In a new book called “Great Catholic Parishes,” William E. Simon Jr. looks at the question of what makes a vibrant parish. Simon and his team asked the pastors of 244 thriving churches what made their parishes work.
According to Simon, “They excel on Sundays.” Which means not only that they focus a great deal of attention on their sermons, but also “they are visible, prepared and present during the Sunday experience.”
Simon also reports that these growing parishes “share leadership.” With the number of priests still in decline and one in five parishes not even having a resident pastor, sharing leadership with lay people is a matter of necessity. But it’s easy to imagine how this sharing might also lead to more welcoming communities.
Lay people joining a new parish might find there are more opportunities for them to participate, and the chasm that used to exist between the clergy and the laity might be closing.
Simon also notes that those who haven’t attended a Catholic service recently might “be surprised by the huge emphasis the most successful parishes place on active evangelization within and outside the parish. Catholic churches are much less passive than they used to be.”
In a recent study of 250 evangelical, mainline and Catholic churches, researchers at Fuller Theological Seminary actually put together a list of “things your church doesn’t need.” They included “a trendy location,” “a big budget,” “contemporary worship” and “a big modern building.”
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