Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal
‘Culture is simply a shared way
of doing something with a passion.’ —Brian Chesky, CEO,
ever walked into a church and felt expected, welcomed and ‘at home’? What you
immediately sense as you enter a new community is something of the ‘culture’ of
husband and I married, we bought a home with the brightest, glariest orange
curtains you can imagine. Truly hideous! We vowed to change them as soon as we
moved in, as they cast a ‘glow’ into the front room that distorted other
colours. Three babies in three years distracted us, and the orange curtains
remained, eventually an integral and unnoticed part of ‘home’. Culture is like those
orange curtains—it colours and distorts how we experience our community, but we
train ourselves to filter its effects from our consciousness. It is simply ‘the
way we do things around here’.
address our parish culture if we want to grow a fruitful missionary parish. Fr
James Mallon in Beyond the Parish
defines culture as ‘the environment we create by what we allow, celebrate and
value’ in the life of our parish. ‘Culture is like an iceberg, 90 per cent of
which sits below the waterline, invisible to observers. We might not be able to
see culture, but it influences everything we do.’
parish renewal, we can put a lot of energy into creating a vision and a strategy.
We often use processes we have observed working successfully elsewhere, only to
find they are less effective in our community. This can be crushingly
disappointing. Peter Drucker famously observed that ‘culture eats strategy for
breakfast’. An unhealthy culture in our parish will nullify even the best
strategies. Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark
tells of seeds planted
in different soils: some seeds produced plants that flourished, and other seeds
produced plants that withered and died. The seeds were not the problem; the
soil was. What is the ‘soil’ or the culture in your parish? Is your culture
compatible with mission? Or will it actively work against your missionary
vision and the strategies you are creating?
Creating a healthy culture
Few parishes have created their culture on purpose. Rather,
over years, they have gradually drifted to where they are today. But they don’t
have to stay there. The responsibility
for changing culture resides with the leader: a great leader intentionally
creates, shapes and maintains a healthy culture that will provide fertile soil
for making and growing disciples.
1. Vision: A
healthy parish culture begins with a clear vision, one that comes from the
pastor’s heart and that generates passion for who we want to be as a community.
Without vision, your culture is stymied by aimlessness.
As one of the greatest influences on
culture, clearly stated values communicate what is most important in the parish.
Values drive behaviour. In this ‘3-step guide to developing better value statements
’, Carey Nieuwhof outlines a process that
teams can use to develop value statements that drive a healthy culture.
3. Philosophy: Every
leader has assumptions, attitudes and preferred practices that guide their
decision-making. For example, you might prefer a ‘team’ or ‘servant’ or
‘collaborative’ leadership style, and this might contrast with others in the
team who understand leadership differently. If you want to better shape your parish
culture, consider your underlying philosophies and how they shape what you do.
4. Traditions: Even new
communities have rituals and routines that are normalised and celebrated. Traditions
such as a factionalism in the pastoral council can be symptoms of an unhealthy
culture, but other traditions such as innovation, strong leadership and
excellent conflict resolution are healthy and can be nurtured.
5. Language: The language you choose defines your parish’s
culture in people’s minds. List
the words you use most often in bulletins, emails, homilies and meetings—they
are an enlightening window into your culture.
6. Systems: How
do things such as property maintenance, hymn choices, baptism preparation and
account payment get done in your parish? Good systems are effective, efficient
and easy for people to engage with. They encourage good behaviours, and better
parish culture follows.
7. Measurement: We
measure what we value, and what we value creates our culture. Missionary
parishes measure, for example, how many people have had a transforming
encounter with Jesus, the proportion of Mass goers who are actively engaged in
parish ministries, and the number parishioners engaging in faith formation.
8. Behaviour: Culture
follows behaviour and perpetuates behaviour. If we want to grow a healthy
culture, unhealthy behaviours need to be named, challenged and changed. This
begins with a leader who treats people with respect, dignity, honesty and
compassion, and who encourages this type of behaviour throughout the parish.
Key cultures for missional vitality
As well as addressing a parish’s broad
organisational culture, Fr James Mallon, in Beyond
the Parish, highlights the following specific cultures, which each need to
be actively nurtured in an effective missionary parish:
A healthy leadership culture empowers parishioners
to broaden their concept of spiritual leadership beyond a clerical perspective that
sees their role as ‘helping Father’. Leadership of a particular parish ministry
is a response to a call that it is prayerfully and communally discerned, not
earned or claimed. Delegating leadership is not just giving people tasks and
things to do; it is giving them responsibility for an area of parish life and
the authority they need to lead it effectively. Our parishes become more
fruitful when we raise up leaders, multiply our effectiveness, and encourage people
to grow spiritually and to deepen their commitment to mission.
leaders is often a challenge, and the acronym ‘FACT’ can be helpful.
- Faithful: Is your potential leader a
faith-filled person whose life is in broad alignment with Church teaching?
- Contagious: Is this person good to be
around, and do their behaviours spread love and health rather than harm?
- Available: Is this person available and
willing to keep the commitments they make, and can they fulfil this role
without undue strain on other areas in their life?
- Teachable: Is this person open to
learning new ways of doing things and to receiving appropriate feedback?
parishes are intentional about reaching those who have not heard about Jesus
and about leading them into an encounter with him. A culture of evangelisation
is more than a program. It involves a parish choosing a tool for
evangelisation, committing to that tool as its key disciple-making process, and
resourcing it over an extended time.
disciples, we are called to a life-long growth in friendship and intimacy with
Jesus and with his Church. In many parishes, there is little growing and
maturing happening. A discipleship culture normalises a dynamic and living
faith and articulates a clear, step-by-step pathway for people to follow as
Liturgy done well leads to a prayerful surrender
to God’s will. It is about being a passionate and active participant. ‘A
culture of authentic worship refuses to tolerate sloppy, messy, irreverent
liturgy’ writes Fr James. Authentic worship opens people’s hearts to hear God’s
call and respond with their life.
Supporting the key
cultures above, and helping them to grow, are two further cultures:
parishes need to display a culture of excellence rather than settling for
mediocrity. We should provide good quality messaging, through inspiring music, excellent
preaching and great sound systems. All of these elements allow the life and
love of Jesus to be heard rather than tolerating or barely comprehending a good
message delivered poorly. Our work for the kingdom of God is important enough for
us to do it with excellence!
missionary parish is always focussed outwards, seeking to draw people into the
life of the parish and into relationship with Jesus. This can only be effective
if we teach our parishioners how to invite, and if we provide beginner-level events
for them to invite their friends to. A culture of invitation is necessary to
support the ongoing health of your evangelisation process.
If we want our
parishes to be places where lives are transformed, then as leaders we must encourage
people to relate to others as Jesus did, growing a community soaked with the
Holy Spirit, for ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians
5:22–23)—a place people want to be!
We are available to discuss strategies with you and/or
your team and to facilitate sessions (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just
ask! Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123 or at email@example.com.