Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Diverse Growth Will Have Significant Impact On Future Of Atlanta Archdiocese, Study Suggests

Published May 17, 2007

In the next 10 years the growth of the Catholic population in North Georgia is expected to increase by 30 to 40 percent, continuing a strong pattern of growth in the region. This increase is just one of the findings announced today by the Archdiocesan Planning Committee, which recently completed a demographic study as part of the group’s planning efforts for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

The group’s analysis also noted the significant growth of the Catholic population in the past decade, as the percentage of growth in the number of Catholics doubled the percentage of growth in the general population.

“In the past 10 years, the number of Catholics in North Georgia has grown by 60 percent while the overall population in North Georgia has grown 32 percent,” said Mike Cote, chairman of the planning committee. “We are expecting the number of Catholics in the archdiocese to increase by another 30 to 40 percent in the next 10 years.”

The planning committee analysis also noted that 80 percent of the total population of North Georgia and more than 90 percent of the Catholics in the archdiocese live in the 20 counties of the Atlanta (Metro) Planning Region. One interesting estimate is the prediction that one in 10 Georgians will live in Gwinnett County by the year 2015.

“We are not the same archdiocese that we were 20 years ago,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory recently told the members of the planning committee. He clarified, “We are the same Catholic Church—but we are already a very large, growing, multicultural archdiocese in North Georgia, and we will continue to grow substantially in the next 10 years.”

The archbishop’s theme of “diverse growth” in the coming years is supported by the initial findings, released today by the planning committee, which was formed in September 2006 to study the needs, issues and growth of the Catholic Church in North Georgia.

The general population of North Georgia is also likely to become more ethnically and culturally diverse in coming years, as net migration to Georgia continues from other states and other countries.

“These changes can already be seen in parishes such as St. Pius X in Conyers (with new African immigrants) and St. Michael in Gainesville (with growth in the Hispanic segment),” said Msgr. Luis Zarama, one of two vicars general serving the archdiocese, “and in the growth of parishes in desirable recreational locations such as Blairsville and Greensboro.”

Two key changes in the ethnic mix of the North Georgia population were noted in the study. The percentage of the total population in the white, non-Hispanic segment is projected to decrease by 2015, even with an absolute increase of 800,000 people in this segment in the next 10 years. The total population for the Hispanic (any race) segment is expected to nearly double in the same time period. Additionally, the population of North Georgia is expected to become both older and younger by 2015, since the study showed that the fastest growing age groups will be people 65 and older and those 14 and younger.

Msgr. Joe Corbett, who also serves the Atlanta archdiocese as vicar general, indicated that “these changes provide tremendous insights into opportunities for us to serve more of the population of North Georgia. However, this level of growth will also create challenges regarding how to meet the increase in demand—for sacramental services, Catholic education and basic social services.”

Msgr. Corbett stated that these demographic changes are expected to have a significant impact on the Archdiocese of Atlanta. In order to maintain the same level of service available to today’s Catholic population, the archdiocese will need many more parishes and priests as well as additional Catholic schools in the next 10 years.

“Finding ways to meet the future needs of the archdiocese requires a thoughtful, inclusive and wide-ranging process—and that is exactly what the planning committee is committed to doing,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We will do what is best for the future of this archdiocese, but doing the right thing takes thorough analysis and thoughtful consideration.”

He added that the planning committee’s charter is for three years—“and we are just in our first year.”

The Archdiocesan Planning Committee is comprised of 16 members including the archbishop, vicars general, a Catholic school principal, a deacon, a pastor, and various other members of the laity who have served within their parish communities. The group has been working with a consulting firm, The North Highland Company, to identify the major needs and issues that confront the church today. Those who are serving on the committee meet monthly 10 times a year and have made a three-year commitment.

In addition to the demographic analysis, the planning committee has obtained input from a number of other sources. Cote explained, “We have data from interviews with nearly all pastors, Catholic school principals and archdiocesan department and ministry heads, as well as the results of prior archdiocesan and independent studies.”

All of these sources will form the basis for the group’s re-examining the vision and mission of the archdiocese.

“Any organization’s vision should represent an inspiring and ambitious description of its future,” said Msgr. Zarama.

The planning committee is currently identifying the key elements to use in developing a comprehensive vision statement for the archdiocese in the coming months. These elements, said Msgr. Zarama, will reflect “what we want to honor, such as our Catholic traditions, being open and inclusive,” as well as “our commitment to Catholic education and where we want to be in the future, ensuring healthy, thriving parishes, increased vocations and committed evangelization.”

Cote commented, “These vision elements will provide structure for our future decision-making process and prioritization of mission elements and guidance for our archdiocesan mission statement. We will focus our resources on activities that move us along the road toward our vision.”

“While the overall mission of the archdiocese remains the same—to bring eternal salvation to the people of North Georgia,” said Msgr. Corbett, “we need to express this mission in ways that help each of us to see more clearly what we can do to achieve this goal.”

To this end, the planning committee has identified six elements that will become the focus of the final mission statement for the archdiocese. These elements, which will help define the archdiocese’s future priorities, are sacramental availability and pastoral counseling, faith formation, education, social services and charity, evangelization, and fellowship.

These elements reflect the concerns of the church for Catholics in North Georgia during this period of growth and expansion. The Catholic Church will work to ensure the timely availability of celebrations of the Mass and access to the sacraments and pastoral counseling and to provide faith formation throughout life, expanding the availability of resources and programs to encourage, nurture and support the ongoing spiritual growth and well-being of all parishioners.

Catholic schools are another important part of the mission, with the goal of increasing the availability of affordable Catholic elementary and secondary schools to the greatest extent possible to Catholic families in a wide range of economic segments within the archdiocese.

The mission includes providing social services and charity and encouraging Catholics to actively “live” their faith by sharing time, talent and treasure with the poor and marginalized and working to improve social justice in their homes and communities. Through evangelization, the church’s mission is to energize the Catholic population to understand and embrace its role in spreading the Catholic faith to all people within North Georgia.

And in fellowship, the archdiocese will support efforts by all parishes and missions to provide a welcoming, positive community for all parishioners, while being open to all visitors.

According to Cote, “during June,” the planning committee’s focus will be on launching market research of the laity to “provide opportunities to our parish and mission congregations for direct input to the planning committee relating to their needs and the overall goals for the archdiocese.” The committee will also develop an implementation plan to prioritize their work for the next two years.

In the fall, a series of three meetings will be held to share the planning committee’s recommendations with a wider audience, which will include pastors, parishioners and staff.

Throughout the next fiscal year 2007-2008, the planning committee will use the implementation plan to continue its work through a number of subcommittees, which will be formed to further define the key mission elements and the archdiocesan operational, educational and facilities models. Additionally, final vision and mission statements are expected to be completed, and initial steps will be taken to implement the archdiocesan strategic plan in parishes, missions, Catholic schools and archdiocesan offices.

For questions about the Archdiocesan Planning Committee, contact Lori Clarke, executive director of development and stewardship, at (404) 885-7226 or