“Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18)
When it comes to parish renewal, where do you start?
The beginning is tough. You see everything that needs to be done – children’s ministry, Alpha, catechesis, hospitality, liturgy, outreach — “who even changes the loo rolls round here?!” — and you know you can’t do everything at once. You know that, for some time at least, you will have to tolerate certain things being below standard (or even being done at all) in order to prioritise. You have to develop a pretty good blind eye to some things in order to stay sane.
We feel enormously blessed to be able to learn from one parish in particular that is blazing the trail ahead of us, St Benedict’s Halifax, the Divine Renovation parish. We are using the book as well as the Guidebook to plan our steps and prioritise.
So, what have we learnt during the first year?
- Take your time. We knew we would need a team to help us on developing vision and strategy, but we didn’t know anyone! My parish priest and I were both new. So we took a good 6-9 months to build relationships and get to know people, in particular through drinks’ parties in parishioners’ home that I mentioned here and here. Throughout this time, we have also given the priority to prayer, with a daily holy hour, and now, an intercessory prayer team. (My favourite hour of the month right now has to be with our intercessory prayer team, where we lay out the numerous intentions, pray together, and then they pledge to pray for them for the next month.) We have approached the renewal of our parish through the lens of Sherry Weddell’s thresholds of conversion; understanding that most people seemed to be around trust or even pre-trust, we needed to build trust and relationships first.
- Go slowly with your team. As we got to know people, we started identifying potential people for our strategy team. Some had done Alpha by this stage, and some hadn’t. We selected them for their professional expertise, but also for other qualities – FOCUS uses the acronym FACT – faithful, available, contagious, teachable – and we think this is a good guide. We have been extremely aware that, while the core leadership team (three of us including parish priest) has been reading, thinking and intellectually jumping ahead with this new model for the parish, this new strategy team has barely even heard of Divine Renovation. We are intentionally going slowly, reading the book together, and accepting for the time being that there will be some catching up to be done.
- With your core leadership team, hammer out the vision. After we had been living, thinking, talking, praying and doing renewal in the parish for several months, we knew it was time to thrash out the vision into words. We did it in a morning’s work, and it totally lit up the rest of the day. Having a vision is amazing. You can relax because yes, the children’s ministry is not where we want it to be, and OK, we don’t have anyone round here changing the lightbulbs, but hey… we know where we’re going. Against this, we can measure everything. Is this idea compatible with our vision? How does this proposal contribute to it? If it doesn’t, we scrap it. If it does, we’re all over it. How much energy we can reserve simply by having a vision.
- Communicate your vision. You hear this from every leadership guru around: vision leaks. While we have been communicating the vision in general terms, we are beginning to start intentionally introducing it to our parish, helping them understand, this is what we are about. This is going to be an ongoing process and our strategy team is helping with it.
- From the vision, begin work on strategy. This is where we are currently. We have used Fr James Mallon’s model, based on Rick Warren’s five systems of the Church (which itself is based on the Great Commission, and the Greatest Commandment). The five systems of the Church are: worship, evangelisation, discipleship, community, ministry. We are taking each of these areas one by one and creating a mini, 5-year vision for each one. From these, we are developing a 6-12 month rolling plan for each, which will become our strategic plan. Strategy is about making our vision a reality. If this is where we want to be, what steps do we need to take and in what order? Developing a strategic plan means we can make informed decisions about what we spend time doing, and what we don’t spend time doing; what we spend money on; what we need in terms of extra resources and people… It is basic stuff, right?! But how many parishes do it?!
- Get outside help. The ironic thing about all of this is — priests and parishes aren’t trained how or even expected to do all this! We are still victims of a maintenance Church that expects us to keep things going, not pioneer and manage change. So, we have been blessed by a friend who consults on strategy professionally and is advising us through the process. We’ve found it is extremely worthwhile to have an outsider give objective feedback on ideas and plans.
We are still early on in our ‘renovation’, and I am certain many mistakes, falls and mishaps are ahead of us… But in laying down the foundations well, we want to set up our renovation to succeed, to last, and to be a foundation on which our parish will not only thrive, but grow. Come, Holy Spirit!