We heard from a lot of people who were excited about our organization and wanted to know more about what we were doing, so we decided, since we're all on the same team anyway, let's just tell everyone exactly how we go about transforming a parish culture. You can follow the following links for parts one, two, three, and four of the series.
Having cast a vision for discipleship, built in a process for forming disciples, formed a leadership structure to sustain the initiative, we now turn to my favorite part of the whole process because it is the one that allows us to work with individuals to prep them for mission. Our fourth key outcome is:
4) BEGIN A PROCESS OF SPIRITUAL MULTIPLICATION INTO THE life of the PARISH BY TRAINING/FORMING 8-12 DISCIPLE PARISHIONERS IN THE BUILDING OF EVANGELIZING, MULTIPLYING DISCIPLESHIP GROUPS THAT INCLUDE MENTORING RELATIONSHIPS FOR LAUNCHING NEW DISCIPLESHIP GROUPS
It is funny; discipleship has become such a buzzword in the Church that we have begun to use that term for any efforts of ours that resembles some kind of formation. In reality, though on the one-hand the word "disciple" refers to anyone who has given their life to become a follower of Jesus, "discipleship" refers to a specific, relational method of ministry. It represents a methodology derived from the time of Jesus, explicitly from the rabbinic tradition, where teachers would have pupils who they would mentor in their own way of life. It was a sort of mentorship relationship that involved the complete bestowal of a new identity on your pupil, more than the mere transmittance of information alone.
It is this rabbinic model that Jesus Himself adopts in forming His disciples. This is why they call Him, "Teacher." At L'Alto, we believe that this kind of one-on-one, mentorship relationship is at the heart of helping lay Catholics grab hold of their mission as missionary disciples. By teaching those who are already at your disciples at your parish to be missionary disciples in the context of forming discipleship groups, and mentoring people one-on-one within those groups, all with a very relational spirit, you can begin a movement at your parish that begins replicating and bearing fruit exponentially.
Let's do some basic math. Though it does not always work so perfectly neat and tidy in real life because people are not just projects, but instead have free will and walk at their own pace toward becoming a disciple of Jesus, the power of spiritual multiplication and the reason this kind of movement is important is displayed in the potential for real exponential growth. Let's say we form eight Catholics at a parish to reach out and build a discipleship group of five people where they are walking with people as they grow closer to Jesus. Over a period of time, they not only form them into disciples but also teach them how to also make disciples. What started as a small group of forty people, if each eventually grows his or herself into a missionary disciple, is now two hundred dedicated, passionate disciples. If a third generation is born over time of that process, one thousand people at the parish would be in a discipleship group, being formed as a disciple and being taught how to form other disciples. That is enough right there to change a parish completely.
Again, the outcome obviously does not always work out as neatly as that, but the potential impact of a rolling boulder of discipleship that can be created by starting with a only few dedicated missionary disciples is enormous.
I had a friend one time who, upon moving to a new parish with his wife and few small children, discerned a calling to reach out to other young couples in the parish who might not have really encountered Christ yet. After Mass each Sunday, they would find a couple they had not seen before, walk up to them, and introduce themselves. “Hey, we’re new to the parish and we don’t know many people yet. We were wondering if you wanted to join our family for brunch this morning.” Having developed a few friendships, they then began hosting a Bible study with a group of five or so of these couples in their house after Mass every Sunday. I encountered this group about a year and a half after it was formed. At that point, the fruits were already enormously apparent. They had made great new friends, many of whom were growing closer to Christ by the day having been semi-committed, nominal Catholics before. My friend was forming one of the other couples in the group to take over leadership of the Bible study so that he could begin a new one. Maybe most shockingly, it turned out that not a small number of the members of the group had not actually been Catholic when the group had been formed. They were simply joining their spouse for Mass on Sundays at their request. By the time I met the group, multiple of them had already been through or were currently in RCIA to become Catholic. This is extraordinary fruit from one couple’s effort.
Properly done, this is simply the most effective and personal way to reach a large amount of people. If you can have disciples who form disciples who themselves are capable of forming disciples, you've started an unstoppable movement that will radically transform your parish's culture over time. What begins as a movement of reaching out to one or two people at a time begins to grow exponentially
What is beautiful about teaching this kind of methodology to lay Catholics, too, is it provides them a format and a structure to understand their call to be missional and relational. Often, I have found, Catholics tend to prefer “volunteering” in less obtrusive or intensive roles. On the one hand, I think this is because being a lector or a greeter requires less vulnerability than what is required of building meaningful evangelizing relationships with others. Sometimes, an insidious trick of the Devil is to keep Catholics from evangelizing from a place of false humility that articulates itself as the feeling or belief that one is not “holy enough” or “does not know enough” to help walk with someone as they grow closer to Jesus. For that reason, many gravitate to safer ministries in a parish. Here, however, lay Catholic disciples that may be ready for a next step or to make a bigger impact can be trained and built up in confidence with a simple ministerial framework that will stretch them. This kind of missionary discipleship is at the heart of Pope Francis’ call and gives the insiders/frequent fliers at your parish a powerful way to lay hold of their call to go to the fringes and make disciples.
Obviously, these missionary disciples require an enormous amount of training and formation to get them ready, but that is why there is a great joy in being able to work in-person, hand-in-hand with a parish, instead of at a distance. We can be on the ground building relationships and working with these people to get them ready to begin a spiritual movement.
Coming soon, the final chapter of our series on our method for building missionary disciples!