Catholics Come Home: Church growth has little to do with numbers

Tue, Jul 21st 2015 10:00 am
Director of Parish Life and Evangelization  [ View Original Article ]
Dennis Mahaney
Dennis Mahaney

Is your parish growing?  But more importantly, should growing just be looked at as numbers? 

When it comes to Church growth, little is measured by the numbers.  Churches can grow numerically for a variety of reasons, some of which are deceiving or merely coincidental.  As with so many other living things, when it comes to vitality, numbers are at best symptomatic of growth, not the cause or the purpose of growth.

Nature is filled with examples of plants that seem dormant for years before startling explosions of life, just as there are large organisms that upon inspection, turn out to be lifeless.  One might say that real growth is in the roots, long before it is displayed in the shoots. 

Perhaps this is why Jesus found faith the size of a mustard seed an apt analogy to vitality despite appearances.  The parish is similar in that the most significant change can happen below the surface, long before anything is evident by way of outward evangelization.

Authentic growth happens inside people, before it is visible outside of them.  Likewise, the only sustainable numerical growth in a parish is symptomatic of the faith growth happening in each and every parishioner. 

What should be looked at is what is happening to people in the diocese and what is the result of the various programs that have been presented.  Also what should be looked at is what is happening "below ground" in the hearts of parishioners and what is happening in relationships at Church.

What should be looked at is how connected a parish is to the community around it.  Christ-centered relationships cause transformation and transformation drives roots more deeply in the Lord, just as it energizes our mission in the community.

Authentic Church growth is founded upon transformed people who are filled with a sense of purpose, and who are in vital relationships with others both inside and outside of the Church.  According to the Gallup research that produced the book "Growing an Engaged Church," thriving parishes pay attention to the connection between the people and the mission.  No people, no mission.  But just as certainly, no mission, no people.  Gallup praises the small church group for its capacity to call and confirm people for mission and ministry today.

Most essentially, our Church is a communion of faith communities - one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Intentional participation in small church groups can make faith a daily reality for participants who often report changes in themselves, and their families.  Growing churches give high priority to all kinds of small group experiences, which raise intentional disciples who are nourished and challenged for living faith out loud.

What about my own parish?  Is it a communion of communities - united, set on God's intentions, open to all, and active in the community?  Are our parishes developing authentic and reliable relationships for their parishioners?  Do these parishioners have opportunities to consider their own spiritual growth together, beyond the mandatory hour of worship each week?  Do our parishes invite people to tell stories of growing, contributing, and belonging in the parish?

Recall how effective the early Churched were in causing the unChurched to remark "see how they love one another."  We still hear stories of the sustained impact of RENEW groups that were started in this diocese 30 years ago.  These small church groups encouraged Catholics to encounter Christ, find their joy in Christ, follow Christ and grow by sharing their faith in Christ. 

On Oct. 16 and 17, the national team for Christ Life will help to plant these seeds so that each of us, and our parishes, can grow in Christ. 

For more information contact, call 716-847-8393 or go to


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