5. Meaningful Communities by Fr. James Mallon


  • Meaningful, authentic Christian communities are places where we feel that we belong, where we are known and loved, where we find others to whom we are accountable and who are accountable to us.
  • “Most people [today] join, stay and leave churches not because of belief, but because of a sense of belonging, because of community. The old order of behaving-believing-belonging has been reversed. Many are willing to change their lifestyles and behaviours, but only if they truly believe it for themselves. Beliefs are changed not by preaching and teaching, but by building trust through relationships, through caring, through belonging” (139).
  • We need to shatter the “private club” mentality that is present in most parishes, which are for those who believe the same things and act the same way.
  • Belonging opens the door to faith, to following Christ.
  • Belonging is not for its own sake – it is always for the sake of creating healthy soil – meaningful communities – that allows missionary disciples to emerge.

How do we transform the culture of our parishes to begin to live out a belong-believe-behave model?

Are we ready and willing to provide opportunities for a real and authentic experience of belonging for those who do not believe what we believe, or do not behave as we believe they should?

Alpha = the belong-believe-behave approach to evangelization.

  • Belong = Alpha focuses on creating a warm, welcoming, non-threatening, non-pressurized and non-judgmental environment where guests are loved and accepted unconditionally. No correction. No judgment. Just shared meals. Trust grows. Over 10 weeks. Belief slowly transformed. Then behaviour & lifestyle changes.

Sunday Morning

  • Name Tag Sunday. Once a month. Going to war with the notion of anonymous Christianity. Trying to build meaningful connections. Trying to know everybody’s name.
  • Prayer Partners @ Mass. Better than a meet and greet. Partner with someone you do not know. At end of Prayers of the Faithful, every person in the congregation pauses in silence to pray by name for the person he or she met at the beginning of Mass.
  • Prayer Ministry after Mass. Pray for people on the spot! Trained teams of lay people.


  • Tools that measure the health of a parish.
  • You have to be able to measure health to manage it.
  • Growing an Engaged Church by Al Wiseman (click here for my summary of that).
  • Engagement = the greatest indicator of good soil. Engagement is a sense of belonging, a psychological connection to the local church and its mission, and a sense of ownership of what is happening and of where the Church is headed.
  • The belong-believe-behave paradigm in action. In Gallup’s vocabulary, engagement (belonging) drives spiritual commitment (believing), which, in turn, drives the outcomes (behaving) of growing, serving, and giving. (p. 150)
  • Healthy soil condition = 4:1 ratio of engaged to actively disengaged parishioners.
  • Remember, if you’re used to spending time at the morgue (really unhealthy parish) then looking at patients in the ICU unit may seem really good (not a healthy parish).
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