Zooming Out: Adapting Parish Programs to New Formats

Posted by Katie Diltz on Sep 16, 2020 7:35:00 AM
Katie Diltz

Diltz Zoom Out title

Ministry leaders are working hard this year to adapt programs to new formats, including online and hybrid models. It can be tempting to “copy and paste” old programs into new formats, to put old wine into new wineskins (see Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37–38). For example, we can email parents a lesson plan and tell them which pages to cover in the religious ed textbook, or we can gather the teens on Zoom to watch the youth minister give a talk and send them into breakout rooms for small group time. These solutions are fine, but they fail to respond creatively and take into account the reality we are all experiencing.

When adapting our programs to a new format, we need to “zoom out” and revisit our mission before creatively considering how we can achieve this mission in our current circumstances.

Identify Your Mission & Goals

What is the mission of your ministry? If you haven’t specifically articulated a mission statement for your ministry, consider your parish or diocese’s mission statement, or look for inspiration in Church documents. For example, in Catechesi Tradendae, Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (§5), and in Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry, the U.S. Bishops identify three specific goals for youth ministry: empowering young people to live as disciples, drawing them to responsible participation in the Catholic faith, and fostering their personal and spiritual growth

Take some time to consider why your ministry exists.

Once you have identified the mission of your ministry, consider the goals for the specific events and programs you would typically host. What’s the goal of gathering for RCIA classes? What do you hope attendees gain from the Young at Heart group or the Sunday night youth group? In addition to helping parishioners grow in knowledge of the faith, are you building community? Offering opportunities for prayer? Engaging in service? How do your events and programs serve the mission of your ministry?


Take a written copy of your mission and goals and find a quiet place to pray. 

Call to mind the people whom you serve in your ministry. What are they going through right now? How can your ministry respond to their needs? You are probably in the habit of considering their intellectual and spiritual needs, but, especially in this moment, don’t forget their human needs. If students are primarily engaged in online learning, is there a safe way for you to gather them in-person, rather than piling on more screen time? What do parents—many of whom are juggling work and family life all in one space with no end in sight—need right now? What about young single professionals, or the elderly, who may be experiencing intense isolation?

Where do your program’s mission and goals intersect with the lives of those whom you serve? Create space for God to speak as you consider this question.

Get Creative

Now it’s time to get creative! Bring the fruits of your prayer to life as you consider how best to move forward with your ministry. Keep in mind any parameters set by your pastor or the arch/diocese and let go of any self-imposed limitations (e.g., we have to gather in this way, on this night, etc.). In addition to gathering online and in-person, consider what other options might be available, like connecting with phone calls or sending paper copies of prayer resources through the mail.

Even after you implement your plans, continue to reflect on their effectiveness. Instead of pushing through another six months with a format that's not working, give yourself time and space to evaluate, to learn, and to adjust when necessary. Try to see this as an opportunity to prune the vine in the short term so that your ministry will bear more fruit in the lives of your parishioners in the long term.

Tell us how you are adapting your ministry this year. We’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to reach out to us via email at mcgrath@nd.edu or tag us on social media at @mcgrathnd.

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Featured image by Voltordu via Pixabay  

Topics: youth ministry, parish life, ministry, coronavirus, COVID-19 Resources, ministry resources

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The McGrath Institute Blog helps Catholics live and hand on their faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the family, home and parish, and cultivates and inspires everyday leaders to live out the fullness and richness of their faith in the simple, little ways that make up Church life.

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