ARTICLE – What is a Missionary Parish?

In simple terms, a missionary parish is a Christian community dedicated to the mission of the Church to reach out to those who do not know Christ or do not follow Him and lead them to become disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of his Church.

1. The Church’s Mission

As defined by Church documents the mission of the Church is to evangelize, “that is she must proclaim the good news of salvation to all, generate new creatures in Christ through Baptism, and train them to live knowingly as children of God.”[1] The mission of the Church is to make the Kingdom of God present in our world[2], guiding people to friendship with Christ, to the communion of love with the Lord who is the true light in our lives[3].

To evangelize, explains Pope Paul VI, “constitutes the essential mission of the Church. … Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass”.[4]

Pope John Paul II says that the new evangelization “calls for the involvement of the entire People of God, and requires a new fervour, new methods and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the Gospel.”[5]

Our parishes, our Christian communities and all the faithful are called to embrace this impulse of missionary transformation.

2. Characteristics of Missionary Parishes

Missionary parishes exist for the purpose of evangelization and have 4 main characteristics:

  1. Love and service: By loving and serving their communities and surroundings with the hands of Christ, parishioners manifest the merciful heart of God and make their parish a light to the world and a welcoming place worthy of the Gospel.
  2. A clear awareness of their mission: Parishioners of missionary parishes realize their mission entails not only becoming holy and serving those in need, but, just as importantly, evangelizing and participating in the development of their parish.
  3. A reliance on the Holy Spirit: “Without me,” says Jesus, “you can do nothing”. Missionary parishes give great importance to prayer, faith and spiritual growth.
  4. A process for making disciples: One of the most overlooked, yet crucial aspects of missionary parishes is the process they establish to make disciples of Jesus Christ from unchurched people. This process is the golden thread that links the various parish ministries together to lead the evangelized to the sacraments of Christian initiation, to spiritual maturity and to mission.

In this sense, four terms summarize well the characteristics of missionary parishes: love, purpose, power, and process. Their vision is to become evangelizing communities that proclaim Jesus Christ as God and Savior and encourage men and women to become His disciples and responsible members of his Church. Their main goal is to connect with those who do not follow Christ, to love them, to serve them, to welcome them into the Church and to lead them to become missionary disciples.

3. The Main Goals of Missionary Parishes

In order to reach out to people who are not Christians or who do not attend church, missionary parishes pursue 4 main goals:

  1. To live intimately with the Lord and to pray for evangelization efforts.
  2. To create a memorable church experience where to invite new people.
  3. To lead evangelized people to spiritual maturity.
  4. To bear fruit of charity and transform the world.

Various prayer activities are organized by missionary parishes for the people they wish to reach (Luke 10:2; Acts 4:29-30). Prayer precedes and accompanies pastoral activities to win men and women to Christ.

Parishioners engage in their communities and prepare spaces where people they invite can find fellowship, prayers for healing and invitations to follow Christ. These spaces may include weekend celebrations or small groups.

The weekend experience is essentially one of welcoming and following up on visitors, proclamation of the kerygma[6], prayer for healing and deliverance, and inspiring and lively music. Celebrations are designed with evangelized people in mind, in order to demonstrate the Kingdom of God, his love, and his power.

4. The Role of Pastors in Missionary Parishes

Pastors play an important and crucial role in the pastoral transformation of parishes. To become missional, parishes need their leadership. And this begins by making parishioners understand their missionary role and the importance of being present in their surrounding community.

Pastors also need to free themselves as much as possible from material administration and devote themselves to engaging the whole Christian community in making disciples. Their ministry is the celebration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the Word, but they must make it a priority to find time and resources to set up an evangelization process that involves parishioners, each according to their gifts.

They work with their Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) and will benefit from creating a leadership team whose members are chosen based on their gifts for organization and evangelization. This team meets more frequently than the PPC and is tasked with reflecting on and planning the renewal and development of the parish. It can be set up as a subcommittee of the PPC.

The priest’s presence in his community is crucial to assuming his leadership and transformational role. It is best to assign him the fewest number of parishes possible. It is also not recommended that priests involved in parish missionary transformation rotate frequently.


[1] The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, March 19, 1977, 7.

[2] Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 176.

[3] Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Commemoration Mass In Honour of the Popes Paul VI and John Paul I, Altar Of The Chair, St Peter’s Basilica, Tuesday, 28 September 2004.

[4] Cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14.

[5] Pastores Dabo Vobis, 18.

[6] The kerygma refers to the initial proclamation of the gospel message. It is the core message of the Christian faith which is the proclamation of God’s love and mercy and an invitation to accept Jesus in our lives and in our hearts as Lord and Savior. All believers are called to live it and proclaim it.

Pierre-Alain Giffard
Director of Pastoral Work

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