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Francis Effect: How the pope’s leadership style is creating great parishes

© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

In The Daily Beast, William Simon, author of the new book, “Great Catholic Parishes,” has some fascinating insight into how Pope Francis is transforming parish life:

While there is no “silver bullet” for doing great parish ministry in the Catholic church today, our study revealed that vibrant Catholic parishes have four essential practices in common:

–        Shared leadership:  Their pastors understand that by deploying all the human resources available to the parish they are better equipped for the complex realities of parish life today. Practicing various forms of shared leadership, they take pride in their strong professional staffs and volunteers.

–        Spiritual growth: Vibrant parishes don’t take the spiritual development of parishioners for granted. They understand that spiritual growth is an ongoing dynamic that needs to be continually reevaluated and updated to satisfy the spiritual hunger living in all of us. 

–        The Sunday experience:  Great parishes understand that for the person in the pew, their Sunday experience is the key driver of spiritual growth and engagement.  These parishes excel at it, which requires careful planning of hospitality for adults and children alike, the best music they can afford, a commitment to excellent homilies, and a physical environment that speaks of warmth and community.

–        Facing outward: Thriving parishes understand that their community must go beyond itself. They are intentional about inspiring, training and providing opportunities for people to serve. 

At first glance these practices appear deceptively simple. But these particular parishes are thriving at a time when many people no longer find value in organized religion, and we wanted to know how and why…

…Pope Francis’ admonition that his priests should “be shepherds with the smell of sheep” on them has inspired pastors to lead from the middle.   Although we asked no questions about the Pope in our research protocol, one third of our pastors brought his name up spontaneously, and their remarks were uniformly positive.  They welcomed the Pope’s less hierarchical leadership style, and encourage parishioners to consider leadership roles as part of their spiritual development.

Helping people discover and use their strengths can produce a profound impact on parish life, especially at a time when the “Francis Effect” is having a symbiotic influence on the Catholic community as well as resonating with people who are not Catholic or even religious.  His openness to conversations about tough topics offers many Catholics a route to freedom from shame in the wake of scandals from which the church is still healing.

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