We are using this space these days to reflect on the values that we rely on in serving our mission as a parish. This week: “growth oriented.”
Automatic Growth vs Intentional Growth
Growing churches come in basically two types. There are churches that are well positioned geographically in growing communities. They grow with the community and their growth is automatic. Most Catholic churches in this country grew automatically as waves of immigrants arrived. The problem with automatic growth is that it eventually comes to an end, after the last house in the neighborhood is built, and then things, left unchecked, begin going in the opposite direction. That’s what happened here at our parish years ago.
The second kind of growth is intentional growth, usually associated with Evangelical churches, often “mega-churches” (commonly defined as churches with 2,000 average weekend attendance). Sometimes they are ridiculed as flashy, all about gimmicks and entertainment to appeal to the masses, at the expense of attendance at more traditional churches. Critics would further argue that these churches water down their message, they’re “Christian –lite.” To these people, growth can only come about by sacrificing the message of Jesus to pander to consumers.
We are an intentionally growing church. No apologies. We want to grow because Jesus told us to. We want to grow because healthy things grow. We want to grow because there are lots of people in our community who do not know Christ…to name just a few reasons.
For this we have been criticized too. We’ve been derisively described as “Catholic-lite,” “Our Lady of Starbucks” and the list goes on. Critics would say our growth comes in compromising our Catholic faith and pandering to the lowest common denominator. They howl that our growth comes at the expense of other parishes. None of this is true. Are we accessible and hospitable to guests and newcomers? Absolutely. Do we offer a comfortable environment for the unchurched? Completely. Is our message engaging and inspiring to churched and unchurched alike? Positively. Do we compromise our faith or fudge on our values, do we pander to consumers or steal other churches’ parishioners? Positively not.
Deep and Wide
Our model is Deep and Wide, and it’s the one Jesus gave us.
Jesus didn’t introduce his disciples to the Gospel by bringing them to the Cross. He began with the simple, attractive invitation, “Come and see.” We challenge our parishioners to do the same through a simple formulae we adapted from Pastor Andy Stanley, Invest and Invite.
We invite our church people to be on the lookout for unchurched people in our community…not people going to other churches, unchurched people. They make a relational investment in them and then, when they have an opportunity, when the occasion arises, they invite them to our church.
Our message series are especially designed as opportunities to make an invitation. This coming fall we are going to be pushing the launch of each of our three fall series with video trailers as well as electronic and paper invitation cards to assist parishioners with the ask. Signature events like our “Kick Off Weekend” (September 7 & 8) and Christmas Eve at the Maryland State Fair are also perfect opportunities to “go wide.” This spring we opened our new balcony seating, this week we’re offering a new Mass schedule, this fall we’re launching an expanded shuttle service, all to accommodate growth.
But its not just about growing bigger, for the sake of being bigger. It is also going deeper, which isn’t just about getting the unchurched in the door but also about setting them on the discipleship path. We call it S.T.E.P.S.: serve (in ministry or on mission), tithe (grow in giving and generosity), engage (in church fellowship and through a small group) practice (prayer and the Sacraments), and share (your faith with the unchurched).
Churches of any size can be healthy (or unhealthy). Size doesn’t matter…. what matters is growth…growth in discipleship. We want to be a parish of growing disciples who are growing disciples.