An Encouraging Word – Growing the church: Part I

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

There are many parts, yet one body. I Corinthians 12:20

One of the biggest downsides of the priest shortage is the fact that the scope of a priest’s ministry is narrowing down to those who show up at church on Sunday.

Those people, however, are only a portion of those he is called to serve. I once heard a priest respond about “growing the church” with “I’ve got enough to do without going out and looking for more work.”

The Code of Canon Law #528 says: “The pastor is obliged to see to it that the word of God in its entirety is announced to those living in the parish, and with the aid of the Christian faithful, to bring the Gospel message also to those who have ceased practicing their religion or who do not profess the true faith.”

Priests are called to be spiritual leaders of (1) the Christian faithful who make up the backbone of every Catholic parish. This was the focus of my ministry at Holy Name of Mary Church outside Lebanon, Ky. Most people in the area were Catholic and most of them were regular church attendees.

Priests also are called to be spiritual leaders of (2) those who have ceased practicing their Catholic faith. Not all these people are alike or are inactive for the same reasons.

These people were the focus of my ministry at the Cathedral of the Assumption early on. They seemed to fall into four categories: the mad, the sad, the ignored and the bored.

The “mad” Catholics were those who had been hurt by insensitive church personnel. The “sad” Catholics were those who wanted to be part of the church but felt they were excluded because of situations such as divorce and remarriage or sexual orientation.

The “ignored” Catholics were those coming from other cultures who felt invisible and their cultural practices ignored. The biggest group of all were the “bored” Catholics — those who simply cannot connect with anything the church says or does.

Priests also are called to be spiritual leaders to (3) “other believers.” With more than 50 percent of Catholics now in “mixed marriages,” it is the duty of priests to give some focused attention to the needs of spouses of Catholics who are not Catholic.

Finally, priests are called to be spiritual leaders to those who belong to “no religion in particular.” This was the core of my ministry in the home missions, where 50 percent of the people were unchurched.

Priests, if they are to pastor all this diversity, must realize that different approaches and strategies will be required. As St. Gregory Nazianzus said: “One and the same exhortation does not suit all” and “according to the quality of the hearers ought the discourse of teachers to be fashioned.” One size does not fit all.

How can a priest do all this? The secret is in the words of Canon 528: “with the help of lay people.” This will be the subject of next week’s column.

To read more from Father Knott, visit his blog: FatherKnott.com.

The Record
Written By
The Record
More from The Record
Salute to THE GAME event raises $550,000
The 15th annual Salute to THE GAME luncheon hosted by the Catholic...
Read More
One reply on “An Encouraging Word – Growing the church: Part I”
  1. says: Charla Perez

    I totally agree Fr. Ron! We keep hearing our church numbers are dropping yet our priest never seem to have time to handle everything. The church staff keeps growing to handle the other responsibilities but yet the numbers keep dropping. We have a priest shortage but what else has changed? Too much extra “stuff” that has been introduced as programs? When did we get away from keeping things simple? In addition, any time I try to introduce an idea where a lay person could help out more I only resistance from the priest.

    Have become like a government entity or major corporation that is too big, mismanaged and money being spent on unnecessary things?

Comments are closed.