The FIRES Framework

This is the 5th of 5 postings that set up the necessary systems framework so that parishes can either grow or, if they are currently growing, be able to manage that growth.

Last week’s entry provided an introduction to systems thinking, since we have been conditioned from the time that we began school to think linearly, and not necessarily systemically.  Not only do we need to think outside the box, we need to think around the box…not to mention act outside the box, too, and think differently.  More about how we can put that into action at the end of this article.

Speaking of “outside the box,” do you know why we need to think and act outside the box?  Because it helps to reinforce the box.   If actions are done only inside the box, eventually the box will break.  Acting outside the box without acting inside the box, the box can collapse.  Thinking and acting both inside and outside the box helps to reinforce it, so that it remains strong.

I made a statement in a previous posting that systems thinking is different – there is no beginning, and if all elements of the system are functioning, there is no end.  A reader emailed a comment several years ago to say how appropriate that is when talking about the Church and worshipping God – who also has no beginning and no end.

The elements of the ParishAdvancement framework are represented by the acronym “FIRES,” which is also appropriate since the tongues of fire appeared over the Apostles as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  The letters stand for Fellowship, Initiation, Revenue Management, Evangelization and Stewardship. Each week for the next 21 weeks, a new “insight” related to four of the five elements will be offered – Fellowship the first week, Revenue Management the next, and so on, mixing it up as we go along. These 21 weeks plus the five-week introduction will then be repeated (just like the readings at Sunday Mass are repeated in cycles).

Why only four of the five?  Because the Catholic Church does a great job at Initiation.   More about that in a future posting.

How, then, can all of the elements be “dealt with,” since we all like to work linearly; that is, we focus on one element to the detriment of the others, until we have to attend to them and then put out “fires?”

Here are some suggested ways of managing all of the elements:

1) Work on one element a day during the week – Monday is Evangelization, Tuesday is Fellowship, etc.

2) Do the same thing as is #1, but don’t make each Monday Evangelization. Change it up – perhaps based on the priority of each element. Know that if you haven’t touched one of the elements before the week is out, that’s the element you work on on Friday.

3) Block out your time so that you can work for an hour on each element per day. 9 AM is Initiation, 10 AM is Stewardship, 11 AM is Fellowship, 12 PM is lunch. Remember your school schedule? This is where that “class schedule” learning comes in handy.

4) Shuffle the schedule so that every day has each of the elements, but not at the same time.

Last week, I also said that I’d comment on those parishes that believe schools are simply a ministry of the parish. The school is actually three things – a ministry, a business, and a school! There are, however, schools that ARE ministries of the parish. Those are a few parochial (and that’s a very important word) schools still left in this country where there is NO tuition. The school is completely supported by the parish, and there is no tuition for a family to pay for their children to attend.  However, if a family wants to send their child there, they must be a member of the parish and support it. Then, the school doesn’t necessarily have to focus on their ARMED (Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development) framework…but the parish MUST focus and attend to its FIRES framework as it affects the parish if they want the school to continue as a fully funded ministry of the parish.

As for the parochial school, parochial is defined as “belonging to the parish.”  A short while ago, an article was written in a prominent Catholic magazine touting the death of the parochial school.  A rebuttal ensued, written by leaders of Catholic schools today, saying that the Catholic school is alive and well.  While you might think that these folks were arguing with each other, I would argue that either someone isn’t cognizant of definitions, or was attempting (but not succeeding) to share the difference between “parochial” and “Catholic.”  In many areas of our nation, Catholic schools are indeed alive and well!  That doesn’t mean, however, that those Catholic schools are “parochial” in nature.  In most places throughout our nation, Catholic schools are supported by a number of parishes, accept non-Catholic students, and receive some type of funding from the State or Federal government regarding educational services and/or professional development.   Those are not parochial schools, since they are not solely supported by the activity of the parish, and accept students from outside the parish; however, there are a few that still exist, so to claim their extinction is also erroneous.  Such institutions today, however, are feeling more and more pressure to charge tuition, accept students from outside the parish, and even invite non-Catholics to become part of the community and fulfill the mission to evangelize and share the Good News!  The other good news for those schools is that they can boldly proclaim, “All are welcome!”  The challenge now is defining the meaning of the word “all,” so let’s look at what Christ told us to do.

Christ commanded us to make disciples of all the nations, so that begs a bigger question:  Is the practice of being “parochial” going against what Christ told us to do?  Not necessarily.  If we’re inviting individuals to become more engaged with finding Christ and being open to the Spirit of God, then they become part of the Catholic community to support their faith, and a Catholic school is an outgrowth of the ministry provided to the community, then the school can be seen as a supportive structure.  But the Catholic school can also take its ministry as a call to evangelize in a different way, so that it becomes an engagement structure and an invitation to a deeper relationship with Christ as families are welcomed to be part of the school community.

Now, let’s go out and spread the Good News!!

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