Developing And Making Use of A Parish Profile
By Fr. Steven J. Belonick
Strive to excel in building up the Church.” (I Cor. 14:12b) With these words, St. Paul underlined two profound thoughts. First, the Church is a living body; second, its members have a direct responsibility for its up-building, growth and development.
The task of up-building the Church has many facets. There are different types of growth: growth in the spirit, growth in numbers of parishioners, growth in developing the “Church complex”, as examples. There is one type of growth, however, that this article will concentrate on. It is the growth in interpersonal relationships between parishioners; the growth in mutual sharing; the growth in knowing one another and working with one another for a common cause and purpose. St. Paul put it this way: “For as in one body we have many members, and all members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:4-5)
Many large parishes, quite unintentionally, breed a divisiveness in parish life. There are the “doers” and there are the “watchers”. Usually the “doers” are a small minority; the majority of people prefer to watch. There may be several reasons why so many prefer to watch on the sidelines of parish life. Some reasons may be sinful, others not. I think, however, that many are “watchers” because they have not found where they fit; they have not discovered their niche, nor how their talents could be utilized to build up the Church community.
FINDING THE TALENTS IN YOUR PARISH
Before anyone can tap these dormant talents and resources, he needs to know what those talents are and who possesses them. I am suggesting a way to identify these talents and the parishioners who have them. It is a project I developed at the parish where I am assigned as pastor.
With the help of a few recruits, a simple “Parish Profile” can be developed for any parish. A sample profile is provided as an appendix to this article. The profile consists of two parts. The first includes basic questions (i.e. name, address, employment, significant dates, names and ages of children, hobbies and interests and civic activities.) The second part of the profile asks questions about the specific talents and interests that parishioners may have which relate specifically to parish needs (ministries). The types of ministries and needs may differ from parish to parish, but for the sake of example, I have included some basic ones in the appendix. The appendix also contains a pamphlet prepared for the parish explaining the term, “ministry”.
PREPARING TO SEND THE PROFILE
Before the parish profile is sent out, the priest should prepare the people, telling them what to expect, what the value of such a profile will be to the parish, making mention of it on several Sundays in church. I also spoke with the parish council about it, both as a group and individually so that I was assured of their support.
An explanatory letter then went out to parishioners about 10 days before the profile. (Such a letter and a cover letter accompanying the profile are also in the Appendix as samples.)
Once the profile is returned, the information needs to be compiled and organized. A computer can be an indispensable tool for the easy access and manageability of this information. Parishioners with similar interests and talents are invited to participate in a specific ministry where their talents can be used. These people can begin to plan programs which meet the needs of the parish.
In an effort to encourage parish council members to be responsive to the various ministries that are set up, assign them as Chairpersons of these ministries. They may have talents themselves in their particular ministry, or they may not. What is important is that they become the responsible liaison between the ministry and the parish council.
There are a few pitfalls which can arise that should be recognized. The first is thinking that everyone in the parish will respond to the profile. This will not be the case, but it is no reason not to go ahead with the program. Our return of a little better than 50% was very good, as surveys go.
Not everyone who indicates an interest in an area will want to come to a meeting or serve as a part of an organized ministry. Yet, many of these people would be willing to be called on and donate their talent when a specific need arises.
Some people have many interests and talents and will indicate all of them. Care should be taken that they are not called upon for every ministry or they will become overloaded. They should be asked to indicate which one or two areas they would prefer to work on at that time, or ask them to join a ministry of their interest where there has been little response from others.
Yet another pitfall is initiating too many ministries too fast, or all at once. New ideas need to be explained and implemented gradually. One suggestion I offer is to develop one, or at most, two new ministries within a given year. This enables the pastor, the parish council and the ministry chairperson the opportunity to develop and nurture the ministry so that its work can be built on a solid foundation.
There are many advantages to tapping the resources and talents of your parish. Five are outlined here.
- It will provide a broader base of work responsibility.
- It will allow parishioners who have remained on the sidelines of parish life an opportunity to find a place for themselves where they will feel useful and needed.
- It will provide an opportunity where mutual relationships between parishioners can grow. New friendships may develop.
- The parish, on a whole, will benefit from the work of the ministries since needs of the parish will be met.
- Parish council members are given an opportunity to initiate programs for the upbuilding of the Church instead of simply reacting to parish difficulties and complaints.
The task for every pastor and Church council should be to involve as many parishioners as possible in the Church’s work. Every person has a place. Every person has a part to play. Every person has a God-given talent which can be used and needs to be used for the upbuilding of the Church. The result may mean a stronger, more vibrant, more loving community which has Christ’s work and ministry at the center of its life.
Then we will be on the road to understanding exactly what St. Paul meant when he said that we are to be “members one of another.”