November 2017: Learnings from the Reorganization of Parishes

In this Issue

Opening Remarks

In this edition of Transforming Challenges, Senior Consultants John Reid and Maureen Gallagher offer  insights regarding reorganizing of parishes to be sustainable for the future in their article, “Learnings from the Reorganization of Parishes”

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The Reid Group News

  • Maureen Gallagher and John Reid presented their findings in early November in Albany, NY from the organizational audit they conducted over 18 months with the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.  The major findings were approved by the Leadership Assembly following the presentation.
  • John Reid completed his work with Seattle University’s School of Theology & Ministry.  They marked 50 years of graduate theological education and 20 years of the School with a celebration on November 13th.
  • Maureen Gallagher has been hired once again by the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross in Merrill, WI for the next 8 months to help prepare for their Chapter in Spring 2018.      
  • Tom Reid is working with the Education Across Borders Program in Seattle, WA to help with their fund raising initiatives.
  • The Reid Group is a strategic partner with Tryon Clear View Group, a cost reduction company that specializes in Purchase Services Audits where they identify, verify and recover billing errors, vendor overcharges which are refundable to organizations.  They then secure these reimbursements from the vendors.  In addition to telecommunication, copiers, waste management and utilities charges, they also audit postal services and credit card processing. The only fee paid by the client is a percentage of the actual savings.  The first two contracts secured by this strategic partnership are a college and a Catholic parish; we have received the first report of savings for one of these contracts which showed savings of $60,000 over the next five years in telecommunications alone.   If you are interested in this service, contact us at

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  Learnings from the Reorganization of Parishes,  

     John Reid and Maureen Gallagher 

As we prepare for the celebration of Thanksgiving, we are reminded with gratitude of the learnings and enriching experiences we have had assisting archdioceses and dioceses in reorganizing their parishes to be sustainable for the future. In reflecting on these experiences, ten learnings stand out from working with both large urban archdioceses and small more rural or small-town dioceses. 

In all cases, the planning efforts upon which the learnings are formed were grounded in faith, prayer, dialogue, openness and creative work amongst bishops, priests, deacons and laity.

Learning 1:  The power of clergy and laity working together strengthens communities, especially during transitions 

When lay people and clergy work together, a new appreciation grows of the gifts each brings to the process.  In many instances, the experience of planning with the Pastor or Parish Life Director is the first time some lay people have experienced that their planning and organizational gifts are needed and appreciated.  As the process unfolded, both clergy and laity became more comfortable in sharing and more supportive of each other.  A serious and reflective spirit, peppered with humor, described the tenor of many of the planning meetings.

Learning 2:  Parish reorganizational planning is a call to deeper discipleship

A deeper understanding of what it means to be a parish surfaced in reorganizational planning.  For many, at the initial part of the planning process, regular Mass attendance was the sign of a “good Catholic.”  Acknowledging the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of parish life, core teams and cluster teams began assessing and/or creating their parish ministries and using the criteria as benchmarks.  This led the teams to come to a deeper understanding of the parish as a sign of Christ’s presence in the community, reaching out to those in need, and advocating for justice and quality faith development.  

Learning 3:  Transparency in sharing data, information and realities empowers people to act credibly toward creating a faith-filled future

Clergy and laity appreciated the transparency of the Archbishop or Bishop in promoting the sharing of facts, figures and demographics which the diocese had, as well as data each parish had.  They also were grateful for the Archbishop or Bishop’s desire to have a consultative decision making process.

Learning 4:  An emerging culture of collaboration, led by the Spirit, developed through the process (“See I’m making all things new.” Rev 21:5)

One of the consequences of building parishes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was a great pride in an immigrant church and a deep-seated parochialism.  Boundless sacrifices occurred in firmly rooting the Catholic Church in the United States.  Buildings became symbols not only of one’s heritage and the sacrifices and skills needed to actually build the church buildings, but of one’s faith.  Honoring and expressing gratitude for the past grounded the planning process.

Learning 5:  More involvement of parishioners = greater wisdom and less resistance

The more the parishioners were involved in the process the more ownership there was for the change and the less resistance to the Archbishop or Bishop’s decisions.  When town hall meetings, focus groups, surveys and regular communication strategies were employed, people felt their voices and wisdom counted.  Regular reports and inclusion in the Prayers of the Faithful added to the sense that planning was a faith-filled and community effort. 

Learning 6:  Pastoral courage and leadership are essential to successful planning, especially in times of change and transition

The courage and leadership of the Pastor or Parish Life Director is critical in helping people accept change.  Effective leaders walk with the people and empathize with their pain, fears and loss.  At the same time, they can graciously offer assurances to the parishioners that they are not alone on the journey–that once they get out of the “wilderness” they will be a stronger community. 

Learning 7: Effective planning and implementation leads to stronger parishes

Research is emerging which demonstrates that planning for and implementing change in parish models can lead to stronger parishes.  Three common models for some of today’s parishes and many of tomorrow’s include merging parishes where two or more parishes come together to form a new parish community, linking two or more parishes that share a pastor, and collaborating parishes, which establish substantial partnerships in programs, trainings and staff deployment. 

Learning 8:  Dealing with grief in merging parishes greatly influences the initial quality of parish life in the new parish community

The more people love and have been part of parishes which are merging, the greater the sorrow.  When people experience deep loss, they grieve.  Grieving rituals—grounded in the Paschal Mystery—can take many forms.  Having dinners around storytelling evenings, preparing and sharing updated pictorial histories, holding reunions, taping stories from the “elders” are but a few ways to keep the story of the wonderful gifts alive. Meaningful ritual not only brings closure to what has been, but also brings energy for what will be.

Learning 9:  Doors were opened to multicultural practices and relationships

While there were some obstacles, prejudices, resistances, subtle and not-so-subtle racism and classism faced in working with various groups, these were offset by examples of real openness to learn from other communities and to be united.  Building upon the learnings from successful multicultural parish merger paradigms could influence cultural competence both in the Church and in the world. 

Learning 10:  The experience of effective parish reorganizational planning does lead to a renewal of parish life

Having criteria or benchmarks for vibrant parish life has empowered Parish Councils to examine their planning roles and to inject a missionary impulse into their work.  It has called parishes to deeper understandings of Pope Francis’ vision that “God always wants to build bridges; it is we who build walls!  And walls fall, always!”  It is bridges within our parish ministries, between parishes and with other faith communities that the Pope is challenging us to build. 

These 10 learnings are but the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of all the rich insights we have received through our last 20+ years working with archdioceses and dioceses.  Above all, we have learned that what may look like diminishment is truly an invitation to participate with the Spirit in helping to create a new Church of missionary disciples.

Maureen Gallagher and John Reid are Senior Partners with The Reid Group, a national consulting firm helping leaders and organizations transform challenges into opportunities to create a better world in the areas of Strategic Planning, Leadership Formation, Leadership Search, Fund Development, Conflict Resolution and Meeting Design and Facilitation.  For more information about The Reid Group, its programs and services, visit our website:

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