Thursday, November 29, 2007

Characteristics of an Engaged Parish

In their November, 2007, edition of "Parish Newsletter," Fr. Tom Sweetser, SJ, and Sr. Peg Bishop, OSF, of the Parish Evaluation Project discuss what it means to be an "engaged" parish. The following is quoted and used with their permission. Please go to the Parish Evaluation Project website to see more.

They begin by quoting Albert L. Winseman's book, Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop "Doing Church" and Start Being the Church Again:
Most church leaders confuse involvement with engagement. They believe the conventional wisdom: The way to get new members to really connect with their new church is to get them involved in something – anything! But involvement is not engagement. Involvement is what you do in and for your church; engagement is how you feel about your church. (p. 28)
Emotional Connections:
Connecting with a parish, according to Winseman, is centered around four aspects:
  1. Life Satisfaction. Those who have an emotional connection with a parish are better able to cope with their own problems, losses, and difficulties.

  2. Inviting. They feel personally invited into the life of the community. As a result, they reach out to others and invite them in, whether family members, friends or co-workers. They have a sense of pride in the parish and want to share it with others.

  3. Serving Others. Those who are emotionally engaged are reaching out in service to others, either joining parish ministries or other groups.

  4. Giving. Finally, they chip in and financially support the parish, giving freely to the parish’s projects and programs.

A Checklist for Engagement:
The book includes a list of indicators that help people become more engaged and emotionally committed (p. 81-82). Sr. Peg and Fr. Tom have paraphrased the list to make it applicable to a Catholic situation:

  1. I know what is expected of me as a member of this parish. (In their April, 2007 Newsletter, Fr. Tom and Sr. Peg offered a job description for parishioners that included signing up, attending, joining in, and contributing.)

  2. My spiritual needs are being met. In a Catholic parish this means offering a variety of prayer experiences, faith enrichment, community-building and outreach opportunities.

  3. I have a chance to do what I do best. Instead of just filling slots, people can choose something they enjoy, that fits their abilities, energies, time-requirements and inclinations.

  4. I regularly receive recognition and praise from someone in my parish. On a monthly basis, in other words, someone in leadership says thanks for what people are doing.

  5. The pastor and staff seem to care about me as person. This is best done when people come into church or attend a parish event; they are given a warm and genuine welcome.

  6. There is someone in my parish who encourages my spiritual development. Attending Mass is not enough. Parishioners need to be given helps in how to pray, read the bible, act morally, reach out to others.

  7. My opinions seem to count in my parish. If any change, addition or new direction is being contemplated, parishioners have an opportunity to share their ideas, insights and reactions.

  8. The mission or purpose of my parish makes me feel my participation is important.

  9. Other members of my parish are committed to spiritual growth. Parishioners – pastor, staff and leaders include – are providing good modeling to one another of what it means to be a faithful Christian.

  10. Aside from my family, I have a best friend in my parish. Relationship-building is a key element for furthering engagement and emotional commitment.

  11. I have opportunities in my parish to learn and grow in my faith. This is best done in small groups, whether bible study, discussion groups or breakout sessions.

For more information, contact Fr. Tom Sweetser, SJ, or Sr. Peg Bishop, OSF, at pepparish [at] pepparish [dot] org, or see their website at

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