Leadership guru Patrick Lencioni wants to make parishes ‘Amazing’ places

Our Lady of Lourdes, Brockton, Mass. Photo: George Martell/Bayard, Inc.

Patrick Lencioni, who is perhaps best known for books that teach fundamental principles of leadership and management through novel-like stories filled with bad examples, has turned his sights to America’s Catholic parishes.

Patrick Lencioni. Photo courtesy of The Table Group

The Catholic author of books with such titles as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting, and The Five Temptations of a CEO co-founded an apostolate about six years ago called The Amazing Parish.

The organization exists to revitalize the Church by equipping pastors and leaders with the training, resources, and support they need to create vibrant and thriving parishes. They learn how to build healthy organizations, inject prayer into everything they do, and evangelize and disciple one another so they can make their parish good at doing those things, too.

“A person’s parish is ‘church’ for most people,” says Lencioni, who so far has reached about 1,200 parishes in North America through Amazing Parish conferences. “All kinds of parishes around the United States are in the process of becoming amazing through this simple but important work of building a healthy organization in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.”

Although every parish is unique, Lencioni says, he has found that there are three common building blocks that form the foundation of an amazing parish, and it all begins with prayer.

“The people who lead the parish need to pray as a team and submit everything to God,” he says. “Too often parish offices look like insurance companies or doctors’ offices when they should be a cauldron of prayer. It’s amazing that many leaders in churches aren’t praying and submitting everything they are working on to God.”

Our Lady of Lourdes, Brockton, Mass. Photo: George Martell/Bayard, Inc.

The second thing required, Lencioni says, is that parish teams actually have to work like a functional team, and they need to do that better than any secular company does.

“The Church is more important than any company in the world, yet parishes sometimes have lower standards,” he says. “But they should have higher standards than Microsoft or Chick-fil-A because what they do is ultimately more important. The pastor and his leadership team have to perform and act like a real team. They have to learn how to trust each other, argue well, make commitments, hold each other accountable, and focus on getting results for God. When they settle for mediocrity, it’s so sad, and that idea of settling for mediocrity because ‘it’s just church stuff so it’s good enough’ has often pervaded our Church.”

The final building block to an amazing parish is creating a culture where the people who work together are actively involved in spiritual growth with one another, he says.

The Church is more important than any company in the world.

“If the people who lead the parish are not pouring into each other’s lives, doing Bible study, praying together, and evangelizing one another and pushing one another to grow in their faith, there’s no way they are going to get the rest of the people in the parish to do that,” says Lencioni, who has seen his own faith revitalized in the past 10 years by recognizing the beauty and truth of the Church. “They can’t just plug in a video or implement a program. They have to actually be living witnesses of evangelization and discipleship within the parish office.

“When you walk into a parish office you should say, ‘wow, these people are prayerful. Wow, these people are really professional and work like a team. Wow, these people live their faith and help one another and speak into one another from a spiritual level.’ Too many parishes are not praying a lot together and they don’t function as a team. They function like a golf team with a bunch of people with different titles doing their jobs. It’s no wonder they’re not bringing more people to Jesus and to the parish.”

Lencioni is quick to point out that Jesus doesn’t live in management professionalism — he lives in the truth — but notes that it’s still a huge obstacle to faith when people have to overcome bad leadership when they come to a parish office.

“When people walk into a parish office and someone is grumpy with them or just hands them a form, [those team members] are not thinking that this is a person who is looking for Jesus,” Lencioni says. “But everyone who walks onto a parish campus is looking for Jesus. If the people who work there don’t understand that’s their job, then [they need to] go get a job someplace else because mediocrity is a turnoff.”

Everyone who walks onto a parish campus is looking for Jesus.

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