Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Committee Reveals ‘Blueprint’ For Church Growth

By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published noviembre 15, 2007

The foundation of the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the next dozen years is being carefully placed, brick by brick. The operations, financial support, education and construction projects for the Catholic Church in North Georgia are being studied in detail as priests and parishioners alike determine how to direct the church’s money and manpower to handle the expected influx of newcomers to fill the pews and classrooms.

Spearheading the initiative is the 18-member Archdiocesan Planning Committee, which is now building on a blueprint designed during the past year with facts and objectives gleaned from demographic analysis and surveys of Catholics in the archdiocese. The goal is to build and implement initiatives starting next summer as part of the three-year project.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said, “The challenges we face are the challenges of growth. Having lived in a diocese that has gone through some closures and consolidation, believe me, these challenges are much easier … Our pains are pains of growth.”

And planning committee leaders know they are asking fellow Catholics to accommodate to a new way of relating to one another. Bill Hughey, a committee member from St. Pius X Church, Conyers, believes that the Catholic community will need to work together more. “We are going to have to work differently. We are going to have to work on a collaborative basis.”

The exploding growth of Catholics here spurred the most extensive review of the archdiocese in years, with scores of interviews of priests, parishioners, principals and staff, Internet polls and telephone surveys. Undisclosed benefactors have paid for the project.

The population boom in the Atlanta Archdiocese made it the 25th largest diocese in the country this year, with nearly 650,000 members. The trend is expected to continue as experts estimate by 2015 the number of Catholics will grow by another 120,000.

Newcomers are drawn to Georgia from Catholic-rich areas of the country, immigrants from abroad and the influx of predominantly Catholic Hispanics to metro Atlanta.

The boom is already straining the seams of the existing churches and schools, particularly in metro Atlanta, which will absorb most of the newcomers. For example, to keep up with expected demand, some three dozen additional parishes and missions will need to be opened over the next 10 years. There are about 100 now.

The planning committee hosted three awareness meetings in September and October in different regions to explain what the planning committee accomplished in its first year and to address how the group is creating the strategic blueprint and design of this challenging project going forward from this point forward for the next 10 years.

More than 200 pastors and parish leaders were invited to attend a briefing at either St. Matthew Church, Winder; Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City; or the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, to review the planning work completed so far, ask questions and to get an idea of what is coming down the road. The briefings in locations to the north and south of the city were arranged to accommodate pastors and parishioners who live outside the metropolitan area.

This planning project started in the fall of 2006 with the formation of the Archdiocesan Planning Committee. Organized by Archbishop Gregory, the group’s 18 members include the archbishop, two vicars general, a pastor, a deacon, a Catholic school principal and lay representatives from rural and urban parishes in the 69-county archdiocese. The group works with consultants from the North Highland Company.

Archbishop Gregory challenged the group with making a thorough plan for the archdiocese, which is “not the same Archdiocese that we were 20 years ago … We are already a very large, growing, multicultural Archdiocese in North Georgia, and we will continue to grow substantially in the next 10 years.”

The planning committee was charged with prioritizing the needs of parishes, ministries and schools of the archdiocese to advise Archbishop Gregory on how to best target resources. Putting together the preliminary planning report was the culmination of the first year for the committee members, who worked to compile comprehensive demographic data, gather interview data from scores of church leaders and workers, and define what the critical success factors should be to enhance the archdiocese. The second year will be dedicated to writing guidelines to carry out the plans. Implementation of the planning strategy is scheduled to begin in July 2008.

Many Voices: Lots Of Satisfaction, Areas Of Concern

The committee’s goal was to include the opinions of as many parishioners as possible in considering the plans for the future.

The committee’s study sliced the church into its smallest parts to gauge people’s thoughts. Experts in market research reached out to people with a telephone survey and Internet survey targeting the non-Hispanic white segment of the archdiocese. Focus groups were formed to examine issues from the communities of Brazilian, Hispanic, Korean and Vietnamese Catholics.

Planners drew upon professional polling done recently as well. They incorporated the findings of a 2002 survey of the Hispanic community and a 2006 survey of the black Catholic community by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Nearly 90 percent of pastors, all Catholic school principals and all archdiocesan office leaders were interviewed.

Overall, the surveyed parishioners reported a general satisfaction with where they worship and the archdiocese. The planning committee heard about a dozen consistent themes from the interviews, including:

– Leadership of Archbishop Gregory is wanted and needed.

– Affordable Catholic education is important.

– More transparent, professional and accountable financial management is needed at all levels.

– Vocation questions include where future priests will come from, the number required, the impact of foreign-born priests, the need for continuing education of priests and the need for support for priests.

– Coping with ethnic diversity is a concern, including integration of new parishioners, their financial support of the parish and who plays what role in the assimilation process.

– Strengthening and deepening the faith of the core Catholic population is vital.

– Fellowship and building a sense of community is essential for parish growth.

– More emphasis should be placed on serving those in need.

– Organizational structure of the archdiocese must be changed to meet its future needs; a process is needed to improve efficiency/reduce cost.

Areas of weakness were in “fellowship experiences,” and some survey takers were concerned that parishes are not listening to their needs.

Catholics gave high marks to religious education for youth, but lower marks for adult-focused programs and singles. Social services scored the lowest on surveys with parishioners raising questions about the programs.

Catholics in the ethnic, language and cultural communities in the archdiocese had matching sentiments but also specific concerns:

– Black Catholics prioritized evangelization and faith formation, and 80 percent are concerned about children, youth and adults leaving the faith.

– The Hispanic community was happy with evangelization/vocation opportunities and fellowship events.

– Vietnamese faithful reported strong positive feelings toward the community’s evangelization/vocations efforts, fellowship opportunities and Catholic schools.

– Brazilians Catholics were the least satisfied with the church. They found problems with four out of seven survey areas: religious education, evangelization, fellowship and social services.

– Koreans Catholics found weaknesses with the social service components of the church and stewardship.

Developing A Framework For Growth

The planning committee used the information gathered during this first phase of the planning process (demographic analysis, interviews, studies, market research) to develop what they call a “strategic framework” for the next 10 years. In creating this framework, they prioritized the needs identified during the fact-gathering phase, identified elements of the vision for the archdiocese, defined the elements of the mission of the church, identified the internal and external values most important to Catholics, and developed guidelines for an operating model.

The committee developed an initial list of elements or components for the future vision of the Archdiocese, a vision that is both “aspirational” and “ambitious,” according to committee members. The vision elements include Catholic traditions, active parishioners, increasing vocations, Catholic education, communication, high growth and committed evangelization. As the second year of the planning study progresses, the committee will continue to develop a final vision statement.

On the other hand, the mission, defined simply as “to bring salvation to the people of North Georgia,” articulates the overall purpose of the Archdiocese in specific, achievable terms. And the mission of the archdiocese can be distilled into six separate elements are the basis of the strategy:

– Sacramental availability and pastoral counseling includes the timely availability of access to Mass and the sacraments and pastoral counseling.

– Evangelization ensures that the Catholic population of the archdiocese understands and embraces its role in spreading the Catholic faith to all.

– Faith formation through all stages of life means that resources and programs are available to encourage, nurture and support the spiritual growth and wellbeing of Catholics.

– Fellowship means that parishes and missions provide a welcoming community to all members and are open to strangers.

– Catholic education includes the goal of providing affordable Catholic elementary and secondary schools to the greatest extent possible to Catholic families, in a range of economic segments.

– Social service and charity ensures that Catholics live their faith by sharing time, talent and treasure with the poor and marginalized and work to apply social justice teachings in the community.

The committee has defined each of these elements, along with an estimation of where these elements are today (most at or near a minimum standard of success) and where they should be in 10 years. For instance, the mission element of evangelization was measured today at a level below minimum, with the objective of growing to a level far above minimum in the next decade.

Included in the framework was a list of “critical success factors,” which must be achieved in order to accomplish the mission of the church. These factors include increased vocations, improved communications, vibrant worship experiences, coordinated religious education, expanded school availability, increased stewardship, greater focus on evangelization and accountability.

The expanded strategy map shows an intricate, yet practical connection between the vision, the mission, the mission elements, the critical success factors and the foundation—or key areas—of the entire plan.

Focusing On Key Areas

Planners carved out the key areas, or models, with subcommittees for each model given specific mandates for the future organization of the archdiocese:

– Business—to implement an efficient and effective customer-centric business model and focus on the daily operations of the central offices of the archdiocese.

– Facilities—to build an integrated end-to-end model for planning, locating, contracting and building projects.

– Education—to develop projects for expanding Catholic schools and focus on the school systems needs.

– Stewardship—to build up a strong sense of stewardship and Christian discipleship capable of supporting the future needs of the parishes, schools and the archdiocese.

Each of these models is an integral part of the foundation for the growth of the archdiocese. Success in these areas is critical and has been defined in a laundry list of objectives and measurable success factors.

The subcommittees, comprised of a total of 60 to 70 members, are meeting now and will report to the planning committee with regular updates during the next year.

Put all the parts together—the planning report, the four subcommittees’ work, the six mission elements and the benchmarks to measure success—and what comes out is the strategic map.

During the next phase of the planning process, which began in July and is expected to conclude in June 2008, the Archdiocesan Planning Committee members will serve as leaders in the work of the subcommittees. Together the groups will work to design the models that will form the basis of a well-designed and implemented Archdiocese of Atlanta, bringing salvation to the people of North Georgia.


An area on the main Web site for the Archdiocese of Atlanta ( has been set up to communicate the work of the planning committee. Readers can go there to access Georgia Bulletin articles on the work of the Archdiocesan Planning Committee and to download the entire presentation of the planning study report. The site also includes a link to e-mail the planning committee with a question or concern or suggestion about the planning study.