Supported by Communio, Historic Catholic Parish Seeks Renewal Through Relationship Ministry

Watch Video

He told us that 100 more Catholic parishes will close soon.

That was Fr. Tom Heron – pastor of the historic St. Matthew Catholic Church – on the state of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at Communio’s recent planning session with his leadership team.  

Indeed, while the Catholic Church’s decline has become particularly sharp, recent Pew data shows an alarming reduction in Christianity on a national-level across church-lines

But, this suburban parish, situated at the bottom of the nation’s old northeast corridor, is slated to become a model for renewal in the archdiocese – and the nation – by implementing Communio’s data-informed, full-circle relationship ministry.  

It’s become the 15th church in Pennsylvania working with Communio.  Communio is working with evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches in cities across the country to bring about renewal to the American family.  Churches like LCBC in Lancaster, Truro Anglican in Virginia, and churches in Montana, Texas, Michigan, and Colorado are beginning to adopt Communio’s model. 

For St. Matthew’s Parish, the cultural headwinds have been hurricane force. 

Five years ago, this parish absorbed parishioners from four other nearby parishes that closed their doors for good. And while St. Matthew’s did see an initial boost in its membership as a result of these closings, weekly attendance has begun to decline steadily over the past three years. The pastor, staff, and volunteers know the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has only fueled this decline.

In the wake of all this, the team at St. Matthew’s is rolling up their sleeves recognizing renewal rests on the health of marriage and family life.  

As with all Communio-supported churches, this renewal project begins with a deep review of the parish’s relationship health quality gathered from an internal survey and an analysis of third-party consumer product data:

  • 15 percent of St. Matthew’s married parishioners self-reported they struggle in their relationships.
  • 34 percent of singles report struggling in their closest relationships.
  • 6,217 married Catholic individuals within 5 miles of the parish fit a predictive score for divorce, meaning, at an 80 percent match rate, they share similar consumer behavior patterns as those who filed for divorce in the last 12 months.
  • 2,569 of these struggling married people have kids in the home under 10 years old.

Informed by these insights, Communio is now helping them build out its own full-circle relationship ministry that puts their singles, engaged, and married parishioners – as well as those in the community – onto a growth journey to healthier relationships. 

That includes the creation of a Ministry Engagement Ladder – a strategic framework Communio employs to help a church think through outreach and engagement opportunities for church growth. 

Drawing from a catalog of over 80 pieces of content, Communio helps a church select and run experiences at each critical rung of the ladder, including:

  1. Community-oriented Outreach Events that draw in parishioners and those not already connected with the church into fun experiences that edify marriage. Those big events provide a clear next step that flow people into an…
  2. Ongoing Engagement Experience – or smaller event setting like group date nights – hosted on or off the parish – where individuals and couples can build relationships with their spouses and others. These events provide a clear next step into a final…
  3. Growth Journey – At this stage, couples attend skills-based ministry experiences that improve relationship health.

Communio is helping St. Matthew’s design and implement this strategy top to bottom. 

With our data-informed, consultative approach, this church is well on its way to igniting a relationship health movement in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and they are joining a growing movement of renewal across the country.