St. Benedict - Discipleship Path and Children's Ministry
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Saint Benedict Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the birthplace of the book Divine Renovation: Bringing your parish from maintenance to mission. Under the leadership of Fr. James Mallon, the parish was transformed into a vibrant community of missionary disciples. Pastors, priests and leaders from around the world took notice and Divine Renovation blossomed into a full-blown ministry with conferences, books, coaching, and resources to respond to the incredible hunger for parish renewal. As such, the discipleship strategy at Saint Benedict serves as a model for those seeking to lead parish renewal. The deep and lasting effect of Fr. Mallon’s renewal efforts are evident, as nearly a decade later, the parish continues to thrive under the leadership of Fr. Simon Lobo, CC.
The development of the strategy involved a renewal of culture and values which include giving priority to the weekend, hospitality, uplifting music, homilies, meaningful community, clear expectations, strength-based ministry, formation of small communities, experience of the Holy Spirit, and becoming an inviting church. It also involved eliminating extra events, fundraisers, meetings, and ministries that are not focused on bringing people to Jesus, raising disciples, and sending them out.
Saint Benedict has a clear path of discipleship to form disciples who joyfully live out the mission of Jesus Christ:
- Alpha - Alpha is an opportunity to explore life and the Christian faith, in a friendly, open and informal environment. Gathering once a week over a ten-week period, each Alpha brings together people from every walk of life. Each Alpha gathering begins by sharing a meal. Saint Benedict holds Alpha at a local Sushi restaurant (affectionately known as 'Sushi Alpha'); at a local pub-- (Pub Alpha) and occasionally in the homes of some member leaders. No matter where Alpha takes place, the format is the same. Participants eat together, listen to a talk and then gather in small groups for discussion.
- Alpha Team - After attending Alpha, parishioners are invited to volunteer to help others experience Alpha.
- Connect Groups - Connect Groups are mid-sized home groups of 15-35 people who have completed Alpha. Meeting every two weeks, they are lay led and are places where members are known, loved and cared for in a way that could never happen if it was simply up to the priest or the parish staff. At Connect Groups, members gather for a shared meal, a talk by one of the members, small group discussion and time of praise and worship.
- Ministry – Saint Benedict encourages all parishioners to serve in ministry. The website has a list of available ministries and an online form to sign up.
- Discipleship Groups - Discipleship Groups are intentional gatherings of 4-12 people meeting (often in homes) for a fixed number of weeks to grow together as disciples of Jesus. These may be bible study groups or some adult faith formation program. Saint Benedict encourages members to participate in at least one Discipleship Group a year. In Lent, they launch a parish-wide initiative encouraging members to participate in a Discipleship Group and recommend some specific content. Otherwise, a library of materials is available for those interested in hosting a Discipleship Group.
- Worship – Saint Benedict has dynamic liturgies and advertises Mass times, livestream sessions, and children’s ministry on its website:
Homilies are prepared with the help of staff to help the homilist clarify and focus the homily to 1 point and 1 action item. They are intentional about having high-quality music and great musicians who have a heart for worship.
In addition, the parish is very intentional about developing leaders and invests time and money to go to conferences, read books, and get coaching. They call upon the Holy Spirit often and teach every lay person to pray with and over others in faith. Last, they find a way to measure their results to see if what we are doing is bearing fruit (lives being transformed by Jesus).
If not, it is their culture to be bold and courageous and stop doing it or to change it to make it more effective.
Saint Benedict children’s programs begin with evangelization so that young people encounter Jesus and come into a relationship with Him. In addition, Saint Benedict has age-appropriate children’s programming on Sundays in order to make it easier for young families to bring their children to church and to help young parents be fully present at Mass.