7 Tips for Making Multiplying Discipleship Actually Work at Your Parish: a guest post from Dr. Carole Brown
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Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians.
— St. Francis Xavier

When Jesus walked the Earth, He had been given a simple mission by His Father, "Evangelize the entire world." Why, then, did Jesus' public ministry remain so locally bound? And, also, why did He spend so much time with twelve, uneducated, ordinary guys? The reason is simple; evangelization is not about complicated formulas; it is about relationships. He knew that when He ascended to the Father, His apostles would carry on His mission for Him. He believed in the process of spiritual multiplication.

The simple math of spiritual multiplication is that the most effective of evangelization is to not just form disciples, but form disciples capable of making disciples, creating exponential growth. One of the things we implement in the parishes with whom we work is a multiplying process of discipleship by training leaders who initiate this spiritual multiplication utilizing a structure of discipleship groups and 1-on-1 mentoring.

As the concept of spiritual multiplication becomes more familiar in our parishes, though, what I am learning is that just having the structure in place does not itself equate to automatic success! You have to have the right ingredients to really make it work. 

I recently saw a video put out by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, The Impact of a Glacier: Multiplying Discipleship, that outlines a parish where this kind of multiplying discipleship process has made a significant impact. After watching, I reached out to Dr. Carole Brown, Director of the Office of New Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City (http://www.archokc.org/new-evangelization), who assisted the startup of this process at St. John Nepomuk in Yukon, OK, and asked her that all-important question, "What made it work?" 

The following are Dr. Carole Brown's 7 concrete essential practices for making a multiplying discipleship process at your parish actually take root based on what worked at St. John Nepomuk! If you are thinking about building this kind of initiative at your parish, you really need to check these out!

I love these tips because they are not born from theoretical knowledge but from actual real-world experience. Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, Dr. Carole Brown...


7 Tips for Making Multiplying Discipleship Actually Work at your parish

by Dr. Carole Brown

1) Get the right leaders

At St. John Nepomuk, a male and female leader who were already deeply personally committed to Jesus Christ went through the process themselves, and agreed to give focused leadership to it.  They are both well established in the parish, and they are the “drivers” of the process.

2) Get those leaders to prioritize this effort

The leaders for your discipleship process can not be those people who are also doing a million other things in the parish. They need to be good fits for the ministry and in love with Christ, but they cannot be already over-committed at the parish. This needs to be their main apostolate...which may mean they need to be relieved of other responsibilities that could usefully be done by someone else.  (I like to say, “I’m asking you to discern a call from God on this to make this your main thing.”)

3) Manage the parish's expectations

It’s important to manage expectations around multiplying discipleship because it works differently from most other things in the parish.  Unlike most other “programs”, this is not something you are going to put a note in the bulletin about, or do a signup table for--at least not for a few cycles.  Sometimes people get agitated and say things like, "Why is this not for everyone? How come I wasn’t invited?” You have to be willing and able to manage those expectations by communicating clearly about what these groups are about and how they differ slightly from your normal parish Bible study or Lenten small groups.

4) Meet off-site

The groups at St. John Nepomuk met in peoples homes, not at the church.  This allows for a little cozier environment more conducive to sharing your life.  We also advised the hosts to keep it simple.  Don’t plan a gourmet spread.  Put out a pitcher of icewater and leave it at that.  The more drama there is around hospitality, the less people will want to run their own groups.  

5) Begin by filling groups with potential leaders

For the first few cycles—and by that I mean “years” because this process takes about a year—you are prayerfully and carefully choosing people who have the ability to lead others.  There’s an actual Scriptural principle behind this from 2 Timothy 2:2. St. Paul writes to Timothy, "What you have heard from me through many witnesses, entrust to faithful people who will be able to lead others as well."

There are…what…5 sets of people indicated in this verse who are going to be responsible for launching this big chain reaction, and it’s so so key to make sure that we are raising up “faithful people who can lead others.” It is a little counter-intuitive to the way we usually think of evangelization.  Usually we don’t think of starting with people who are already faithful—but in this situation that’s exactly who you want to get into shape for helping develop the culture of discipleship.  

6) Start with a manageable commitment for your leaders


Sometimes it’s hard to get people to commit to a whole year up front.  At St. John Nepomuk, they identified 25 people and invited them to a dinner.  I came and gave a spiel, and then the folks were asked just to commit to the first 6 week Catholic Christian Outreach (cco.ca) series, Discovery.  6 weeks. That's all. However—and this is another thing that’s a bit different—they are asked to commit to ALL six weeks.  Can’t even miss one, and if they do, the leader is prepared to do a makeup session with them.  That’s a little different for Catholics, because they are used to being able to drop in and drop out.  Now—to be honest—in this case—by the time they got through Discovery, they were hooked.

7) Don't skip the 1-on-1s!

The CCO series that we use for our groups has a built in 1-on-1 component.  The group leader met with each member of their groups after each six-week session, and followed the outline in the book to help lead the conversation. 
It’s amazing what comes up in these 1-on-1s, things with which people have been quietly wrestling with and sometimes need some real help.  Now, keep in mind, these can't be spiritual direction, just a little opportunity for some personalized mentoring.  This is an excellent method of doing the kind of spiritual “accompaniment” that is so needed in our times.

It can be tempting to skip these individualized meetings because of the time commitment, but I can’t encourage you enough—make time for the 1-on-1. A good tip is to make the occasion for meeting something enjoyable. Get a coffee. Walk around the lake. 

One last thing that is worth mentioning about this particular parish's tactics. This is not a hard and fast rule, and, in fact, I personally am mentoring a mixed gender group, but—at St. John Nepomuk, they decided to do mens groups and womens groups, rather than mixed groups.  One of the advantages of this is that it takes care of the childcare issue. Couples do not both need to be at a meeting at the same time.  Also, often men and women share very differently.  Sometimes, men can say in 45 minutes what women need a full 90 minutes to say.  Again, not a hard and fast rule, but something to consider.

Conclusion

If you will allow me to do a little math for a second to show the impact of this process at St. John Nepomuk, one of the numbers that’s been thrown out there as a kind of general gauge is that about 5-7% of people in the parish are living their discipleship in an intentional way.  One of the strategic benchmarks that Sherry Weddell and others have proposed is to try to double the number of intentional disciples at a parish in 5 years:  “Double in 5.”  So in other words—in 5 years, try to raise the percentage of IDs at a parish up to 10-14% of adults who have been through a process designed to form them as intentional disciples.  The theory is that if you can get to 20%, you have a de-facto culture change going on.

Well, guess what?  If you can get multiplying discipleship going in your parish, you can not only double in 5, you can even get to 20%.  Let’s do the math.

We estimated that about 800 of the 1200 registered families in this parish are participating regularly.  We ballparked, therefore, about 1400 adults active in this parish.

In their 4th generation, about 300 adults have either completed the process or are in it currently.  That’s 21% of the active adults.

Now, it’s time to start going after the inactive ones. God has only just begun!

 

about the author

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Dr. Carole Brown is the Director of the Office of New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.  She attained her MA in Theology and Christian Ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1997.  In 2010, she successfully defended her dissertation, entitled “Crossing the Threshold of Faith: Pope John Paul II’s Approach to the Problem of the Conversion of the Baptized.”  Subsequently, this dissertation was cited in Sherry Weddell’s highly acclaimed book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

Dr. Brown’s defining passion is to help parishes to develop a culture of intentional discipleship.

Tim Glemkowski
Giving Away the Trade Secrets: Part VI // One by One
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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. For parts one through five of our series, click here, here, here, here, and here!

Finally, we arrive at the end of our series! It is funny, looking back at these posts and at the work we have done in parishes already, I'm amazed by how much of moving a parish from maintenance to mission remains not captured even by a six-part series. Parishes are so complex, the variables so many, the realities of all of us fallen human persons working to build the Kingdom of God so fraught with difficulty. It is hard to capture it all in a few posts. That is the nature of all things on the Internet though, no?

Without further ado, here is our fifth and final key outcome or deliverable for our Parish Partnerships. 

5) CONSULT WITH VARIOUS MINISTRIES AT THE PARISH TO HELP THEM STRATEGIZE AROUND BECOMING MORE INTENTIONALLY DISCIPLE-MAKING

There are certain areas of parish life that should be aligned in a particular way with a vision for evangelization and discipleship, so, as part of our Parish Partnership, we give special, personal attention to those areas of ministry. What we are hoping is that, with the parish, they can set a clear vision for what they are attempting to accomplish and then ensuring that they themselves understand how the Win people for Christ, Build them into disciples, and Send them on mission. 

Though where we are asked to consult remains at the discernment of our parish partner, some of the major areas of emphasis we like to tackle are faith formation, RCIA, liturgy (Sunday experience), web presence, on-ramps into parish life (like Baptism and Marriage prep), and Easter and Christmas outreaches. We identified these as crucial areas to be very strategic around that required specific attention for mission alignment if a culture of missionary discipleship is going to be highlighted as the crux of a parish's mission. 

The areas of emphasis for each ministry consultation differ. To just zero in on a couple things we want to accomplish with two ministries, for RCIA, we really want to know that the program is not assuming that people come to them as already evangelized disciples who just need to be told what the Catholic things are but are instead providing people with opportunities to encounter Jesus and become His disciple as well. For faith formation, some kind of strategy to reach parents and involve them in the core mission of discipleship at the parish seems essential. Whatever the specific area of growth needs to be, one of our core tenets in these consultations is helping ministries understand what they are trying to accomplish and how they are going to accomplish it. If we are going to be doing ministry, let's at least do it on purpose and with conviction, right? Often, and I know this from my own experience of working in a parish, due to the overwhelming amount of hats that most parish staff wear, we are often, in our ministry, throwing darts at a board hoping something hits. One of the key steps to move from maintenance to mission is to recognize that even if we miss, let's aim. 

One point on liturgy: several conversations recently have tipped me off to a trend where some leadership at certain parishes that are more traditionally minded find all of this talk about forming missionary disciples somehow part of a more "progressive" mentality of the Church reminiscent of the "spirit of Vatican II" days that make them shudder. Let me be as clear as possible.  Forming. Disciples. Is. For. Every. Parish. There is no parish who is not called to understand intimately how it forms disciples whether you are the most traditional, Latin Mass loving parish in the world or you still have liturgical dancers prancing up and down the aisles (though, let's be real, you probably should not be doing that second one, right? ;-) ) A vision for missionary discipleship in the parish can, and even should(!), go hand-in-hand with a parish that wants to emphasize a more reverent liturgy.

These ministry consultations bring to mind my absolute favorite part about working on our Parish Partnerships. The myriad of variables and challenges presented in each parish, and even in each area of ministry within that parish, represent exciting opportunities to problem solve with dedicated parish leaders who really want to see Christ glorified in their particular area of work. To watch the Holy Spirit work in these conversations is thrilling and reminds me how deeply the Lord wants to see continued renewal in His Church through parishes become hotbeds for the New Evangelization. 

Tim Glemkowski
Giving Away the Trade Secrets: Part V // The Best Way To Get There Is A Movement
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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!

 

Tim Glemkowski
Giving Away the Trade Secrets: Part IV // Who's going to do all of this, anyway?
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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. Click here for parts one, two, and three of our series!

Having cast a vision for missionary discipleship across all elements of parish life and created a really clear "how" for the path for creating missionary disciples at a parish, we turn to the third key outcome or deliverable of our Parish Partnership. 

3) BUILD AND TRAIN A STRUCTURE OF LEADERSHIP FOR THE EVANGELIZATION/DISCIPLESHIP EFFORT

Recently, a friend wrote on his Facebook wall, "To my friends in ministry, if you saw your work at your parish as a year-long consulting gig, what would you do?" I laughed because my work with parishes legitimately is a consulting gig that is about a year long. I thought for a minute and then responded that I would spend as much time as possible with a small group of individuals to train them to carry on the vision after I left. So much seems obvious right? Otherwise, the fruitfulness of your work ends when you do. You have a great year, a flash in the pan, and then all of your progress fizzles out.  If others can carry the torch for you though, the effort you began can compound over time.

This is the method of Jesus. During His public ministry, he has three years to accomplish the mission that the Father has given to Him, to "set the world ablaze." In doing so, He certainly spent plenty of time teaching large crowds and doing miracles, but the brunt of His efforts, His greatest "strategy," if you will, was to train twelve guys to carry the torch forward by creating the Church. You and I, dozens of generations later, needed to hear the Gospel, and if He was going to ascend into Heaven, He needed someone to carry on the mission for Him to make sure that we did.

The reality is, the work of instituting a culture change at a parish is going to be grueling and take place over a span of years. There needs to be a resilient, supportive, and balanced leadership structure in place to save any one individual from burning out and taking the whole initiative down with him/her. 

For us, the leadership structure that we create is simple. It looks like:

Pastor

Point Person

Evangelization Team 

The pastor has to drive any initiative toward evangelization and discipleship at the parish. The first reason is practical and obvious: people look to the pastor for leadership. If an effort toward discipleship is happening without the pastor as the primary driver, it will be seen as a fringe movement within the parish, not an entirely new vision for what it means to be a Catholic parish. The second reason is spiritual; the authority given to pastor's as spiritual Father of their parish is no joke. The Church's hierarchical structure was not something invented by some old guys in Rome during the Dark Ages; it was instituted by Christ. Those in positions of authority in the Church are given real spiritual authority over that which is within their purview. For these reasons, and, honestly, a thousand more, any real renewal has to begin with the pastor. 

However, the key person for executing and overseeing this disciple making initiative day in and day out cannot be the pastor. Between administrative, sacramental, and pastoral demands, most pastors simply do not have the bandwidth to get down in the weeds of what is going to be served for dinner at Alpha that night, nor should they. Frankly, it would be poor management for a pastor to NOT delegate much of this vision to someone else. A pastor simply cannot be responsible for the execution of everything that actually goes into evangelizing a parish. He'll either drop the ball or burn out. 

This is why we ask the parish to assign a point person, preferably someone who is already a full-time staff person at the parish, who is our key contact at the parish and who serves as the uplink between the evangelization team, responsible for the tactical achievement of the mission and the pastor, responsible for the strategic oversight. 

Lastly, to similarly save the point person from burnout as well, and to help more people at the parish grab hold of their missional calling as a lay person, we craft, recruit, and form an evangelization team. Note: I did not say an evangelization "committee." Committee's discuss issues. Teams get active about solving problems. The members of the evangelization team are further and even more intimately responsible than the point person for overseeing one aspect of the Win, Build, and Send steps of the pastoral strategy and ensuring that they are being pulled off to highest quality. This team commits to meeting together monthly in addition to leading in their areas of responsibility and will be formed in a missional vision at each meeting and will participate in opportunities to pray meaningfully. 

One thing we have not touched on yet in renewing a parish through an emphasis on discipleship is the value and importance of intercessory prayer. A key facet of that evangelization team is to have someone in charge of an intercessory prayer initiative. I like to say that intercessory prayer is the flame for the hot air balloon. Anywhere we get in terms of Kingdom breakthrough is a direct result of the backbone of prayer that is being applied to specific initiatives toward evangelization. One parish we are working with has set up a monthly night of intercessory prayer in the parish for renewal of their community. That is the definition of setting yourself up for fruitfulness!

The goal, here, with all of this, is long-term fruitfulness. Allowing God to work like an underwater river, slowly, over time, carving away a space for the Holy Spirit to work wonders in your parish. Forming disciples cannot be the next big buzz word in parish life. It is the perennial mission of the Church. A steady leadership team can help beat the steady drum of discipleship in your parish long after the initial enthusiasm of something big, shiny, exciting, and new has worn off. 

Tim Glemkowski
Giving Away the Trade Secrets: Part III // Win, Build, Send
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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. For parts one and two of our series, click here and here. 

In part two of our series, we talked about how we go into a Parish Partnership ready to encounter the myriad of variables each parish culture presents as advantages and challenges specific to that community, but, at the same time, how we also come in with five major looked-for outcomes or deliverables. 

Our first outcome was to cast a vision for discipleship across all aspects of parish life. Number two is...

2) CREATE AND IMPLEMENT A STRATEGIC PROCESS FOR FORMING DISCIPLES AS THE CORE OF THE PARISH'S EFFORTS BY HELPING THE PARISH PRIORITIZE, CREATE, AND LAUNCH KEY TACTICS FOR HOW IT: (1) WINS PEOPLE TO CHRIST, (2) BUILDS THEM INTO DISCIPLES, AND (3) SENDS THEM ON MISSION.

There are basically four steps to making a disciple as the Church articulates in the General Directory of Catechesis. They are:

1) Pre-Evangelization: prepping the soil including removing obstacles to the proclamation of the Gospel. Think of the parable of the seed and the sower. Anything that might not allow the "seed" of a relationship with Jesus to take root, must be uprooted, gently. This happens best in the context of personal relationships but could also include something like philosophical formation to help work around intellectual hangups or even a welcoming culture at your parish that can help to create an attitude of comfort in what is often an uncomfortable setting for many. I find that a lot of pre-evangelization happens surrounding the or "feel" or "vibe" of a parish or event. Much that is unspoken is still experienced. 

2) Evangelization: the proclamation of the kerygma, the core message of the faith proclaiming Jesus as savior and restorer of a relationship with the Father which leads to an assent of faith and someone making an intentional commitment of their life to God.

3) Catechesis/Discipleship: I use the word discipleship here interchangeably with catechesis because many see catechesis as education only. It is not, in the most full sense of the term, but, rather, the work of catechesis and discipleship is to bring someone who has given their life to Christ to full Christian spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and human maturity.

4) Apostolate: following a period of formation in the lifelong work of mission that is required of every Christian, a disciple should be given an opportunity to discern their charisms, or gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given for the building up of the Body of Christ, and the specific way in which the Lord is calling out to them to put those gifts at the service of the Church. 

For a parish to be effective at forming disciples, it has to know, cold, how it accomplishes each of these four steps and moves people through a process where they are given the proper formation relative to each. Then, it has to hold itself accountable by continuing to discern whether the tactical methods it is using to execute at each level is actually effective at serving its purpose and bearing fruit. If not, a parish has to be flexible enough to adjust as it moves forward.

These steps represent the work on the part of the parish to accompany individuals through the five thresholds of discipleship, made famous in the Catholic scene by Sherry Weddell in her work, Forming Intentional Disciples. These thresholds of trust, curiosity, openness, seeking, and intentional discipleship, represent the five basic movements of a human heart as it walks into a relationship of following Jesus. The efforts of a parish should be catered, not in a consumerist but in a pastoral way, to reaching out to individuals represented by each threshold and should be aimed at walking with them through a process of giving their life to Christ. If everything we do as parishes is just aimed at insiders, though, we run the risk of missing completely those in the earlier stages which is where a surprising amount of Catholics (certainly, a majority of those even in our pews on Sundays) are. 


As an aside, it has become vogue to say that only a person-to-person movement is needed to transform a parish into a disciple-making parish. While such a movement is essential to parish transformation (see key outcome #4), all of the efforts of a parish, including its programming, need to be transformed. Not all programs are bad. They are not ends in themselves, to be sure, but it is, in fact, okay for there to be some structure applied to our efforts at evangelizing. 

When we work with parishes, we like to present this four-fold structural effort from the GDC and retool it using the simple language popularized by several Christian and Catholic organizations of Win, Build, and Send. We combine the pre-evangelization and evangelization steps into the concept of Winning people to Christ, catechesis/discipleship is Build, and apostolate is Send. When rolling out our initiative to the parish, we encourage them to re-brand that lingo to fit their particular situation and to be more "parishioner facing" than reflecting our own efforts: what do you want THEM to do, not what are WE going to do. 

For example, here is how this looked for a parish we worked with in the western suburbs of Chicago. They called their overall strategic process for forming disciples Ignite @ SJN (an acronym for their parish's name) and the three steps were articulated as wanting parishioners to Encounter Christ, Grow in Christ, and Be Sent by Christ. To help people Encounter Christ, they launched the Alpha program and made efforts to teach people how to have a life of prayer. For people to Grow in Christ, we launched a discipleship process (more on that later) and they were going to ramp up their efforts at providing solidly Catholic catechetical formation programs. To help their parishioners Be Sent by Christ, they use an augmented version of the ReLit program to cast a vision for evangelization with their parishioners ready for leadership, help them discern their charisms, and then provide more outreach specific training for the ministry in which the parishioner decides to serve.

So, basically, it looks like this:

IGNITE @ SJN: 

Encounter Christ: Alpha / Prayer

Grow in Christ: Discipleship Groups / Formation Programs

Be Sent by Christ: ReLit / Charism Discernment

By having only two initiatives selected to achieve each goal, they avoid the risk of overwhelming parishioners with too many options. They also end up prioritizing a few things to do really well which ensures that they can devote more effort to each initiative remaining at a high level of quality. In 'n Out, a fast food chain on the West Coast, has an obsessive following due to a similar "recipe" for success. They use fresh ingredients and have limited options, but they do those few things really, really well. McDonalds initially made its mark doing the same thing. Now, as they continue to multiply menu options, they have created tremendous overhead for their franchises to keep up with, diluting profits. The conclusion? Excellence in fewer things is better than mediocrity in a multiplicity of offerings. 

Once that strategy is set, the mission becomes simple: do it! Start forming disciples! Train people who can be key leaders in each of these areas and let them start accompanying people. This process of transforming a parish will take many years and many cycles of walking with people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, helping them to mature into a fully Catholic disciple, and sending them to put their gifts and talents at the service of bringing others to Jesus. 

Part four of this series, on building a leadership structure to sustain the long haul of forming a culture of missionary discipleship, is coming soon! 

Tim Glemkowski