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Want Better Church? Train Pastors to Better Serve Customers

An SCU alumna (class of 2014) who was very involved in University music ministry as an undergraduate student wanted to keep singing at church after graduating. While describing her Catholic faith life post-SCU to me, she said, “I look for three things when searching for a parish: good music, good homilies, and good community. Since graduating from Santa Clara, I have yet to find a place that delivers all three.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this; more often than not, alumni that I met while working in music ministry at the SCU Mission Church said they struggle to connect with their parish.

What, then, could be done in the Catholic parish to better address the needs of young adults and any other groups who seek to belong?

As an active liturgical music composer and director at St. Clare Parish—and having written a body of music as a SCU student, which was designed particularly for connecting with young people in worship—hearing these testimonies from people highly interested in participating in parish life was troubling. It is one thing to say that the Catholic parish could use a revitalization; it is a whole other matter to consider the complex canonical, structural, and financial realities that impact the Church and then develop a concrete plan for how to actually make a change. What, then, could be done in the Catholic parish to better address the needs of young adults and any other groups who seek to belong? Santa Clara University’s Academy of Church Leadership Program (ACL) has an answer.

the parish becomes less of a product-based institution (“We have a great Mass and assume everyone will like it.”) and more of a parishioner based institution (“What are you seeking? How can we help you?”)

Created by former University professor Steve Johnson in 2013, the ACL teaches essential business acumen to pastors and priests of parishes. According to canon law, pastors are the ultimate “C” of their parishes—they are the CEO, the CFO, the CIO, and more. In order for a parish’s ministry to thrive without being undermined by internal management issues, its commander in chief needs to know the essentials of topics such as human resources, risk/liability, business planning, and reading financial statements. The ACL believes that through mastering these key areas as well as others, pastors and priests will be better equipped to guide their parishes in delivering high quality pastoral programs and worship experiences, as well as understanding what potential parishioners are looking for so that programs and ministry opportunities can be revamped and designed in response to their needs. In doing so, the parish becomes less of a product-based institution (“We have a great Mass and assume everyone will like it.”) and more of a parishioner based institution (“What are you seeking? How can we help you?”).

The ACL now serves 20 priests in the Diocese of San Jose and 25 in the Diocese of Stockton. In 2016, it expanded to support music directors and ensemble members. If you want to see a participating parish in action that is close to the SCU Mission Church, try hopping across the street to St. Clare Parish for a Sunday morning Mass. If that isn’t possible, ask your pastor if he has heard of the ACL program, and point him to scu.edu/cpd for more information. The Catholic parish has incredible potential to be even better. The ACL and its participating clergy are working hard to realize that potential, all for the greater glory of God.

Education, Jesuit
Illuminate, religion, music, Santa Clara

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