the first chapter helps people begin the journey to learn how to evangelize. Starting can be the hardest part, but it can lead to an amazing journey.

L’ALTO: Is discipleship just a buzzword? Is this a fad? 

COTTER: Well, on one hand, discipleship is a buzzword and fad right now, but on the other hand, it's something that's been around for 2,000 years. One hallmark of Vatican II was to go back to the early sources of our Faith, to Scripture and to the Early Church Fathers. I believe that the concentration on discipleship is apart of this. We are remembering the great tradition of what it means to follow Jesus and to invite others to follow Him as well. This is the beginning of our faith, something that will never go away, and it's just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.


Get your copies of Called today by clicking HERE.

Tim Glemkowski
L'Alto's expansion featured across Catholic media!

As you may have heard, L'Alto Catholic Institute announced some very exciting news. We are expanding our organization's mission nationally!

Catholic News Agency wrote a fabulous piece on our expansion that was then picked up by various other Catholic publications. It was a blessing to have the word spread about our mission so quickly!

You can read CNA's piece here

Tim Glemkowski