By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published August 20, 2009
The Archdiocesan Planning Committee has concluded a three-year process of examining the needs—existing and future—of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and making a prioritized, strategic plan to position the church appropriately for the next 10 to 15 years. The committee brought its work to a close with the announcement of initiatives and recommendations for various elements of the Catholic Church in North Georgia, thus beginning the implementation phase of the planning process this summer, as promised.
The recommendations were presented to Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at the final meeting of the Planning Committee, which took place June 4 at Our Lady of the Assumption Church. While some initiatives had been approved previously, the archbishop approved the final full set of initiatives in August.
Recorded on video, the announcements are available for viewing on the archdiocesan Web site at www.archatl.com.
Along with those recommendations came the announcement of the formation of an Archdiocesan Planning Council to oversee the implementation of the plan.
Mike Cote led the Planning Committee during the three years and believes that the process yielded some valuable results.
“For the first time we understand the needs of all stakeholders in the archdiocese, the projected demographic changes and have developed a unified plan of where we are going and a process to measure and manage our progress against our goals,” he wrote in response to a set of questions about the large project.
He added, “I believe that most people can see within their parishes the fast growing and large number of Catholics within the archdiocese. However, as we gathered this information and gained a broader perspective of the rapid growth and overall size of the Catholic Church in North Georgia it became clear that the planning process was critical to proactively address the future needs.”
Started in the fall of 2006, the Planning Committee was organized at the request of Archbishop Gregory with the goal of advising him on how best to use the material resources of the archdiocese to handle the booming church he leads. At that time, the archbishop noted that the church in North Georgia is “not the same archdiocese that we were 20 years ago. … We are already a very large, growing, multicultural archdiocese in North Georgia, and we will continue to grow substantially in the next 10 years.”
Organized by Archbishop Gregory, the group’s 18 members included the archbishop, two vicars general, a pastor, a deacon, a Catholic school principal, and lay representatives from rural and urban parishes in the 69-county archdiocese. The group worked with consultants from the North Highland Co., whose services were paid for by several anonymous benefactors.
Beginning with gathering and compiling demographic data, the Planning Committee articulated a vision for the church and then its mission—to bring eternal salvation to the people of North Georgia. They broke the mission down into the six elements: sacramental availability and pastoral counseling; evangelization; faith formation throughout life; fellowship; Catholic education; and social services and charity. They identified a great many factors that define success for the work of the church, including increased vocations, accountability, improved communications, vibrant worship experience, expanded school availability, coordinated religious education, emphasis on evangelization, increased stewardship and expansion of revenue sources.
The June 4 presentation included initiatives in four key areas, organized around the models defined by the Planning Committee: business (Chancery operations), facilities, education and discipleship.
Cote said these represent, in order, the day-to-day operations and communications within the archdiocese and between the archdiocese and its parishes and schools; end-to-end facilities planning, funding and construction process that supports the future facilities needs of the archdiocese; needs assessment, planning and financial and other support for education; and a discipleship-based model capable of supporting future ministry and financial needs of the parishes, schools and the archdiocese.
A New Direction For Communications
Pat Chivers, communications director for the archdiocese, presented a report from the Communications Strategy task force, which met for three months earlier this year. The group considered how best to transform archdiocesan communications to reach a broader range of audiences through print, online and broadcast media, along with a need to identify new ways to fund The Georgia Bulletin and planned multiple media outlets.
Recommendations in this area include evangelization through new media technologies, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and other social communication sites. The group suggested hiring a new media evangelist to maintain a daily presence online, as well as a Web developer to help the archdiocesan Webmaster meet the high volume of online needs generated by archdiocesan departments. A high priority is to create a Web site for teenagers.
The Communications Department was asked to create a monthly e-newsletter for parishioners who subscribe through the archdiocesan Web site. This newsletter is to include news, events, links to Georgia Bulletin articles, and small stories.
The task force also recommended that the newspaper be transitioned from print to online over the next five years, with the frequency of the print publication reduced now from weekly to biweekly.
At the same time the Communications Department was expanded to include The Georgia Bulletin.
Additional funding is key for the other recommendations from this task force, which included public service announcements from Archbishop Gregory for radio and television, broadcasts on Hispanic radio stations, Internet radio, newspapers and television, and translated materials for parishes to distribute in Vietnamese, Portuguese, Korean and other languages. The funding for these new areas has been requested and is in process.
Cost Savings In Purchasing Area
Another part of the business model studied by the Planning Committee was strategic sourcing, presented by Paul Maggard, who chaired the subcommittee convened to study the challenge of securing significant savings in purchasing supplies and services for archdiocesan parishes and schools, with the goal of saving five to 20 percent on all purchases.
The subcommittee suggested maintaining a voluntary approach in this area, suggesting that numerous entities be brought together to obtain price savings volume and purchasing power. A pilot Smart Purchasing Project has been established with five parishes and five schools participating; pending the success of this pilot project, additional schools and parishes will join to gain from additional volume savings and cost reductions.
Ministries Realigned To Serve Needs Of Pastors
Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese, presented the results of the Pastoral Ministries Transition Project, also a part of recommendations related to the business model. Changes in this area were suggested by pastors in a fall 2008 survey and required a restructuring of several ministries within the Chancery.
As a result of the recommendations of this group, the Family Life Office, which promotes, supports and sustains marriage and family life, was moved to the Office of Formation and Discipleship headed by Dennis Johnson Jr. Also moved into this office was the education portion of the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry.
The Pro-Life Ministry and the remaining portion of the Disabilities Ministry were moved as advocacy initiatives to the Communications Department.
The HIV/AIDS Ministry was eliminated as a separate archdiocesan office, with some of the current services moving to Catholic Charities Atlanta.
Cost Control Within Chancery Operations
Brad Wilson, chief financial officer for the archdiocese, presented plans for cost control in the Chancery. Chuck Thibaudeau, archdiocesan director of human resources, and other leaders of the archdiocese joined Wilson in reviewing the challenge of keeping the costs of running the archdiocesan offices flat in the current fiscal year, as costs naturally increase and new resources are needed to fund the initiatives.
During this project, job grades and a pay scale were established, the budget process and review were improved, and technology to prioritize resources and implement recommendations was utilized. The group reviewed priorities and spending requests within the Chancery. In the process new Finance Council members with appropriate expertise were recruited.
Recommendations in the area of cost control included the elimination of positions within the Finance Department and the monitoring of costs due to new initiatives.
Transformation Of Facilities, Construction Planning
The Facilities Planning and Construction Advisory Board was established to study the processes for facilities planning and construction for the entities of the archdiocese, to improve performance and enable the long-term projected growth of the archdiocese. The chairperson of this board, Valerie Landau, along with George Barrie, head of Catholic Construction Services, presented the group’s progress, including the formation of the board itself with lay experts and pastors, and the identification of five committees within the board: executive, policy and legal, finance, process improvement and customer advocacy.
The group has drafted by-laws, which are in the process of being finalized and approved, and they are working on a new job description for a master planner for the archdiocese.
“Planning for growth is integral,” said Landau, indicating a need for consistency, flexibility, and a streamlined process.
Barrie pledged his support for the efforts of the group and noted that the role of facilities can be divided into three categories: design and construction, property acquisition, and litigation management, or “avoidance,” he said.
The group plans to provide a formula for parishes and schools to use that will help them predict whether a project is viable.
Catholic Schools Benefit From In-Depth Study
The education subcommittee, the largest committee within the planning project, was asked to address the affordability and availability of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. As part of the education review, Archbishop Gregory retained the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Education of The Catholic University of America to assess the needs of the schools, develop a comprehensive plan on how to use archdiocesan resources to meet those needs, and to identify future locations for new schools and opportunities to expand existing ones.
Diane Starkovich, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, presented an overview of the extensive work of this subcommittee. Among the more than 30 recommendations from this group are: establishing an endowment for tuition assistance, maintaining the school assessment tax at 12 percent, identifying possible new school locations, and increasing efforts to market Catholic schools to students from minority populations.
As a result of the recommendations, a number of steps have already been made, including a marketing and public relations plan, a common religious education curriculum for schools and parish schools of religion, and a common catechist certification for school-based and parish-based catechists. All Catholic schools are being monitored for academic excellence and Catholic identity.
The full strategic plan is a public document and is posted on the archdiocesan Web site at www.archatl.com/education/ocs/.
G.R.A.C.E. Scholarship Program Gets Boost
Karen Vogtner, principal of St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville, and chair of the G.R.A.C.E. (Georgia Residents Assisting Children’s Education) Scholars marketing committee, presented a clear plan for increasing donations to the G.R.A.C.E. scholarship program by focusing on various target groups within the archdiocese.
Through the G.R.A.C.E. Scholars program taxpayers can set up and use a 100 percent, dollar-for-dollar tax credit to “redirect” their state tax payments to scholarships for students to Catholic schools.
The group’s goal is to ask all Catholics in the archdiocese to participate in this program, which requires a small amount of paperwork and a donation that is later fully refunded through the tax system.
Recommendations announced by this group included plans to develop and implement the marketing plan with a priority on parishes and corporations, adopting key donor provisions such as the ability to designate schools and multi-year scholarships, retain an experienced, professional development person to drive the G.R.A.C.E. campaign, and provide samples of completed forms and personal assistance to help potential givers.
More information about G.R.A.C.E. can be found at www.gracescholars.org.
An Initiative For Discipleship
Dennis Johnson Jr., director of the Office of Formation and Discipleship, and Steve Siler, director of the archdiocesan Stewardship Office, discussed the recommendations made for the discipleship model. The team working in this area was asked to make a plan to foster renewal of Catholic life in the archdiocese, specifically “growing mature disciples, growing vibrant communities of faith, and refining the understanding and practice of stewardship among believers.”
The group found that the meaning of stewardship is often misunderstood, and the quality of parish life—not its size—often has a direct impact on the level of discipleship and stewardship in a parish.
According to the committee’s findings, the concept of stewardship can vary greatly across cultures and countries. There is no single approach to discipleship, and stewardship and discipleship are intricately tied together.
Recommendations from the group included the priority to increase the level of mature discipleship in the archdiocese, to establish “model parishes,” to expand discipleship training for seminarians, clergy and lay leaders, to recognize and address multicultural opportunities and challenges.
A discipleship directorate has been established, which is working on an integrated approach to discipleship and stewardship; collaborative, organic processes; and the networking of parishes and the Chancery.
Siler noted, “We’re but merely the spark and occasionally the bellows … the parishes being the fuel.”
Eight model parishes have begun, with two more in preparation, and the committee will support the pilot parishes in their evaluation, planning, and implementation efforts. An ongoing parish-based renewal process is planned, and communication tools will be developed to share the “best practices” for successful stewardship and discipleship.
Changing For Future Needs
Cote, the person who led the overall efforts of the Planning Committee for the past three years and who will serve on the ongoing Planning Council, believes that the work of the committee will affect all parishioners over time.
He wrote, “The discipleship initiative will help parishioners in their faith formation.” He also said the initiatives may lead to more effective ministries and provide more availability of the sacraments and pastoral counseling.
The initiatives in all areas presented should improve communications throughout the archdiocese, result in a “more efficient, transparent and helpful large capital project process,” encourage the possibility of new schools, and bring “more efficient and timely services from the Chancery.”
In response to a question about the multicultural and multilingual nature of the archdiocese, he wrote that the committee “concluded that, in each area of the archdiocese, we need to make sure we take into consideration the multilingual needs throughout the archdiocese. Every group needs to consider the differing cultures as we design and execute our programs.”
Archbishop Gregory stated at the meeting that he found the recommendations to be well thought out and based on research. He believes they will “keep us going for the next 10 to 15 years.”
The archdiocesan Web site will continue to be updated with the findings and recommendations of the various committees at www.archatl.com/offices/plancomm. Those wishing to ask questions or make comments should communicate by e-mail to PlanningStudy@archatl.com.
Model Discipleship Parishes
Implementing the model discipleship parish program are:
St. Jude the Apostle Church, Sandy Springs
Pastor: Msgr. James Fennessy
St. Matthew Church, Tyrone
Pastor: Father Vic Galier
St. Andrew Church, Roswell
Pastor: Msgr. Hugh Marren
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta
Pastor: Msgr. Henry Gracz
St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville
Pastor: LaSalette Father Jim Henault
Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta
Pastor: Father Frank McNamee
St. Ann Church, Marietta
Pastor: LaSalette Father Tom Reilly
St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta
Pastor: Father Greg Goolsby
Preparing to implement the program are Christ Our King and Savior Church, Greensboro, with pastor Father Philip Ryan, and St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan, with pastor Father Dan Fleming.