Column: Parish structure perfect for Jesus’ style of outreach

Father Andrew Strobl is the archdiocesan director of evangelization.
Father Andrew Strobl is the archdiocesan director of evangelization.

by Father Andrew Strobl

“What’s your parish?” I love to ask that question. When I meet someone new that is Catholic, it’s one of the first things I ask. There’s something about being able to tie someone to a particular community that I relish.

For better or worse, we are affected greatly by the company we keep and no one lives in a vacuum. Each parish is so unique in history and personality. A parish really is like a family — with all the joys, trials, triumphs and dysfunctions. Like a family, each parish adapts to the unique environment in which it is planted. There are no cookie-cutter parishes. However, each parish has the same mission: to be a center of missionary outreach, centered on the Eucharist, at service to the poor.

Pope Francis claimed in “Evangelii Gaudium” that “the parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.”

He then noted: “In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (28).

In an effort to help our parishes in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas better review and renew their missionary efforts, the office of evangelization has developed a tool we call “Crowds to Three.”

This tool attempts to help parishes view their missionary outreach through the template of Our Lord’s own approach. Jesus did outreach with four distinct groups: the crowds, the 72 disciples, the Twelve Apostles and his three closest collaborators: Peter, James, and John. While he spent time with all four groups, Jesus invested the most time and formation in the few rather than the many.

For a parish, there is a clear analogy. The “crowds” are everyone who lives in a parish’s boundaries — Catholic or not.

The “72” are the committed members of the parish already in the pews. The “Twelve” are the groups that exist in the parish that are intentionally formed to make disciples. The “three” are just that: three individuals that are being more intentionally formed to be fruitful disciple-makers.

Outreach to each group takes on a particular form. When discerning missionary outreach opportunities, a pastor and his team have the opportunity to consider what Our Lord’s approach looks like in their unique parish.

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