How to Overcome Common Challenges and Help Your PARISH Grow

I was recently reading an article, entitled, “How to Overcome Common Challenges and Help Your Small Business Grow,” and I noted so many similarities aspects that resonate with us as a parish.  While the author is discussing ways to grow a small business, some of the principles are applicable and pertinent for every parish to consider as well, of course, provided that parishes actually want to grow!

Clearly, operations, marketing, and strategy are essential to the smooth running of every parish to enhance its spiritual mission.  

Let’s start with the last first – strategy. The author notes that every business owner knows how important it is to stay on top of day-to-day operations, but survey results suggest “short-termism” is a common problem amongst them. The article reports that surveys found that most small business owners (63 percent) plan strategically just a year or less in advance.  I would bet that most parishes operate the same way. The more successful parishes take a step back and look at the big picture in a 3-5 year span. Considerations in that plan must include items like, how are the programs an initiatives advancing our mission; how are we being faithful to our vision, and what are the concrete goals that we have established to accomplish same.  Naturally, this all means that the pastor and a leadership team, composed of staff and others, will need to sit together and strategize in ways that reflect advancing the mission. Otherwise, parishes become emergency rooms, attempting to respond to every need that is presented at the church or rectory doors.

Marketing is a second essential component to growth.  The best parishes all suggest that we remember that we are created for mission, not maintenance.  Even Pope Francis has taught vehemently that we are called as Church to go to the peripheries – and that’s the good news! So often when speaking about the Catholic Church, we hear of its best-kept secrets, usually referring to our many social justice programs.  From the beginning, the Church has been a place where people in need have come to find comfort, healing, education, and safety. Unfortunately, though, these incredible ministries are hidden because, for one reason or another, we don’t shout what we are doing from the mountaintops.  Naturally, I am not suggesting that we market in a boastful or prideful way, but instead, that we show the world who we are and more importantly whose, we are. Remember that old song, “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love … ?” Telling all who’ll listen about our acts of love in Jesus’ name is the marketing plan we need to be engaged in.  And today, Churches should be employing all the venues available in traditional and social media outlets.

Finally, while simultaneously planning, strategizing and marketing, today’s parish must continue to do its work of celebrating sacraments, preaching the Gospel, and attending to all the ordinary items of operating a parish, both spiritual and temporal.  The key to success in proper operations is having the appropriate staff and volunteers. Priests are trained only for a portion of the operations of a parish, and everyone else brings many different and rich gifts. One wise old pastor once told me that in collaborating with staff and volunteers, it is essential not only who is “on the bus” but that each person is sitting in his/her proper seat.  Everyone can’t do everything, but everyone does have a gift that can enhance and advance the mission. And all of the parish operations must advance its mission. Pruning ministries, and inviting folks to serve in different ways can be challenging, but is so essential to the successful operation of any parish.

In the end, parishes are surely not businesses, but there are many things we can learn from them.  Parishes that are continually reacting miss the opportunity to engage in longer-term strategic partnerships or to develop new ministries or services that meet parishioners’ evolving needs.  Summertime gives an excellent opportunity for that reflection for parish leaders to review its strategic plan, marketing initiatives, and overall operations.



Fr Bob