Many of us find ourselves in churches that are not all they could be. I remember not one but every church I pastored having a neighboring huge church. I always wondered why they found success so vividly, while our parish was just hanging on, dreading the next parish meeting and the budget that seemed ever shrinking. I broke through this paradigm a few times in my ministry, St. Peter by the Lake, Good Shepherd and the first year at St. Peter and St. Paul had positive growing budgets. I am now a lay member of a Catholic Church that is growing quickly, so I have seen success from the sanctuary and now from the pew, and here are seven things that make churches grow.
- Attend. Successful churches have members that come every week. Small churches have 45 members that come in batches of 25. In some of my smaller missions I knew members by which week in the month they came to church! When visitors come in the front door, they want to see a full church, not an empty one. Full churches look vibrant, plus it is easy for a visitor to “slip in” and see what your parish is all about.
- Be active. Successful parishes have a lot going on. Bible studies, men and women’s groups, daily mass, daily rosary…just to name a few. All these ministries need volunteers to lead them. I teach 3 classes, active in Knights and serve on a core team for a men’s ministry. This is not bragging, in fact it should be mundane; all should be at least this active in ministry in their church.
- Let the pastor lead. The guy in the front was put there by God. I do not over state that fact, God has called each pastor to their cure. Why has God called them there? Likely because he is exactly what the church needed. This may mean change. Upon my first Sunday at one of my cures, I had one parishioner come up and tell me they could no longer attend our church, as my voice was just too loud…disturbing even! The next parishioner came and shook my hand and told me that he could finally hear a sermon, he loved my loud voice! Pastors are there by God’s will, let them be who they are and make the changes they are called to make. In two years, the budgets will tell whether they are leading correctly or not; we (laity) are to follow.
- Don’t fight. People come to church for solace and peace, fighting will chase new parishioners off faster than if the church building itself was on fire. Someone moved my cushion, or is wearing shorts to mass, or took my place in the rota; don’t fight, just let it be. If things get bad enough to where you think you are being truly wronged, then go to the pastor and let him take care of the problem and live with his decision.
- Don’t hold a grudge, leave. A last thought on number 4. If you perceive that you have been wronged, there are other churches in the city, sometimes twenty! If I need to find another Catholic church, I might have to travel an extra 15 minutes, but putting miles on my car is much better than slowly rotting a church from within through seeding hatred from a grudge. If you lose, take it like a grown up. If you can’t get beyond it, leave.
- Pray. Honestly this should be number 1. Without God and the Holy Spirit, your church is doomed. Pray daily, go to mass as often as you can. Pray at altar guild, pray at bible study, pray at church board meetings, pray at all gatherings. Pray for your church, pray for your pastor, pray for your bishop, pray for the pope. Pray for the person next to you in the pew, pray for the servers, pray for the lectors, pray for your seminarians. Pray!
- Welcome all. Successful churches never had a stranger walk in the front door, because everyone was welcomed as family. Nobody should be able to come in the door without being greeted. No visitor should be able to leave without information about all the ministries of the church, and the phone number of the pastor. The church is not there for us, it’s there for lost souls. To that end whatever you need to do to get more souls into the pews, as long as it aligns with Church teaching, do it!