What does an amazing parish look like? If you ask Kevin Cotter, the executive director of The Amazing Parish, he’ll assure you that an amazing parish is one with three cultures present — prayer, healthy teamwork, and active discipleship.
“A lot of parishes need to ask themselves, ‘Who is God asking us to be, and how do we live that out to the fullest extent?’” Cotter explains. ”The purpose of The Amazing Parish is to help them understand that vision and clarity, and then assist them in spreading that clarity throughout the parish and on to everything that they do.”
The story of The Amazing Parish can be traced back to a simple conversation between co-founders Pat Lencioni and John Martin, who met in 2013. They realized very quickly that they shared a desire to serve and build up the Catholic Church. After much prayer, discernment, and lengthy discussions with Catholic leaders, they agreed that the Holy Spirit was prompting them to do something to uplift, improve, and help parishes turn from maintenance to missionary communities.
With John’s experience in business and Pat’s expertise in organizational health and leadership, they worked with other Catholic leaders to develop and host the first Amazing Parish Conference in Denver in August 2014. The response to the conference was overwhelming, confirming that The Amazing Parish model was effective and that parish leaders were hungry to learn.
“At The Amazing Parish, we believe that we are laying foundations for parish life, and we do that through creating a great team,” Cotter says, explaining the concept. “Every great company, every great organization, every great family has a great team behind it that brings that place to success. So, we wanted to do this for parishes.”
The conference is designed for pastors and their leadership teams with a goal of helping the group discover ways to take their parish leadership practices from the level of mundane to truly spiritual. The conference seeks to equip attendees with tools to assist them in more clearly defining roles, identifying objectives, and renewing their commitment to the mission of active and intentional discipleship for Christ. Each conference includes presentations by a panel of dynamic speakers and is an opportunity for personal and spiritual renewal with daily Mass, Confession, and Eucharistic Adoration.
According to many parish, diocesan, and lay leaders who have attended a conference, the idea behind The Amazing Parish is that this isn’t just a moment, but rather a movement. While Cotter says there are thousands of parish teams that go on to become success stories, one really stands out for him because it’s a story he’s heard time and time again.
“Fr. Alex McCullough was actually the youngest pastor in his archdiocese in quite some time,” Cotter states. “He was really well formed and very joyful right after seminary formation and as a parochial vicar. But a situation in the archdiocese called for him to become a pastor very early on, just 18 months after his ordination. He took on not only one parish but three, and so it was a very intense situation for him right off the bat.
“He told us that over time, he began to be weighed down by all the responsibilities he had. He even got to the point where, on his days off, he didn’t want to get out of bed, because he knew that once he did, the clock started ticking on all the responsibilities entrusted to him.”
It was then that Fr. McCullough began to realize just how easy it was to lose priesthood joy. Burnout is a very real thing for priests when they feel as though they don’t have anyone to help them. Fr. McCullough knew something needed to change, so when he was presented with the opportunity to attend an Amazing Parish Conference, he jumped in fully.
“It was after attending conferences in Dallas and Milwaukee that Fr. McCullough formed a team of support around him and got the clarity he needed for the direction of his parishes,” Cotter adds. “Today he feels an incredible freedom. He loves getting out of bed every morning, he loves doing the work that he does. Fr. McCullough has said that The Amazing Parish saved his priesthood.”
While it can be difficult for a parish leadership staff to take time out of their busy schedules to come to an Amazing Parish Conference, Cotter is adamant that it’s worth it.
“When we take those fleeting moments to put first things first, to put our team first, to put the vision of our parish first, we find that can change everything,” he explains. “It can lighten our load and give us new vision, clarity, vigor, and strength. All of us need a shot in the arm, and many parishes don’t have an opportunity to experience a conference like this, where staff — who are so used to serving others — can be served themselves instead.
“To any churches considering coming to an Amazing Parish Conference, you’re not going to regret it,” assures Cotter. “It’ll give you an intangible ability to be renewed in your mission to do what God is calling you to do in your parish.”
Interested in Attending? LPi is proud to sponsor the next Amazing Parish Conference, which is taking place in Anaheim, California, October 28-30, 2019. All parish leadership interested in attending can register by visiting their website.
Can’t Attend? The Amazing Parish has created AP Online, 13 free training modules that are designed to walk parish leaders and teams through exercises via videos.
Today more than ever, parishes are becoming increasingly more aware of the importance of utilizing online giving. Not only does it save hours on the time spent counting, recording, and reporting the Sunday collection, but it also helps maintain a more steady flow of donations during a time when giving is often unpredictable.
Recurring giving is one of the best ways to ensure that your church ministries will be funded and your lights kept on. But according to statistics, only a small percentage actually make the commitment to have their gifts automatically deducted from their checking or savings account. While there are a multitude of reasons why this is, there are a few ways parish leaders can come together to push past these hurdles and encourage parishioners to becoming regular donors.
According to 2018 Charitable Giving Statistics, 8 out of 10 people who give to churches have zero credit debt, which makes sense. When cash flow is steady, people are more apt to give to church or charity. So in order to get people to that place, giving them the tools to become debt free is a huge help.
Many parishes do this by partnering with a faith-based money management program that they then offer to their parishioners for free. Some of these programs include: Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, where people learn to pay off debt, budget, and give generously; Bible Money Matters, where people learn the steps necessary to save money and invest for the long term; and Crown, where millions of people learn to find financial freedom, thrive in their careers, and live a purposeful life.
The purpose of holding these types of classes is two-fold: not only do you help your parishioners understand the basics of finances that many of us struggle to comprehend, but they also help them understand how important it is to be intentional with our money, and to be good stewards of all that God gives to us. Additionally, when there are groups of people meeting together with a common goal in sight, it allows for a comradery that helps keep the momentum going.
Giving to the parish is more than just an envelope each week. It’s about making a commitment to a faith community that is rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s about taking part in the sacraments on a regular basis, helping outside in the community through essential social ministries, and being part of a support system to fellow parishioners. It’s about weekend community dinners, fun festivals, volunteering to make the church beautiful through decoration and cleanup, and stuffing the bulletins on days that the secretary needs assistance. With that being said, a great way for people to feel a commitment to the parish is to have them actually make a financial one.
Another striking statistic from the 2018 Charitable Giving Statistics is that only 3 to 5% of Americans who give to their local church do so through regular tithing. One way to increase this number is by asking members to make a yearly pledge. Through prayer and contemplation on what their fair share is, they can come up with a way to commit to the parish in a more tangible way.
Some families are shocked once they figure out that their $10 a week donation only comes out to a little more than $500 for the year. By coming up with an annual figure, and then reverse engineering to see how much that comes out to on a monthly or weekly basis, it’ll help them see that they are really a part of the faith community, and that their contribution matters. WeShare, LPi’s online giving platform, has a great pledge chart that people can view to see how close they are to their annual goal.
Typically when a parish launches its online giving platform, there is a big push to get people to sign up, but not so much to become recurring givers. Not only does this need to change to focus more on the aspect of giving regularly, but it also needs to be communicated on a regular basis. Think a regular spot in the weekly bulletin with the link to sign up, posters in the common areas, pew cards with a link and reasons why recurring giving helps the parish, and regular messages before and after Mass from the pulpit. Regular email and postcard communication during the year is proven to help parishes increase their giving.
Looking for more recurring donors? Parishes who participated in our new WeShare Engagement Campaign increased their recurring giving on average three-fold.
It’s no secret that some parishes struggle with marketing efforts, not through lack of ambition, but rather lack of funds. Thankfully, there are lots of tools out there to help your parish get the exposure it needs in and around your community. From social media platforms run by experienced volunteers, free website templates that can be created by watching YouTube tutorials, and church resources that help ignite new ideas within your faith community, you just need to know where to look.
What would you share with your community if you had the money to advertise online? Would you tell them about your beautiful Sunday Masses, Eucharistic adoration on Wednesday nights, or the monthly pancake breakfast? Maybe you’d send out a call for volunteers needed for the next food bank handout or for more donations for the Cold Weather Ministry. Whatever message you’d like to spread, an in-kind grant from Google for Nonprofits is a great way to start.
A Google Ad Grant works by displaying your message to people who are searching for parishes like yours. Qualifying nonprofits receive $10,000 in in-kind Google text advertising every month. (You can only promote text ads — you can’t use your grant to buy photo and video ads.) Now, we know that for most parishes looking for this kind of assistance, $10,000 is kind of a stretch. But imagine how you can stretch your dollars by kicking in $100 a month, followed by a match by Google? Depending on your specific audience and chosen keywords, you could potentially double your intended reach!
The first step to applying for this grant is by going through the application process to find out if you’re eligible. For this, you’ll need to have a Google account/verified Google listing. If you haven’t done that yet, you can begin the process here. If you do, you can move on to the next step, which is to sign up for a TechSoup Account.
TechSoup is a nonprofit organization that partners with corporations, like Google, to help bring technology tools and other resources to nonprofits at a discounted rate. To get started:
Now that you have your validation token, it’s time to sign up for Google for Nonprofits, which is necessary to have before you can apply for the ad grant. You can do that by going here. You’ll need to submit your parish’s EIN (nonprofit ID), the physical address, and your online contact information.
Google should approve your application within a few days and will send you an email. The next step is to explore the best ways to share your church with the surrounding community. Have fun!
Have you used Google ads for marketing your church? What was the outcome?
Sometimes, it feels like Advent has only just ended before Lent rolls around. This is another time in our liturgical calendar when parishioners begin to look to parish leaders for guidance, inspiration, and compassion to help them navigate. Is your parish ready to meet their needs?
As a parish leader, the thrill of Lent may have lessened for you. You might have a slight “been there, done that” attitude towards prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, already knowing your usual staples — like, give up chocolate and increase daily Mass attendance. And you have a favorite Lenten reflection guide all ready to go. But what about your parishioners? Do they know what’s expected of them? And even more important, do they realize why we as Catholics do what we do during this time of penance and prayer?
Following are our top four ideas for guiding your parishioners in their Lenten journey this year.
Conduct a quick search on Google, and you’ll find an amazing array of articles, resources, information, and more on the topic of Lent. Your job is to sift through all of the noise and point your community in the direction of some real, substantial, authentic content. Ask yourself, what do they need to know? What have you personally sacrificed, taken up, or learned about in the past that really had an impact in your life during Lent? What might be good for the various age groups who make up the parish?
Some popular Catholic organizations have parish-specific material that you can share with your parishioners. This year, LPi offers a new Lenten Reflection Guide for Catholics called “Walk with Jesus,” where a special emphasis is placed on the Stations of the Cross. Consider offering a weekly Scripture study using this resource for parishioners looking to dive more deeply into their faith.
During Lent, a special emphasis is placed on Reconciliation — a holy sacrament that can be intimidating to many. Take this time to speak with your parishioners on the many benefits of a “clean slate,” for lack of a better word, such as the graces that God gives to those who come to Him through confession and the deep connection that follows. Many parishes hold diocesan-wide Reconciliation services, with music that speaks to the heart, extra confessors, and plenty of material on examining one’s conscience, how to go to confession, and things you can expect from confession.
“The Light Is On” is an initiative of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington, where Catholic churches throughout the Washington, D.C. metro area are open for quiet prayer and confession. If your parish is thinking of adopting a similar format, they have a great webinar that explores the tools and strategies that can be used to ensure all people can be included in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Participating in Lent means that there will be sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean people need to take away something. Rather than give up a favorite dessert or extra screen time, we need to remind our parishioners of the importance of enhancing a good habit. Remind your faith community of the graces that are received when one attends daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, and the Stations of the Cross, as well as receives the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They can also spend these 40 days enhancing their prayer life or getting involved with their community through volunteering. There are so many ways we as Catholics can give back to Christ.
It’s usually common knowledge about the “fast facts” of Lent. You get ashes on Ash Wednesday (and have a ready explanation to those who will, of course, kindly let you know that you have a smudge of dirt “right there”). You avoid meat on Fridays and give something up as sacrifice during the 40 days. But … do you think many of your parishioners know the “why” behind these actions? Provide them with some “fast facts” they can easily digest to become more familiar about Lent.
Parishes have so many things to invite people to. In addition to Mass and essential sacraments such as Reconciliation and Confirmation, there are festivals, hospitality events, and opening the doors to the community during public events. Communication is going out all the time, but how well is it working? Following are some ideas to consider when evaluating your parish communication strategies.
This year, your parish decided to test out an email campaign to get more people to sign up for online giving. Perhaps you spent hours setting up a mass email platform, writing the perfect subject and body copy, laying it out in an attract format. You updated parishioner email addresses, and then sent it out on a Thursday, which is what you heard was the best time of the week to send email. However, it’s been two weeks since the email went out, and the click-through rate is still something to be desired. Online giving is still at a lull — what went wrong?
There are a number of things that may have gone wrong with this particular campaign, and to find out what it was, you need to do a little digging. It could be a number of things: the subject line wasn’t compelling for enough people to open the email; the content in the email signaled to email accounts that it could be spam, so most went in people’s junk folders; or maybe a broken link within the email is the culprit. Whatever the reason, it’s important to dig deep and try again until you get the response you’ve been striving for.
A good strategy for this would be conducting an A/B test for your next campaign to see if a different image, subject line, or body copy would fare better in getting people to click the link. Many automated email platforms have this feature, although some require a high number of recipients. Look into Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Hubspot to see what’s best for your church.
Is your email as attractive as it could be? Consider using stock photography or clip art to add color and life to what might be a “dry” communication. LPi’s digital art and content platform, WeCreate, is home to exclusive stock photography, church clip art, inspiring Catholic prayers, weekly Gospel reflections, and more to attract and engage your community.
In addition to outside communications, churches share announcements through the pulpit. Either before or after Mass — or sometimes as a homily topic if the subject is important enough — it’s a fast, easy, and free way to get the message out. But does it work?
Let’s say that the parish is holding its annual appeal fundraiser and is trying to up its attendance by 30%. A week before tickets go on sale, the announcements begin flowing: reminders to save the date before Mass, sharing the benefits of supporting the appeal during multiple homilies, and a reminder to fill out ticket forms after Mass, where ushers are waiting to hand them out. After a month of promotion, and just two weeks before the event is to take place, how can you tell if this type of communication had any affect? Simple — just look at how many tickets have been sold.
If seats are sold out, and parishioners are buzzing, it’s obvious that this type of communication was done well. If not, it’s time to figure out why. Is it because of the day of the week it’s held? Is childcare unavailable? Are tickets too expensive? Did the pastor not explain enough about why this fundraiser is so important to the life of the parish?
While trends are slowly starting to move to electronic communications for parish needs, print and in-pew letters and flyers are far from extinct. While it’s cheaper to send an email rather than a letter, people on the receiving end tend to ignore them more often than an actual print piece. Statistics show that direct mail — even when created and delivered through old school, offline processes — drives higher response rates.
Thurs. Sept. 26 at 1:00 p.m. CT
Think of social media as the new town square. According to the latest social media statistics, 81% of the U.S. population has a social media account. We’ll discuss best practices, good guidelines, and creative ideas for getting out the Good News.
Visit us at this year’s International Catholic Stewardship Council Conference in Chicago, IL, October 6-9, 2019. Stop by our booth to receive FREE access to an exciting new video training on Stewardship for Parish Leaders (a $250 value).
Make your communications more engaging and vibrant so you can evangelize your community. With WeCreate, you’ll find the latest in stock photography, church clip art, Catholic prayers, weekly Gospel reflections, and more.
From engaging your parish community through the use of new technology, best practices in parish communication, and discovering ways to ignite and renew the lives of your parishioners through leadership, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge to help build your vibrant parish. Parishes are invited to download and share these thought-provoking reading materials.