ARTICLE – 19 Pastoral Orientations for Parish Renewal and Growth

In the parables about the sower and the seed, the wheat and the weeds, and the mustard seed which is sown and then becomes a large plant, Jesus spoke to us about the growth of his kingdom. On earth, God’s kingdom is his Church and its mission is to make disciples. As God’s plan unfolds, the kingdom of God on earth will continue to grow through the apostolic efforts of its members and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The aim of this article is to highlight pastoral guidance that has been found to contribute to church growth, as identified by theologians and pastors of missionary parishes. This guidance is meant to aid pastors and pastoral councils in their efforts to evangelize and revitalize their parishes.

1. Prioritizing Reaching the Unchurched

Growing parishes see their mission as “seeking the lost sheep.” (Luke 15:1-7) McGavran, the founder of the Church Growth Movement, defines the mission of the Church as follows: To proclaim Jesus Christ as God and Savior and encourage men and women to become his disciples and responsible members of his church. The activities of growing churches are determined by this mission. Their goal is to invite people who are not part of the parish church and to integrate them. In spite of their other administrative duties, the pastors devote time to building up the Christian community.

2. Praying and Promoting Spiritual Renewal Among Members

In growing churches, spiritual empowerment and renewal play an essential role. Prayers of intercession for men and women to be won to Christ precede and accompany missionary efforts. Continual spiritual renewal (revival) is sought by members of the parish.  As a result, they are concerned about the salvation of others and are more effective witnesses to Christ.

3. Developing a Vision and a Process to Evangelize and Make Disciples

Growing parishes not only engage in evangelization but have developed a pastoral process. This process represents their vision for making disciples. They articulate and communicate their vision in a simple, understandable way and motivate their members to achieve it. Their vision often challenges the status quo, drives pastoral change and is realistic so that members can believe in it and follow it.

4. Planning

Parishes that are growing map out the steps they will take to achieve their vision and implement their disciple-making process. Through its planning effort, the Christian community does not lose itself in a vision that may be beautiful but is more of a dream than a reality. According to McGavran, Church growth is unlikely to occur without planning.

5. Developing the Laity’s Potential

Leaders in growing parishes do not do everything themselves; rather, they delegate their responsibilities and authority. They do not relinquish their leadership but allow members of the Christian community to engage in lay ministries and work with them to achieve the vision of the church. Together, they define and plan the activities of the parish and stimulate members to become involved. Through lay leadership and involvement, the Christian community is able to provide more services to the parishioners and the surrounding community.

6. Training Lay Leaders

Parish members are supported, accompanied, and trained to fulfill their responsibilities effectively. Training leads them to become relational, warm, and attentive to the needs of others: this is what God wants from his Church and what will attract people to the parish. Pastors develop a system for identifying and recruiting volunteers and leaders among parishioners.

7. Serving the Community’s Needs

Proclaiming the Good News means showing God’s love in word and deed (proclaiming the Gospel with our lives). Thus, missionary parishes develop activities that meet the needs of their communities (internal and external). In doing so, a good knowledge of their environment will help them to choose activities and plan actions over time. The more a parish knows its environment (culture, poverty, suffering, etc.), the better it is able to show God’s compassion to the world.

8. Setting Goals

The best dreams are embodied in measurable goals. Missionary parishes thus create a prioritized list of objectives, focusing on what is essential and pressing. Objectives help leaders and members keep their focus on the missional purpose of the parish and enable measuring progress. Moreover, clear objectives inspire church members to actively participate in the mission, fostering a sense of community and solidarity as they work together to fulfill their purpose of making disciples.

9. Creating a Structure of Small Groups

Missionary parishes develop a structure of small groups. However, these groups are not committees. Their purpose is (1) to evangelize the unchurched, (2) to answer the needs of the community, (3) to respond to the desire of the church members to belong and socialize, and (4) to help them attain spiritual maturity.

10. Engaging Parishioners According to Their Gifts and Talents

Members of the Christian community are asked to participate in Church activities and services in accordance with their talents, spiritual gifts, training, interests, and availability. Unfortunately, in many cases, leaders decide what members should do without asking them what their interests and talents are. Parish leaders must help parishioners discover their gifts and involve them accordingly.

11. Mobilizing and Training the Christian Community to Evangelize

Missionary parishes feel responsible for those who do not know Christ or do not attend church. Every Christian is called to evangelize in some way by initiating new relationships and inviting new people to the Church to hear the Gospel. Parishioners are reminded of the Church’s mission to make disciples and provided with evangelization programs to reach non-Christians.

12. Inviting Parishioners to Witness to Those Around Them

The proclamation of the Gospel is most effective when Christians witness to those close to them and to those who they already know. Studies show that most people who become Christian or return to the Church were influenced or invited by someone they knew.

13. Focusing on The Receptive

Missionary parishes look for people in their environment who might be more receptive to the Gospel. For example, those who are visiting the parish for the second time, those who have just moved into the neighbourhood, those who want to break free from addiction (alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc.), as well as relatives of new converts and new parents. Those who are receptive are often those who are experiencing the following:

  1. divorce;
  2. unemployment;
  3. financial problems;
  4. marital or family problems;
  5. loneliness;
  6. resentment;
  7. guilt;
  8. grief.

Missionary parishes develop activities to show love and compassion to people in these situations as well as to illustrate how God can help them.

14. Celebrating in a Dynamic Way

Missionary parishes have vibrant, touching, and meaningful celebrations. A balance is struck between exultation and inner worship. A team of laypeople and ordained ministers prepare these celebrations with great care. Celebrations are edifying experiences that bring joy, gladness, and a deeper understanding of the Word.

15. Creating Celebrations and Welcome Groups for Seekers

Weekend celebrations and welcome groups for visitors are specially designed to welcome seekers. This motivates Christians to invite new people to the church because they know that visitors will be welcomed and be more interested in the celebrations. Pastors explain how to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and lead new people to make an act of faith. Prayers are offered for the healing of the sick.

16. Increasing the Parish’s Welcoming Skills

Missionary parishes prepare their members to give a warm welcome to new members. Special attention is paid to those who are visiting the parish for the first time. This type of reception is as important as a well-prepared sermon.  To ensure that new members continue to attend, pastors encourage them to participate in small groups and become involved in other church activities.

17. Increasing Enthusiasm and Fervor Among Members

When Christians actively and passionately live their faith, not just adhering to a set of moral codes but through a personal loving connection to Jesus, they exude love and compassion that contributes to the attractiveness of the Christian community.

18. Choosing a Good Location For the Parish and Using Technology  

A parish should ideally be easily visible and accessible. This includes being located in areas with high traffic, such as near highways or expressways, and providing ample parking. In addition, using new technologies like modern multimedia systems can help to communicate and deliver sermons effectively, as well as provide the opportunity for simultaneous celebrations in different locations.

19. Effective Leadership

Effective leadership is crucial in fostering engagement and involvement among parishioners.  The pastor should prioritize empowering and equipping the lay members, rather than shouldering all responsibilities related to evangelization, discipleship, and faith education. The pastor’s role is that of a coach and equipper (as stated in Ephesians 4:13), who trains other leaders in the church for evangelization and the development of the parish. Pastors should also view and treat every parishioner as a potential missionary, assisting them in identifying and utilizing their unique gifts for the mission of making disciples.


The process of revitalizing a parish is not simple and necessarily requires patience, wisdom and a foundation of love. To gain insight and inspiration, pastors and lay leaders should consider visiting other parishes that have experienced growth, regardless of their denomination.

Additionally, it’s important to note that for sustainable development to occur, the pastor’s tenure needs to be of sufficient duration. Parishes that experience frequent changes in leadership often struggle to maintain momentum and may even lose members. 

Our hope is that the pastoral orientations outlined in this article will provide good guidance and support for pastors and pastoral councils as they work towards renewing their parishes. 

Pierre-Alain Giffard
Director of Pastoral Work

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