Over the last few months, as word about L'Alto has spread, I have heard from a lot of people who were excited about our organization and wanted to know more about what we were doing and how we premise to go about partnering with parishes to transform their culture. I wanted to share more about our method for building cultures of missionary discipleship here on our L'Alto blog, The Heights.
This blog post series is intended to basically open up the inner workings of L'Alto Catholic Institute and reveal our special sauce to you. I am happy to share with you our process for renewing parishes because, if you are reading this, chances are you work for the Church or are interested in parish evangelization. That means you are on my team! Our whole mission at L'Alto is seeing the Church bear as much fruit as possible in the world. We are trying to build the Kingdom of God with you so here is exactly how my organization works with parishes to change their cultures forever. Here is the best part: with the parishes we are currently partnered with, it. is. working.
I want to apologize at the outset of this blog post though; if you came here looking for a silver bullet or FIVE! EASY! STEPS! to changing your parish forever, you might be disappointed, though five steps will be involved at some point. One of the sad realities of parish life is that we often try to take shortcuts in our ministry. We desperately wish that it was easier to invite the Kingdom of God into cultures, communities, people's hearts. In reality, significant cultural impact takes five years and total cultural transformation takes at least ten. In three years, you might start seeing fruit. After one year you'll probably just be really frustrated.
The good news, though, is that while transforming your parish is not easy; it can be simple, and our entire Parish Partnership is predicated on that fact.
Often, we come away from reading the latest book or going to the latest conference on evangelization with three hundred ways that our parish is failing to live up to the standard presented. Don't mis-hear what I'm about to say next because these books are incredibly valuable for helping to identify growth areas in parish life. However, a quick recipe for burnout is to just begin multiplying programs to make your parish fit whatever model worked somewhere else. Don't take your frustration and desire for cultural change and just charge forward into the next thirty things you need to do as a parish. Parish transformation is not just following the latest trend. Instead, renewing a parish means stepping back, looking at everything we're doing, and taking a serious assessment surrounding one timeless question: does our parish know how it forms disciples?
A disciple is defined positively as someone who has made a personal and conscious decision to follow Jesus in the midst of His Church. In the via negativa, it is the opposite of mere religious praxis or just church membership. I'm Catholic because my mom is Irish is the antithesis of what it means to be a disciple. Even if someone grew up Catholic, at some point, they will be asked to give an assent of faith which constitutes the handing over of their entire life to Jesus, making Him the Lord of their life. Getting to that point individually, though, is a process.
A simple, clear, and normative process for how your parish forms disciples is the indispensable condition for beginning to create a culture of missionary discipleship at your parish. This process should be so effectively articulated and widely communicated that every staff person, parishioner, and, gosh, anyone who walks in the front door knows (1) that your parish exists to form missionary disciples and (2) exactly how someone meets Jesus and makes a conscious choice to follow Him at your parish. If you do not have this in place, it is where you need to begin.
In simpler terms, start with communicating clearly WHY you exist as a parish (hint: it's to form disciples) and HOW you accomplish that mission of forming disciples at your parish.
In the movie Remember the Titans, the new coach of the football team, played by Denzel Washington, is questioned by his assistant coaches for his minuscule offensive playbook. He responds, "I run 6 plays, split veer. It's like novocaine. Just give it time, it always works."
Anyone who follows football knows that a lot goes into even just running those six plays well. It means eleven different players working together, each doing their job perfectly, to carve up yardage. It does not mean no one's working hard. It just means they have prioritized a handful of things that they know work really well and can achieve their end goal.
We need more churches with that kind of vision, that are willing to commit to a simple strategy for forming disciples where everyone is involved in achieving a single vision. Then, as a parish, we cast one big net all together, instead of a thousand single fishing lines sporadically. Which do you think will be more effective in the long run?
A culture of a parish is completely informed by its people. A church's culture the sum total of the expectations, hopes, dreams, and practices of the people who call that parish their home. If you want to renew a parish culture, then, your goal can only be accomplished by forming individual disciples, one at a time. A critical mass of disciples in a parish, then, leads to a culture of missionary discipleship. You will walk into a parish where even twenty percent of the parishioners are missionary disciples and be blown away by how different the "feel" is from every other parish you have ever attended.
Basically, our mandate is this: simplify your efforts. Focus them instead of multiplying them.
For the five key steps for getting to that transformed culture over a span of years, tune in next time.
Next post: Giving Away the Trade Secrets: Part II // L'Alto's Five Key Outcomes