Archdiocese Impacted By Year 2 Of Strategic Planning: Working Groups Advise Archbishop In Four Key Areas
By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published October 16, 2008
During the past year more than 50 women and men have been wrestling with the future of the Catholic Church in North Georgia.
Through meetings, interviews and research, groups of lay people, pastors and archdiocesan officials have wrapped their arms around a church in flux, trying to look at the present condition with objective eyes and plan ahead.
From September 2007 through June 2008, the Archdiocesan Planning Committee—and its four subcommittees—completed Phase II of its work.
Mike Cote, the committee’s chairman, said the task in its second year showed him how the church is different from a corporation, but that it can still adopt business practices to set priorities and achieve them.
The strategic planning effort requested by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory got underway in the fall of 2006 as a top-to-bottom review of the church’s administrative services. The growing number of Catholics spurred church leaders to review archdiocesan operations, its manpower, facilities and financial resources. Approximately 650,000 Catholics live in the archdiocese.
With a tough evaluation, committee members found the church’s operations in need of improvement. The findings included an observation that something as fundamental as how the finances of the archdiocese work is “not clearly understood by pastors and parishioners”; that different offices of the archdiocese didn’t work toward common goals; and that there is no expansion plan to guide the growing archdiocese.
The first planning stage focused on collecting information from interviews with archdiocesan administrative staff, priests and parish leaders, focus groups and surveys.
And much of the past 12 months was spent integrating the findings into a strategic framework, said Cote, 47, a businessman and parishioner of St. Jude Church, Atlanta.
Volunteers in the recently completed second yearlong effort broke the church’s operations into four major topics—business model, facilities, discipleship and Catholic education. They studied how the central office currently operates and how it assists the 100 parishes and missions of the archdiocese and Catholics across the region. They also looked at the process of building new facilities, at the programs used to inspire parishioners to make a deeper spiritual bond with the church, and at the challenges facing the Catholic school system.
The next several months will focus on rolling out initiatives from these project areas.
“The church in Atlanta is one of the few in the United States that is growing as quickly as we are with most of the growth with the young and elderly,” said Cote.
“We are in a great position here in Atlanta. We have a growing, giving, thriving community. Catholics are excited about the progress the archbishop is making and his leadership. The work in Phase III—the implementation phase—will not be easy, but the results will improve many aspects of how we operate and position us well for the future.”
Monica Oppermann, the leader of the discipleship subcommittee, said the people of the archdiocese make it vibrant, but along with that comes challenges.
What is being called discipleship encourages Catholics to support the future of parishes, schools and the archdiocese. And after months of review, the committee reported the mantra of “time, talent and treasure” is out of date and “is not resonating with people today.”
A goal for 2009 is to develop at least 10 parishes across the archdiocese as showcase communities. They would serve as examples of what other parishes could become with an all-encompassing form of discipleship and stewardship, said Oppermann, 49, a former member of the Mexican diplomatic service and an author. She is a member of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta.
She said the committee’s goal is to develop a three-legged frame for discipleship. There would be a high priority given to adult religion classes. A second goal would be to increase the number of active parishioners. Thirdly, parishes would develop additional ways of supporting themselves with planned giving and building endowments, along with the weekly collection basket.
Every parish has different demographics, finances, cultural diversity, Oppermann said, so each would put its own mark on the program. And the subcommittee members believe the task is to motivate parishioners from different cultures to connect with each other to form a richer faith community, she said.
And as part of the discipleship plan, pastors and seminarians would get additional training to deepen their understanding of what it means so they could share it with parishioners, she said.
“Since pastors are integral to promoting successful discipleship and stewardship in the archdiocese, they must have the support and training needed to carry out this role as well as a clear definition of what is expected of them in this critical area,” she said.
Chris Reynolds, who chaired the education subcommittee, said that they met 16 times from September 2007 to June 2008, looking at how archdiocesan Catholic schools operate today and what could be implemented to improve upon them in the future.
The overall objective of the subcommittee is “to create a model for expanding the availability of high quality Catholic schools that are affordable to a wide range of economic segments,” said Reynolds, 45, whose two daughters studied at Our Lady of the Assumption School and St. Pius X High School.
In addition to reviewing interviews and market research on schools from Phase I, the subcommittee studied archdiocesan financial data, including school budgets, construction costs, endowment funds, outstanding bond commitments and tuition assistance programs. They also reviewed tuition and cost data for the largest 100 private schools in metro Atlanta, and interviewed school superintendents from other dioceses with successful programs.
Distilling the year’s work into a number of key findings, they made formal recommendations to the archbishop and the full planning committee. The recommendations included creating a master plan for the development of new schools and expanding existing schools in the archdiocese. They recommended as a preferred model that of building a parish school and constricting initial construction to grades K-2 or K-3, adding grades as the first class progresses. This method of expanding the school grade by grade rather than supporting the cost structure immediately of a K-8 school they believe gives new schools the greatest possible chance of long-term success.
The subcommittee also recommended the creation of Web-based tools to help parishes determine early in the process what cost structures to anticipate with various school construction projects.
They also recommended ways to increase tuition assistance, including utilizing a Georgia measure passed in 2008 that allows for the creation of student scholarship organizations that can lead to tax credits on a person’s Georgia state income tax. They also provided ideas to help schools control costs while ramping up to full capacity, and they recommended publicizing statements by popes and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the need for all Catholics to support Catholic schools as a primary way the faith is passed on to the next generation.
Reynolds said the recommendations require time and hard work to accomplish their goals.
“Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets to help fix the mistakes of the past or to address the challenges upon us,” he said. “While we have identified many ways to improve what we are doing and how it’s done, nothing will happen overnight. Positive change will require hard work by many with the hope of providing the benefits for all.”
The next step is to develop the master plan for school expansion and new school development in the archdiocese. Consultants from Catholic University of America are part way through the process of surveying parishes in an effort to determine where potential new schools can be located.
“The passion for excellence in our schools is pervasive throughout the archdiocese. Our faculty, staff, administrators, parents, parishioners, religious all want to produce the best schools possible and make them available to every student who desires a Catholic education,” the chairman said.
The subcommittee, made up of all volunteers, has invested countless hours studying how to bring quality Catholic education to all who desire it, he said.
“Every suggestion, recommendation and action has had that in mind,” Reynolds said. “If we are successful it will mean that current and future generations of Catholics will have access to some of the best educational institutions available.”
On the business model topic, the subcommittee looked into how the offices of the archdiocese work with parishes and schools.
The review found a gap in the archdiocesan offices’ understanding the issues of parishes; no measure of the effectiveness of archdiocesan programs; and that multicultural offices do not have a unified approach to reaching the communities.
Bill Hughey, chairman of the business model subcommittee, said during the past year they interviewed representatives of four other dioceses around the country to glean insights about how they faced similar challenges. Among topics addressed was the need to respond to the wide range of cultures in the Catholic population of North Georgia and how that impacts organizational structure and parish life. Seeking ways to help priests respond to rapid changes in the size and diversity of their parishes was another concern.
They also listened to presentations from departments to the Council of Priests.
Overall, the subcommittee seeks to bring tools from the business sector—and a customer-sensitive and data-driven mindset—into the organizational life of the archdiocese. This includes a review of what is currently being done at the archdiocesan level and asking probing questions about whether what is being done meets the needs of the church in the 21st century. It also includes establishing a method of regularly evaluating the services of the archdiocese by those who are being served—the priests and the parishes of the archdiocese.
Right now the priests are responding to the first online survey that gives them an opportunity to say how and to what extent archdiocesan programs and agencies assist them in their parishes. (See story below.)
The facilities model group found a lack of information-sharing about construction and renovation projects.
Valerie Landau, chair of the facilities subcommittee and a parishioner at Christ Our King and Savior Church, Greensboro, said pastors and parish finance and pastoral councils at the end of the planning effort should be able to learn from the construction experiences of other parishes. One goal is to establish an online library that will detail seven types of big-ticket improvement projects to be reviewed by parishes starting similar work, she said. It’ll include step-by-step processes utilized in other parishes and also review policies that governed the project. The goal is to have it online by December.
For more information visit www.archatl.com/offices/plancomm/.