What Makes an ‘Amazing Parish’?

By PATRICK TURNER—I recently had the opportunity to attend the “Amazing Parish” conference in Atlanta with nearly 1,100 parish and diocesan leaders from across the country. Joining with Father Peter Towsley and the leadership team from Sacred Heart Parish in Danbury, we had the privilege to pray together and to hear from a wide range of nationally recognized speakers offering ideas, insights, and best practices for strengthening parish life.

There is not a single, simple, template that will suddenly create an amazing parish. However, there are certain characteristics that have been identified across the country that can help re-engage current parishioners and excite newcomers and those who are not regular church attendees.

“This was a hands-on conference which came at a time of our own parish renewal, and we (the leadership team) are committed to growing our relationship with Christ,” said Bob Miazga of Sacred Heart Parish.

“The speakers, content, and worship certainly energized all in attendance. It was great to hear that all parishioners are called to help build a vibrant parish family. The pastor can’t do it on his own,” added Roger Palanzo.

The Amazing Parish movement has identified three building blocks of an amazing parish: Reliance on Prayer and Sacraments; Commitment to a Healthy Organization; Passion for Evangelization and Discipleship.

The speakers emphasized the importance of prayer; something you’d think would be fairly obvious in a faith-based organization or parish. Yet, how often is prayer truly an integral part of the business part of parish management? Is it the foundation of what is being done, or is it a quick off-the-top of the head experience before getting to the “real” meat of whatever meeting is taking place? Is there a strong focus on the sacraments as prayer moments or are they merely a milestone to check off on our way to “completing” the course?

A strong leadership structure is the second component identified as a characteristic of an amazing parish. Patrick Lencioni, one of the founders of the Amazing Parish movement, has spent much of his career specializing in executive team development and organizational health, and now brings that expertise to the parish structure. Lencioni focused on five behaviors of a team, ranging from building trust to mastering conflict to achieving commitment.

At the conference, pastors were asked to focus on creating an intentional leadership team that would help create a vision for the parish and support the pastor in the day-to-day management of the parish. The speakers recognized that this leadership team needs to be a mix of parish staff and lay leaders in order to be successful.

Parishes in our diocese recently had the opportunity to come together in a workshop to learn ways to identify and nurture new parish leadership and to build strong cross-generational support for the parish activities. For many parishes, there is a strong need to include a broader cross-section of the parish in their leadership activities.

Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, authors of “Rebuilt” and “Tools for Rebuilding,” focused on the Sunday experience. They identified three major components of Sunday (or weekend) worship: hymns, homilies and hospitality. The focus of liturgy is, of course, the Eucharist. Father White and Tom emphasized the need to offer good music, engaging homilies, and a welcoming atmosphere as necessary to engage today’s parishioners.

“The whole experience was not only informative, but transformative,” concluded Grace McNamara, head of the Office of Faith Formation for Sacred Heart Parish.

The attendees were sent home with a final message ringing in our ears: How will your parish uniquely fulfill its calling?

What makes your parish ‘amazing’?

The Pastoral Planning office would welcome your insights into what makes your parish truly amazing. Please send an email to and let me know something that your parish is doing that makes it amazing! I will share some of those emails on our homepage and in future articles.