Dave Wegge, Envision Board

Early this year, as Envision was recruiting community leaders to enroll in our Strategic Foresight Workshop, I was surprised and encouraged to see four leaders from Resurrection Catholic Parish registered. Most parishes are steeped in tradition and simply trying to maintain the work they are faced with each day. Resurrection Parish was obviously quite different, as they were seeking to focus on the future of their parish, hoping to create their future.

What has their journey in Strategic Foresight been like for them so far? What have they learned and how is it serving them? I sat down for an hour and a half to interview members of their team to answer those questions. Resurrection team members, all now trained in Strategic Foresight, include Fr. Tom Reynebeau, Lead Pastor; Kevin DeCleene, Deacon; Tony Pichler, Mission Outreach Director, and Karolyn Efferson, Faith Formation Coordinator.

The Resurrection team saw the signals that, for Catholics and all mainline denominations, church attendance and identification with a religious organization is down considerably over the past few years. The percentage of Americans who identify as Christians varies significantly across the generations. In 2018-19 a Pew Research study found that 84% among those in the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) identified as Christians compared with 76% of Baby Boomers (1946-1964), 67% of Generation X (1965–1980), and 49% of Millennials (1981–1996). These generational differences suggest a bleak future for parishes. In the Green Bay Diocese, the ten-year trends found that Mass attendance has dropped 9.5% per year over the past ten years. Further, engaging in the sacraments is down 83%, contributing units down 25%, and registered households down 16%. These data signals raised questions: What does the future hold for Resurrection Parish if these trends continue? How can we as a Parish impact such trends and turn them around? Whose spiritual needs are we not meeting?

With encouragement from Envision Board member Fr. Paul Demuth and the visionary spirit of Fr. Tom Reynebeau, Resurrection Parish enrolled its team. Tony Pichler had been thinking for some time in a futurist manner about the role of Resurrection in the future of the community. In fact, he had organized a group of parish members and community leaders into what he called the “Dream Team” to discuss that very issue.

So, with the visionary spirit of Fr. Tom, the future orientation of Tony, and the signals of decreasing engagement throughout the Diocese, the decision to enroll in Strategic Foresight work was a no-brainer. The team chose as its theme “How can Resurrection be a parish that fulfills the vision of ‘Loving all God’s People All of the Time?’” – a vision inclusive of all.

“Garry Golden’s workshop provided the tools that brought clarity in our search for the future of the parish,” they told me. “Using the Domain map, learning about Era Based analysis, developing an Uncertainty Matrix for the parish, and pushing us to think about the Four plausible futures of our parish were all critical tools.” The team often had lengthy discussions following the meetings with Garry. In one case they had a two-hour discussion about what Era they were in and what emerging Era they needed to focus on. “At first we were a bit skeptical about Foresight,” one of them explained, “as we thought this was really a technique built for business organizations. What we discovered was that it fit very effectively in a parish setting as well.”

The Resurrection team faced a number of challenges as they worked to bring Foresight into parish planning. As we all know, change is difficult in any organization and for the people it serves. For parishes that have a long history and an aging membership, change can be even more challenging.

“Our team came back from the workshop excited to move the ball forward. We discovered we were trying to move much faster than others. So, we stepped back our pace somewhat, but we are still moving forward.”

The team said they also realized it’s important to have organizational alignment from the top down in order to move forward. In a large organization like the Catholic church, that can be a challenge. It has also been difficult simply to find the time to scan for signals of change on a regular basis. “We all have jobs that require us to fulfill our regular duties and meet the needs of the parish,” they explained. “Finding time to scan for signals of change is a challenge, but it is a critical part of the process.” They learned quickly that Foresight is not necessarily a linear process. Each new signal uncovered might shift the direction of Foresight a bit. So, a Foresight Team needs to be flexible and realize this is an ongoing process of discovery.

Now the team is seeking to meet with small groups to learn how they can connect with the “unchurched.” They are also partnering with a local nonprofit group, Whatsoever You Do, Inc., to conduct focus groups and an online survey to help understand what people in their parish need and want.

“We believe that Strategic Foresight is the tool we needed to give us clarity and an approach to thinking about the future of our parish,” one team member said. In Resurrection Team’s final presentation in the Foresight Workshop, they noted that Strategic Foresight “…has created a new sense of purpose and meaning amongst our core team… signals of change also lead us into new ways of being Church, always open to the wider culture and what it is telling us in terms of our response.” Resurrection Parish is unique in having adopted Strategic Foresight to guide their parish into the future. Tony Pichler says, “Strategic Foresight is what every church should be doing.”

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Even the bitterest fruit has sugar in it.

– Terry a O’Neal

The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.

– Molière

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