A pastor who wants to double number of parishioners

One of the Catholic blogs I try to read faithfully is that of Msgr. Charles Pope, a middle-aged white pastor of a vibrant African-American parish in Washington, D.C., that is published on the archdiocesan website. 

Despite being prolific, he always seems to have something interesting or challenging to say. 

An example is his recent post announcing that his parish has begun an ambitious drive to double the number of parishioners over the next year. 

They’ve been doing door-to-door evangelization, he says, visiting more than 1,500 homes and bringing in some 50 new Sunday Massgoers. 

But this new effort will be different: 

“Friendship and family are a more fruitful vein than the ‘cold-contact’ approach of door to door. We’re going to keep doing that because we need to obey Christ who sends us out two by two. But every congregant knows at least five members from among their family or friends who need to come to God’s house either because they have drifted, or because they have never had a Church home at all. It’s time to go to work and shepherd them back.” 

And he says this is not going to be just a one-off, “Hey, why don’t you come to Christmas Mass with me” effort. 

This is serious stuff. Each parishioner will be asked to commit before God to trying to shepherd one soul to the Church. They’ll ask God’s help in prayer to know who that person is. On the feast of Christ the King, they’ll “commit to shepherd the soul to the Lord by spending the next year praying, some fasting and abstaining too, befriending, drawing closer and meeting with that person.” The parish will be offering formation classes in how best to tell one’s personal testimony and engage in “friendship evangelization.”  

Lest there be any misunderstanding, Msgr. Pope makes clear that “simply increasing numbers is not the only, or even most important goal. But rather, that we should authentically evangelize and draw souls to Christ, to his Sacraments, his Word and the fellowship of the Church. 

“At the heart of evangelization is relationship: meeting Christ in others, allowing them to meet him in us. This is what Christ did, he went out and met others and summoned them to the kingdom by stages and through relationships. He tells us to do them: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Mt 28:19). 

“Am I crazy? Perhaps, but at least call me a fool for Christ. I am going to aim high, that we double our Sunday numbers. Not just for the number’s sake, but for what they represent, souls coming back to God’s house, to be nourished at the altar of the Word and Eucharist, to be more deeply immersed in Christ.” 

Would this work in your parish? Write feedback@osv.com.