This is a hot question today: what would Jesus' disciples do? The consensus seems to be that, from the start, Jesus' disciples were not just about obtaining God's mercy for themselves. They knew that to enjoy God's mercy, they had to share it. Could this be behind the urgency expressed by Pope Francis for living our faith out loud in this jubilee year?
Isn't the Catholic Church unrivaled in the works of mercy? How is it that nondenominational congregations are enjoying such success, some doubling the size of their congregations, with alienated Catholics? Is it possible that these congregations have a core of members who possess what Pope Francis calls a joy for the Gospel?
How effective are we at sharing about the mercy of God in our personal lives? Can we build a culture of hospitality that communicates the mercy of God, through such simple steps as the "Three-Minute Rule" (members dedicating the first three minutes before and after worship to welcoming new faces)? A heart for hospitality, certainly essential to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, may be equally essential to Church growth. What about the rest of the week?
Jesus' disciples are encouraged to take their baptism seriously. How do we accomplish this best? Today, Jesus' disciples notice the rise in both the numbers of people who no longer profess religious affiliation, or "Nones," and the numbers of those who are disaffected from religion, or "Dones."
One way vital churches respond is by giving equal priority to sending as they do to gathering. The disciples of Jesus today know that faith is being shared, 24/7/365 - top down, bottom up, and inside out - at home, online, at work, and in the community. Thriving churches equip their people for outreach and growth. These congregations have a passion for the mission field that would impress both Pope Francis and a Geico sales manager.
So how are we doing with the growth priority? Do we fail to grow because we do so many of the same things in the same way, while expecting different results? Perhaps we presume that Catholics who received sacraments are ready to pass on their faith. We may mistakenly expect that parents are fully invested and supportive of what we do with their children.
Do we presume that the next generation to come to us to know their God? Parish vitality does not just happen. It is the result of intentional and strategic choices. We may need to face challenging questions and reimagine our activities for this brave new world.
This will be the focus for the upcoming ChurchGROWTH conference, on April 29 and 30 at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. This conference will kick off a ChurchGROWTH initiative in support of parishes that want to grow inside and out.
Participants will explore opportunities to grow as disciples in ways that grow the Church at the same time. Parish teams, led by a staff member, can attend for free, thanks to the generosity of Our Sunday Visitor. The cost for individuals is $45.