Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Why Are You Here? (5C)

Let me ask you respectfully: why are you here?

Why have you gathered in this church this morning?

I recognize there are many different reasons why you decided to come to Mass this Sunday. But I hope that for many the chief reason is the one St. Paul gives in today’s second reading:

  • because the Good News has been proclaimed to you;
  • becuase you accepted it, stand firm in it, and believe you are being saved by it.
Specifically, I hope we are here because we believe that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.

That sentence could be called the Gospel in a nutshell, or if you want to be fancy, it’s a big part of what’s called the kerygma—an ancient Greek word meaning preaching or proclamation, used nowadays to mean the core message of Christian faith.

When many of our parish leaders attended a workshop on Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples, they learned that the people beside them in the pews come in all shapes and sizes. And they learned that just telling folks that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, wasn’t going to do much good.

Intentional disciples—those who have heard the Good News proclaimed and believe they are being saved by it—can be recognized by their desire to share it with others. It’s a simple as that. They’ve heard Jesus say exactly what he said to St. Peter: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

And a week ago Saturday a gathering of parish leaders heard Jesus say what he said to Simon Peter: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.

They heard the voice of the Lord saying, “whom shall I send?” and they’ve responded with the exact words of Isaiah: “Here I am; send me!”

Our parish is preparing to travel in one direction—the direction that St. Paul describes in the second reading: focusing on the heart of the Good News, the core message that sometimes gets lost among all the other good things we talk about and do.

That direction is a pathway to discipleship that uses Alpha as its starting point and carries on with the help of the Discovery faith study—both of them centered on the kerygma, the proclamation of what matters most of all: that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.

But let me return to a couple of things that flow from what I said earlier. The first is that we know that everyone is not at the same place on their journey. This new road on which we’re travelling isn’t intended to be bumpy, and our efforts to help you make progress will be gentle, not pushy.

The second thing is that we want to help every member of the parish share the Good News with others. That doesn’t mean everyone is called to lead a faith study, or to present the kerygma to strangers at Tim Horton’s.

What does it mean, then?

Let’s take a look at a short video clip and see if it helps to answer the question…

The parishioner who brought that clip to me said it made him cry. I thought that it was pretty silly to cry over a commercial for President’s Choice—until it made me cry. Not because I am moved by a grocery store, but because the ad illustrates perfectly the challenge we face at Christ the Redeemer Parish.

Before we can proclaim, before we can share the Gospel, we need to welcome. We need to find a way to make our parish so appealing to outsiders that they shed a tear or two.

That sounds easy, doesn’t it? After all, we have ministers of welcome standing at the door doing it for us.

If you think it’s easy, look at this real-life tweet.

Welcoming outsiders is hard work for insiders. It takes us out of our comfort zone, maybe even out of our usual pew. It demands we chat with the stranger at coffee rather than the good friends we’d rather catch up with.

On top of all of that, becoming an appealing and welcoming parish isn’t only about how the insiders treat the outsiders. It’s also about how the insiders really feel about this community, and whether they connect to it in deep ways. How many of us truly feel we belong here? I’ll tell you the truth: for many years after arriving at CtR I felt like something of an outsider. I can’t even tell you why, but that’s the truth.

We need to know more about what people need from the parish—about what makes them more engaged.  Engaged is a crucial word as we move forward, because the spiritual health of a parish is comprised of two separate but intertwined elements: member spiritual commitment and member engagement.

Traditionally, parishes have measured themselves primarily by their attendance, registration figures and collections. But these are outcomes, not causes, of a parish’s spiritual health; they can be influenced by non-spiritual factors, such as demographics and location.

Personally, I liked to measure our spiritual health by involvement, but even that is not reliable. Parishioner involvement and parishioner engagement are distinctly different things. Involvement is what you do in and for your church. Engagement is how you feel about your parish. Engagement is about emotions and an engaged parishioner will have a deep and strong emotional connection to their parish.

Only engaged parishioners will create a truly inviting culture for our parish. Studies show those who are engaged are more than 3 times more likely to strongly agree that they have invited someone to participate in their congregation in the previous month than those who are not engaged and 10 times more likely to strongly agree than the actively disengaged; 64% compared to 6%.

And there are many other blessings that flow from being an engaged parishioner. Of course an engaged parishioner is almost always further along the path to being an intentional disciple.

But engaged church members are also much more likely to be happy with life.  Among the general population, 43% strongly agree that they are completely satisfied with their lives, while 61% of engaged parishioners strongly agree that they are completely satisfied with their lives.

How do I know all these things?

George Gallup was the American answer to our own Angus Reid. The Gallup Organization, like Angus himself, has a long history of work with faith groups and through extensive research has designed an instrument that measures the spiritual health of parishes.

It’s called the ME25 Member Engagement Survey.

ME25, as the name suggests, measures 25 things: 9 deal with individual spiritual commitment, 12 with parishioner engagement, and 4 with other items.

There’s a saying in business that’s also true in the Church: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. By measuring the engagement of our parishioners, Christ the Redeemer Parish is going to be able to set targets for progress, and leave ‘business as usual’ behind forever.

You’ll hear more about this before we give you the survey to complete on Sunday, March 3. But in the meantime, prepare with joy to put out into the deep water and let down your nets.