Catholic Herald Staff
Rich Curran, founder and executive director of Parish Success Group, led the 2018 Diocesan Stewardship Day workshop May 9 at Turtleback Conference Center in Rice Lake. With almost double the average number of participants, Curran presented on “Getting your Parish to Grow Again.”
The principles outlined stem from Curran’s 25-plus years of experience and research, which he compiled in a book, “We Lack for Nothing.” The book was published in 2017 and each participant received a complimentary copy with their registration.
With humor and energy, Curran’s style energized his listeners and motivated them to action with detailed suggestions and best practices.
Saying he was “only kinda oversimplifying” his explanation of typical parish structures, Curran called on clergy and laity to adapt and update to the current needs. The audience’s laughter was followed by the presenter’s affirmation that: “Christ isn’t any less present in the Eucharist than he was 50 years age. We’re not changing what we believe, but building a better business model.”
He warned against blaming, invited to internal and personal reflection, “Start the New Evangelization with yourself,” he said.
Curran described the first step of being a good steward as taking “inventory of what we currently have and how we’re currently doing it.”
He spoke over and over again of the need to build personal relationships. Using the example of mailings as a primary means of communication with parishioners, and noting that 80 percent of registered parishioners are not actively involved or engaged with parish life, Curran wasn’t afraid to “love you enough to tell you the truth.”
Drawing a parallel to the business world, he said, “If 80 percent of your customers weren’t contacted, you’d be fired.”
In reference to his recent publication, Curran said, “A steward recognizes what God has provided, and maximizes it so that (he/she) can return it with increase to the Lord.” Quoting the book’s title, “We Lack for Nothing,” the author holds the conviction that God has given His Church everything it needs to be successful, defining success as increasing the number of people who come to know the Lord.
Moving from broad to specific circumstance, Curran said, “Courage to take inventory of what we have, map out a strategic plan to slowly, over time, build in incremental steps.”
Using a slide show to work through provided handouts with information, flow charts and tools for analysis and planning, the speaker differentiated structure – the organizational set-up, the when and where of parish life – from the process – what happens inside the structure, the what and why.
Curran was very direct in calling on parish teams to seriously consider the outcomes of their efforts, and not to be afraid to have difficult conversations about what is not working and what changes need to take place for the parish to grow.
“Are we bearing fruit? Or are we comfortable with being comfortable?” he said. Curran said the content that many parish programs consist is incomplete. Not incomplete in information necessarily, but in effect if the instruction doesn’t happen within a relationship of encounter and discipleship.
Content needs to collide with experience, he said.
“One-size-fits-all programs don’t work,” he said.
Curran described true evangelization not as “how to get people to come to your church,” rather “what we need to do to go to them.” He said true evangelization is equipping active members of the parish as witnesses with “the ability and confidence and comfortableness to go out to the 80 percent who are not coming.”
“What are we doing on the inside to reach those on the outside?” What is needed are not simply marketing strategies to promote what is already being done, according to Curran. He continued to advocate healthy dialogue as necessary for a parish to take inventory of how its activities align with the mission.
Multiple scenarios were offered and worked through reflecting on where members of different demographic groups might or might not fit into a parish’s reality.
Curran said, “If you are not growing, do not just copy the calendar for next year.”