ARTICLE – Six Unique Features of Missional Parishes

“Success is nothing more than a few disciplines practiced every day”, said Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur and personal development coach. In the context of our parishes, a question arises:  What pastoral disciplines should we practice to make disciples?

1 – Prayer

A strong spiritual foundation is necessary for parishes to make disciples. Saint Paul tells us that “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:7). It is God who builds his Church (Matthew 16:18). The Acts of the Apostles demonstrate that the early Church grew by relying on the Holy Spirit. We need the divine anointing to evangelize.  Thus, let us encourage one another to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), filled with love for one another and for those who do not know Jesus. This can be achieved through a more frequent celebration of the sacraments, repentance, prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, spiritual retreats, life in the Spirit seminars and Eucharistic adoration. 

2 – Evangelization

Those who know and love Jesus spontaneously want to tell others about him. As baptized and members of Christ’s Body, the Holy Spirit compels us to share God’s love with others and to invite them into a personal relationship with the Lord. But how can we respond to this call in a parish setting? To help Christian communities engage in evangelization, there are programs such as the Alpha Course, CCO Faith Study Series and Parish Evangelizing Cells. These can be used both online and in person.

3 – The Sunday Experience

Guests invited by evangelization efforts and occasional Sunday visitors are most likely to return to the parish after a first visit if they have a positive experience. As the saying goes, we never get two chances to make a first impression. This first parish impression is influenced primarily by the following factors: the welcome given to them as newcomers, the quality of the homilies, the beauty of the music, the feeling of sacredness and of God’s presence, children’s liturgies offered during mass, and other simple factors such as how clean the church is. Missional parishes try to create the best possible Sunday experience for guests and, in addition to evangelization, focus on welcoming and retaining people who are new.

4 – Integration of Newcomers

To make new disciples, parishes need to think more in terms of integrating guests and visitors into their Christian community. Missional churches have mechanisms in place to help guests become a part of the parish life and mission. Integration is about moving from simply being a guest to becoming a committed, responsible member of the local Body of Christ. This can be done by assigning mentors, “shepherding deacons”, or lay leaders to new members. As with the ministries of prayer, evangelization, and Sunday experience, the integration of newcomers must also be developed and planned by parish leaders and financially supported by the parish administration.

5 – A Missional Culture 

Missional parishes cultivate the desire among their faithful to make disciples and to reach out to non-churchgoers.  Jesus thirsts for everyone’s love and salvation. Without a divine hunger in us, for people’s salvation, the Church’s mission to bring God’s love and redemption in Jesus Christ to all will not be fulfilled. We need to nurture a missionary culture in our communities to stop the decline and closure of more parishes.

6 – Leadership and Delegation

Being a mission-oriented parish rests in large part on its leadership. Missional parishes have pastors who guide and inspire others. They encourage parishioners to reach out to the unchurched and welcome them. Through delegation and shared responsibility, they select and equip lay leaders to participate in the missionary transformation of their parish. 

Conclusion 

Missionary parishes focus on making disciples.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they establish contact with non-Christians, proclaim the good news, lead people to faith in Jesus Christ and integrate the new believers into the life and mission of the Church. People far from the faith are their priority. They are in the image of the God who, like the Good Shepherd goes forth in search of the lost sheep and welcomes home the prodigal son. 

Are we ready to become a missional Church?

Pierre-Alain Giffard

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