How to Change the Culture of Your Parish

If a stranger walked into your parish on a Sunday, what would they see? Would they see a crowd of people engaged in the worship of an all-powerful, all-merciful God who is the center of their lives? Or would they see a group of people who can’t wait to get out of there and get on with their real lives?

Unfortunately, our parishes too often resemble the latter. Tim Glemkowski saw that a key part of evangelization involves forming disciples in our own parishes, and he founded L’Alto Catholic Institute to help parishes answer that call. He stopped by Morning Air® recently to share why cultural change in our parishes is necessary, and what that process actually looks like.

“I think it’s always a challenge. I mean, we’re living in an increasingly secular culture, which to me, in some ways, is exciting,” Glemkowski said. “We’re being called to this new missionary journey as a Church. And the only way forward is for every single Catholic to pick up that call to first be a disciple. … That is the answer, I think, to our cultural ills.”

But when many of us look around our parishes, we see that there are only a handful of people engaged in parish life. How can cultural change happen when you only have a small percentage of parishioners to work with? Glemkowski said that small numbers are no reason to be discouraged.

“The interesting thing is that 1% is not a bad place to start,” he said. “You can kind of then move from that 1% down the different tiers of parish life – the weekly Mass goers, the semi-engaged, etc. It’s never bad to start with a small group.”

After working with many parishes through L’Alto Catholic Institute, Glemkowski shared with Morning Air host John Harper his experience of when parishes have that “Aha” moment.

“There is a really huge cultural shift that happens in parishes and leadership when they realize how much of what we do as parishes is stuck in maintenance mode,” he said. “We’re kind of in neutral, and year after year you churn things out, just ‘being church.’ And we really start to look at the reality of what it means for a parish to exist to form disciples of all its members, and then to move outside the walls eventually.”

“So we help people connect with the idea that culture change really happens when 3% of any given parish in the United States are really disciples, really following Jesus Christ in that way. What culture change is, I think, is when that number begins to double, and then triple, and continue to grow over time. And that’s slow work.”

While cultural change in our parishes is a necessary and exciting prospect, it’s not a quick fix. Glemkowski stressed that forming disciples is not something that happens overnight, but is a journey that parishes need to accompany their parishioners on.

“Really, what we’re trying to get parishes to do is emphasize people over programs,” he said. “Really walk people through this clear path of becoming a disciple, and accompany them along that journey. And because of the nature of the human heart, and what it takes to open up your life to Christ, that inherently takes time.”

“Our process is simple,” he continued. “I sometimes see parishes taking off in a direction toward renewal, and what I think happens sometimes is we just immediately begin to multiply programs. It’s like we’re just going to do a million different things, and we end up burning out our staff and all of our key leadership. What we’re really trying to do with our process is help the parish identify and then build, craft, and prioritize a clear path to discipleship in the parish.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

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