Parish Life: Raising the bar (for ourselves)

by DENNIS MAHANEY
Fri, Apr 8th 2016 04:00 pm
Director of Evangelization and Parish Life
Dennis Mahaney
Dennis Mahaney

Today, churches of all kinds are discovering that by expecting more of their members they get more, and the members grow more. This growth is evident in church attendance, financial support, participation in ministries, as well as enthusiasm for service performed outside the congregation.

In these churches, almost everything increases, except the dropout rate, which usually declines. While some might complain that, in the past, placing higher expectations on people only drove them away, times have changed. The results are in, and across the country, the numbers no longer support such fears.

Today, people want to invest their lives in something that makes a difference, and makes them different in the process. More often than not, higher expectations cause increased commitment even from newcomers. Most inspiring is that this result is even more pronounced the younger the person is.

How can expecting more of people make a church more attractive? We start with the defining conviction that everyone needs faith in Christ - to get faith, to give faith, to grow in faith and share that faith. According to our popes since Paul VI, this is why we are here.  Especially in a secular society, people do not come to church afraid that they might be changed.

They come to church afraid that they will not be changed. Churches that call people to a life in Christ, will expect more, and they will get more. And these churches grow intentional disciples who are changed, and who are equipped to bring about change at home, online and in the community.

Intentional churches welcome newcomers through intentional events that focus on Christ and engage people in faith encounters with Christ. These churches succeed when they present faith as a commission that extends beyond the individual and beyond the congregation. These churches allow people to give testimony to the impact of Christ in their own lives. They describe how the church has made a real difference in the community. In most churches, this happens most effectively through participation in small groups. And for most church shoppers, this is enough to close the deal.

New members of intentional communities are expected to study what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in a small group, where they pray together and support one another in lifestyle changes and outreach efforts under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Often this draws newbies to participation in a regular small group experience that promises to take them still deeper into the Christian way of life.  Everyone is also expected to try out one ministry or mission activity per year as part of their baptismal commitment. Through such experiences, they discover that genuine discipleship lays a claim on those who profess to follow Christ. These churches grow.

A big reason why they are growing churches is that they are sending churches. They know their mission field and they equip their people to bring Christ into every human situation.

This great commission - given by Jesus, pronounced in baptism, and echoed at the end of every Eucharist, is really more about sending, than gathering. Jesus expects disciples to go and proclaim the Gospel with their lives. As Pope Paul VI observed, people listen to witnesses more than they listen to teachers, and when they listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.

A conference on growing intentional disciples will take place at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora on April 29-30. 

For more information contact Dennis Mahaney at 716-847-8393 or email.  

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