This week brings the decade to a close, and that brings reflection on what has passed. Such reflection is especially worthwhile for us at Nativity because this has been such a consequential period. While I could easily fill many lists with the important reasons for such unprecedented health and growth at our parish, here are perhaps the top ten, in no particular order.
1. Committing to Year-Round Message Series
Back at the beginning of the decade, we had experimented with “message series” (taking successive weekends to preach on the same theme). But beginning in 2010-2011 we started adding series until, in not so many years, we were offering them year-round. More than any other single decision, this one helped to unite the congregation through one consistent message.
2. Focusing on “Next Steps”
Over the course of the decade we have consistently preached about next steps in discipleship: Serve (in ministry or mission), Tithe or give, Engage (in small groups), Practice (prayer and Sacraments), Share (your faith). Inviting people to take these steps has changed the culture of the parish from consumerism to a community that is growing, serving, and giving.
3. Building Amazing Kids and Student Programs
Investment in kids and student programs has increased attendance and commitment on the part of parents and grandparents, which also translates into giving and serving. But more importantly, watching the commitment of the young people themselves to grow in faith is life-changing for the parish.
4. Consistent Stewardship Messages
Getting rid of fundraisers and focusing on a simple message of “giving in your place of worship as an act of worship” has transformed our finances. While we limped into the decade financially unstable, we find ourselves robust and well equipped for the future.
5. Moving Christmas to the Cow Palace
We first made the decision to hold Christmas Eve off campus 15 years ago. But in the last decade, we moved to a bigger venue, which meant a bigger commitment to this annual project. We came to say that “Christmas Eve is a paradigm for everything.” Through this exercise, we have continued to learn and grow as a bigger church. At the same time, the event has been attractional for new members.
6. Rebuilt: The Books
Long planned, much discussed, with countless re-writes, Rebuilt was finally published in 2013, and became, in the words of our publisher, a “phenomenon” in Catholic publishing. It is fair to say, without any fear of overstatement, that the book has changed the conversation in the Catholic Church in this country and in many other places, becoming a source of hope and help to thousands of parishes. For our own parish, it has been a game-changing validation of what we do. The original has now been followed by 4 more, translated into almost a dozen different languages.
7. Rebuilt: The Conference & The Association
We developed a church conference called “Matter” which we hosted for several years, limited in size and scope due to space limitations. In 2017 we suspended the conference because of construction on our campus that made it simply impossible to host. But in 2018, with our new facility opened, having learned a lot about conferences, we rebranded and relaunched our conference as Rebuilt. It was a big event and an amazing one too. We will be repeating the Conference (with all new material) in 2020 and every other year moving forward.
In the past couple of years we have worked to get our “Association” of churches up and running, more challenging than the Conference but with all the potential to be just as rewarding, as we help grow healthy churches. The two exercises go together, one going “wide” and the other “deep,” they are the incarnation of one of our goals as a parish, to be a “teaching church.”
8. Special Events
While fundraisers, seasonal programs and other out of the ordinary events can create sideways energy for a congregation, (and lead to fatigue for a parish staff) the carefully positioned special event can be refreshing and energizing.
Special events can be stand-alone, like Easter Sunday Mass in 2014 at SECU Arena at Towson University, or our 50th Anniversary celebration in 2018. Annual special events include “Kick-Off Weekend” in September, Stewardship Sunday in November, Small Groups Launch Weekend, Ministry Weekend, and others. Some of our International Mission Trips have been special when we have celebrated them.
Our Advent “Giving” Programs have, throughout the decade, been very special events each year. From the “Advent Conspiracy” that kicked off the decade in 2011 to the Rec Center Project this year, we have undertaken amazing projects, some literally game-changers for our Mission Partners, providing inspiration and a powerful sense of purpose for the parish.
9. The Vision Campaign
Planning began in 2013 with an official launch in 2014, the Vision Campaign was an experience none of us involved in it will ever forget. In three phases, over the course of 5 years, it was amazing and spectacular and extremely successful, raising all the money needed for construction and allowing us to complete the work debt-free.
10. The Building Project for the New Church
Probably the most obvious accomplishment of the last decade is the most recent one, the construction of the new church. It is a beautiful building for sure, but it is more. It is the incarnation of much of what we’ve been talking about when it comes to building or rebuilding healthy parishes. It is the laboratory for our parish to continue to learn and grow moving forward. And it is a compelling platform for us to assist other parishes.
Cheers to an amazing decade!
Thanks to all of you who helped make it happen.