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February 25, 2021

It was a marvel to my eyes … This evening renewed my hope.

That was Fr. Charles Polifka, pastor at Annunciation Catholic Church, this past weekend reflecting on his parish’s first couples outreach event which Communio helped them plan and execute.  I’ll drill into what’s happening at Annunciation in just a moment.

With vaccination rates climbing and viral caseloads falling, Communio-supported churches across the country are surging with their new relationship ministries both in the Mile High City and around the country.

Below is a brief snapshot of some encouraging outreach happening through parishes on one of Communio’s largest citywide initiatives: our Denver City Platform. Each of these parishes are part of a growing ecumenical network of 20 churches that will balloon to 30 churches across the metro area by this summer.  A lot is happening – right now, Communio’s consulting team is hands on in helping these churches make a major pivot to evangelize and make disciples through marriage and relationship ministry by implementing our Full-Circle Relationship Ministry™ model.

Before jumping back to what happened at Annunciation, this past weekend, Communio wrapped up strategic planning meetings with Fr. Brian Larkin and his team at Our Lady of Lourdes and Fr. Gregory Cioch at Christ the King – two influential Catholic parishes in Denver – helping them set measurable goals and chart a course to reach those goals through their new relationship ministries for 2021 and into 2022. Communio will be with Fr. Chris Uhl and his team at Holy Ghost this weekend for their initial strategic planning meeting. More on this in a moment.

Let’s go back to Annunciation, which is a low-income parish run by Capuchin-Franciscans serving a predominantly Mexican immigrant population:

  • This past Saturday, they hosted their first in-person “Bilingual Trivia Night for couples and families. Their staff tell us roughly half of those in attendance were non-English speakers – accomplishing a big strategic goal for their team as they work to increase their engagement with the Hispanic community in the neighborhood.

Above: Bilingual Trivia Night outreach at Annunciation.

But, what really excited Fr. Charles, pastor at Annunciation, was the significant boost in participation he saw from young people – both from inside and outside the parish.  A major part of Communio’s training and strategic planning meetings with a parish is to help inspire new engagement and new volunteers around the idea of transforming their parish:

“The biggest success,” said Fr. Charles, “was to see a completely new team of workers. Christian, Sloan, Maria, Rachel, Antonio…a completely new team of workers who set up and cleaned up.  It was a marvel to my eyes.  Teresa and Mari were there from the “old guard,” but they just participated.  Seeing those young people work to pull this off was to me the greatest success of the evening. This evening renewed my hope. And now on to bigger and greater things…”

Now, Communio is helping Annunciation move these outreach participants into an ongoing engagement experience – the second rung of Communio’s Ministry Engagement Ladder™ – next month. The parish will host a couples’ movie night in March and tamale making class in April.

At this stage of the ladder, the ratio of popcorn (fun) to spinach (content) shifts from roughly 90-10 to 70-30, meaning the event incorporates more substantive relationship enrichment such as a couple’s “witness talk” and light communications skills development for participants. It’s all a tee up for the church to invite couples to join a Growth Journey – the third and final rung of Communio’s engagement framework – where skills-based relationship education is delivered, most commonly through small groups.

Meanwhile, about 35 minutes east off I-225 in Aurora, Fr. Terry Kissell and his team at St. Michael the Archangel, just wrapped up their first ongoing engagement experience – an outdoor Family Ice Skating event – after its successful Virtual Trivia Night outreach in January.

The parish got creative in how it incorporated relationship enrichment elements into the evening. At check in, each registrant received a nametag with a relationship-oriented “icebreaker” question. Questions like:

  • “Tell me about your first year of marriage” …  “How are you and your spouse similar?”…  and … “Tell me your engagement story” served as fun ways to keep conversations around the ice rink centered around relationship health.
  • The team had nametags for kids with questions like, “What makes you a good friend?” to keep them engaged as well.

Now, while St. Michael’s and Annunciation are deep into executing their Ministry Engagement Ladders™, Communio has a wave of new parishes starting theirs.

So, let’s go back to those strategic planning sessions with two large Catholic parishes in the heart of Denver – Our Lady of Lourdes, a parish of roughly 4,700 members, and Christ the King, a parish of roughly 2,500 members.

Above: Planning meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes with Fr. Brian Larkin.

Fr. Brian Larkin, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes – who colloquially goes by “FB” – and his team are fired up and ready to roll up their sleeves with Communio to implement a holistic strategy:

“Pastors receive requests to start up ministries rather frequently,” said FB, “and it can become easy to dismiss them out of hand. Communio felt different from the start; they provided solutions rather than just problems and they had a compelling vision. In our work so far with Communio our team has grown in excitement in regard to the mission of strengthening marriages. I’m thrilled to be working with another organization that cares about the cornerstone of all civilization, which can only be marriage.”

During these meetings, Communio reviewed first-party survey and modelled data of their memberships and surrounding communities, helping their teams uncover marital and relationship needs and opportunities inside and around their parishes. Informed by that data, Communio then helped their teams set clear and measurable 24-month ministry goals (outcomes) and activities (outputs) designed to help the parish reach those outcomes. These activities take the “form” or shape of Communio’s Ministry Engagement Ladder™.

We learned that in recent years both these parishes have provided a good mix of resources and growth opportunities that have attracted couples and singles. The fruit of that work was clearly evident at Our Lady of Lourdes under the direction of Fr. Brian. Survey data of their singles population showed that more than 90 percent of respondents are under the age of 40 and never married.  This is the highest number of young, never-married singles Communio has ever found in any church – Catholic or Protestant.

But the Lourdes’ team is ready to ramp things to the next level and ended up targeting some ambitious goals at the meeting:

  1. Normalize marriage ministry for 100 couples
  2. Increase the engagement of 50 young families into the sacramental life of the parish.
  3. Engage 40 newlywed couples into the life of the parish.

Meanwhile, the team over at Christ the King set their own goals:

  1. Engage 50 young families, under the age of 40, into the sacramental life of the parish.
  2. Engage 40 young adults into the life of the parish.
  3. Normalize marriage enrichment for 100 couples.

Rolling into this weekend, Holy Ghost Catholic Church, a large parish in downtown Denver of over 3,550 members run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, is slated to have its first strategic planning meeting with Communio this Saturday with a team of 15 staff and volunteers. Growing up in South Florida, we had a retired OVM priest in my parish and knew them to be powerful homilists.  Excited Communio can serve them to attract new souls to their ministry!

Meanwhile, All Saints Catholic Church takes its very first step with Communio this weekend by launching its first-party survey at all masses. Like all Communio-supported churches, the survey is pushed out over text message during the homily to capture immediate biographical data and insights on the relationship health quality of all single, engaged, and married people in the pews. This data, along with modeled data of their entire parish registry and those in their surrounding community, will be reviewed at their strategic planning meeting in late March. They too will set goals and activity targets for their new relationship ministry.

While our Denver staff – Jo Holt and her evangelical counterpart Trevor Lee – are off and running, Communio’s work in other communities is taking off as well. St. Paul tells us that it is neither the one who plants nor the one who waters that matters – only God provides the growth (1 Cor 3:7).  Join us in prayer that our Lord continues to provide growth and flourishing to these parishes.  So much lies ahead.

For more information or to explore bringing Communio’s model to your city or church, call us at (703) 347-7800 or email us at platform@communio.org.  Or visit our website – www.communio.org – for more background on our work.

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Pope Francis, who has often spoken about pastoral ministry for married couples, observed that those who have come through crises are a valuable resource. Today there is a great need for people, for spouses who know how to bear witness to the fact that the crisis is not a curse, it is part of the journey, and it constitutes an opportunity.

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