St. Lawrence Faith Formation Revamp Through Discipleship Path
St. Lawrence is a large suburban parish in Lawrenceville, Georgia that has over 3000 registered households. St. Lawrence's mission is to make disciples by having all Encounter Christ, Grow as Disciples, and Share the Gospel. In the course of its history, the parish tried many different renewal programs that seemed to fall flat: ARISE, Christ Renews His Parish, etc. The parish staff attended a Divine Renovation conference in Halifax that helped them turn the corner and spark real renewal in their parish. Scroll down to read about their renewal strategy.
The parish began by creating a new position: Director of Evangelization and Communications. They were committed to Alpha as a way to begin the discipleship process. The second step in the discipleship path was to invite those who completed an Alpha to "Give Alpha" (volunteer at the next Alpha session). After Alpha, people progress to a Discipleship Group. Parish offers Alpha 3x per year. At the time of this writing, the parish had just completed its 14th consecutive Alpha session. Audience for Alpha includes all age groups: young parents to older couples, singles, widows, and those fresh out of college. A team is dedicated to running Alpha each time. Pastor has made it mandatory for baptismal parents to go to the first 4 Alpha sessions before their child can be baptized. Their feeling was that they had to ask more of people. The parish has a nursery, which helps a great deal. Baptism meetings go over all of this...why it is so important; they make it clear what they’re really inviting them into.
Their goal was to have ½ of the parish in Discipleship Groups. These groups include 8-12 people who meet for 4-6 weeks to study an individual topic. They meet 2x per month for 90 minutes in peoples' homes. Participants have rotating roles: witness talk, reading the gospel, ice breaker, prayer. This enables people to become engaged in the process. Kids are welcome to participate. They are also designed to help parishioners grow in the understanding of the richness of our Catholic faith and help root people in the foundational disciplines of the will of God, applying the principles of the moral life to their own situations, and so on. As part of their plan, they transformed existing prayer groups and small groups into Discipleship Groups.
In addition to the Discipleship Groups, there are opportunities for people to attend short term classes as an individual. They have enrichment events and Eucharistic Adoration with praise and worship year-round. They also incorporate witness talks into liturgies and events.
As an intentional outreach to parents, St. Lawrence runs Alpha during sacramental prep so that parents have something to do while kids are in class. The parish created the SHINE program for children in grades K-5. They hired a children's ministry program coordinator and transformed the program from a classroom model to one big group. They focus on the Gospel of the week. The children are in SHINE during Mass and during these sessions they encounter Christ and form discipleship groups. Children who have received First Holy Communion return to Mass after the homily. Parish supplements this program with additional sacramental prep. One goal of the SHINE program is to get families to go to Mass, and the strategy has been successful thus far.
In order to improve their Sunday Experience, they instituted name tag Sunday once per month and have many greeters present at liturgies. Their "Come and See" liturgies are a full house. They also have yearly Encounter Advent and Lenten parish missions.
Many baptismal parents who tried Alpha decided to continue with the whole program and become more involved in the parish. 20-30% of these parents have advanced to the next stage of discipleship. Mass attendance has increased. Overall progress in making disciples is slow, but they are making progress.