Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Building blocks for thriving parishes

By ANDREW W. LICHTENWALNER, Ph.D., Commentary | Published December 12, 2019  | En Español

We were told it was going to be the most important part of the conference.

As we turned to the back of the room, we saw fellow participants rising to their feet and sounding an energetic applause. At first, it was hard to tell what was going on. Then we looked to the screens and saw the myriads of hotel staff processing into the room, from desk clerks to housekeeping staff to chefs to management. The applause lasted for one to two minutes. After all the hotel staff members were thanked, we prayed for them with a Catholic priest leading from the stage and 1,000 other Catholics (lay, religious and clergy, including 14 bishops) joining in with arms and hands extended.

It was a poignant moment—simple and profound. It modeled the excellence so apparent in the conference overall. The coordination of that moment surely took much effort, but it was worth it. How many Catholics were part of the hotel staff? Other Christians? Other religions? No religion? Disaffiliated? We will never know, but all of them knew at that moment that an entire ballroom of Catholics loved and appreciated them and prayed for them and for their families.

This was just a small part of The Amazing Parish conference that staff from the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Office of Formation and Discipleship and Office of Intercultural Ministries experienced in Anaheim, California at the end of October. But it was the part that captured the whole spirit of the conference: striving for excellence in holiness and mission.

Outside of the family, the parish is the most important organization on the planet—a point New York Times Bestseller, leadership consultant and committed Catholic Patrick Lencioni made at the beginning of the conference. If secular businesses strive for excellence in what they do, how much more important is it for parishes and all those working in or for the church to do the same for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and his mission?

Lucia Baez Luzondo, director of the Office of Intercultural Ministries, attended the conference.

“The evangelistic zeal, the practical ways to avoid obstructions to ministerial collaboration at the parish level, and the creation of a culture of encounter that is offered by The Amazing Parish model, moves parish teams toward excellence and fruitfulness in evangelization,” she said.

What Amazing Parish does is provide pastors and their teams with tools to help transform their parish from maintenance mode to a mission-driven culture. It starts with a cohesive leadership team founded on three building blocks: a culture of prayer, a culture of healthy teamwork and a culture of active discipleship.

These cultures are meant to seep into the very marrow of parish life, so that, for example, someone who visits a parish office encounters joyful discipleship (and not, as Lencioni notes, a somber, transactional environment).

Atlanta hosted Amazing Parish in 2017. Thirty-three local parishes attended with others. At that time, Amazing Parish combined principles and best practices, offering solid insights in addition to possible activities and initiatives to implement. Since then, the conference has refined its focus to the basic, core principles at the heart of renewing and strengthening a parish’s culture. Amazing Parish now offers free coaching to help keep teams accountable. Materials are bilingual (English/Spanish), coaching is available in Spanish, and translation aids are available at the conference. Half of the attendees at the Anaheim conference were Hispanic.

At a time when trust, transparency, accountability, co-responsibility and ministry burnout are vivid concerns, Amazing Parish offers a practical response that recognizes and appreciates both pastors and the need for collaboration when it comes to shouldering the responsibilities of parish leadership. As Amazing Parish makes clear, it’s not about the pastor sharing his authority but rather about the pastor sharing his burdens. He knows he has a team standing behind him—that “has his back”—and is also willing and empowered to call him out and challenge him when necessary. Everyone one of us as disciples could benefit from that type of accountability in our lives.

To learn more, go to The next conference is in Kansas City, Oct. 19-21, 2020. The Offices of Formation and Discipleship and Intercultural Ministries are exploring how Amazing Parish can further benefit our archdiocese.