Planning help available to pastors, parishes

Leaven photo by Joe Bollig Steve Ehart, a member of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, is the archdiocesan consultant for mission strategy.
Steve Ehart, a member of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, is the archdiocesan consultant for mission strategy. Leaven photo by Joe Bollig.

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Failure to plan is planning to fail, so the old saying goes.

But failure can even come when planning is done — done poorly, according to Steve Ehart, archdiocesan consultant for mission strategy. He’s a member of Ascension Parish in Overland Park.

Last year, the former archdiocesan communications and planning office was transformed into the present office of mission strategy. Ehart, a veteran of the business world as well as not-for-profit organizations, was named the consultant.

“When you boil it down, I’m here to help parishes and pastoral regions make more effective plans,” he said. “Part of being effective is that they have to be things that people can reasonably do.”

“Many times what happens is people put down all the things they wish they could do in the next 10 years,” he continued, “and then they get frustrated because they can’t really do all those things.”

Too many plans end up collecting dust on a shelf because they become wish lists or aspirational documents for a perfect world.

“The reality is that we can never attain the perfect plan,” said Ehart. “We’ll fall short in resources — whether it’s financial or human resources — or just the time people have to implement and devote to planning.”

“It’s far better,” he continued, “to have a smaller plan that people can actually accomplish rather than to have a plan with 50 things that would be ideal in the perfect parish.”

An example of effective planning is what Ehart is doing for Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Topeka. It began last October.

“We had a large group meeting — the parish finance and parish pastoral council met in joint session,” he said. “We described a planning process to them that they could be a part of, and have ownership in, building the future of their parish.”

Then he had them divide into five different teams based on the pastoral priorities of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann: conversion, evangelization, all forms of Catholic education, social justice and stewardship.

Those groups met and assessed the current situation of the parish, what they learned about those five areas and the key insights that would guide parish planning.

“We’re at the next step, which is building ‘mission, vision and values,’ along with some strategies,” said Ehart. “From there, we’ll take that back to the large group, get their feedback, revise as necessary and arrive at the first draft of their plan.”

At first glance, this may seem a case of “too many cooks,” but it’s important to get the key stakeholders involved in the planning process. It is after all their plan — not Ehart’s. The parishioners must own it.

All parishes are unique, so they may have more steps or fewer steps. There is no “one size fits all.” Each parish has its own unique challenges.

“Every parish has a unique mission,” said Ehart, “therefore, they will also have a unique plan. It’s important for these groups to develop their unique missions and plans, and go with them accordingly.”

The planning process can be difficult but immensely rewarding. It can really bring out the best in people.

“They’re fabulous people,” Ehart said of Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners. “They’re so uniquely talented that I can really see how different we all are in the body of Christ. They’re just fantastic people.”

The Topeka parish isn’t the only one that Ehart is guiding. There are three more. Generally, a parish will contact him and ask for his guidance.

“I’m here to help them organize their thoughts and ideas into the future that they see and want to create for themselves,” he said.

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