Being a Member of a National Organization During a Changing Landscape

Margaret MatijasevicBlog, Featured, NCCL Board of Directors

The National Conference for Catechetical Leadership is experiencing great change. Over the past year, multiple shifts have been discerned and implemented from the fiduciary responsibility of the Board of Directors. Prioritizing the viability of the organization through a changing landscape of church is not an easy task, but critical to the vocational commitment the membership of NCCL has in the ministries of catechesis and evangelization.

We have all seen the data. We know the reality. The numbers are declining.

The “data,” as we have it, can be found in the stories of our members through the experiences of their ministries. It can be recognized in formal reports compiling figures and statistics through well-respected institutions, like CARA and Gallup, and it can be heard across the spectrum from established organizations, including higher education and the nonprofit sector. There is a shift in how people are communing for personal or professional networking, spiritual and religious fulfillment, and for an avenue to give back to society through monetary contributions and/or volunteer services. This has left all non-profit membership organizations with an opportunity to re-envision how they engage in a common mission within a new context. Yet for many of us, this is a difficult exercise. The potential is obvious. Organizations are encouraged to provide new exciting methods, but the limitations are palpable. The current resources often dictate a limitation of time, treasure, or talent to foster such creative new processes, as they are currently dedicated to sustaining outdated models. So where has that positioned NCCL?

Over the past year, the Board of Directors has been committed to their role of visioning for the long-term success of NCCL. In those processes, the recurring theme of culture has demonstrated. An imbedded and fostered culture of a group of people tends to inhibit growth and change; often without intention, and sometimes without awareness, so as to maintain the identity of the group. As the saying goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” With roots that date back to the 1930s, NCCL has a rich institutional history, creating a unique culture of its membership community. Some of these experiences have provided opportunities to stay viable for the past eighty years; others have done the opposite and have inhibited development. Through the recent launch of the new ENDS policies, the 24/7 initiative, and in the restructuring of committees, there has been an intentional cultivation of a paradigm shift that is critical for NCCL’s ongoing success, one that focuses on membership engagement and commitment. The goal is to assure a communal ownership is nurturing an ever-developing national catechetical vision. Yet the largest learning in this process is that this paradigm shift of culture isn’t siloed to the NCCL as a membership organization but is connected to a systemic culture within the church.

At first read, that last sentence may sound challenging, or even off-putting, but let’s take a look at an example to better understand its context.

We have all seen the data. We know the reality. The numbers are declining.
The interpretation of “the numbers” in these three sentences could be varied, largely dependent on systemic culture norms. Some variables would be:

  • The people in the pew are declining.
  • The young people in our church are declining.
  • The amount of staff in my parish or diocese is declining.
  • The budgets are declining.
  • The number of hours I am hired to work is declining.
  • The ability for all ministers (bishops, pastors, lay leaders, religious, etc.) to commit to group projects/initiatives is declining.

All of these five interpretations would be reflective of at least one NCCL member’s interpretation.

All of these interpretations would be correct.

And all would produce a direct influence in how we function as a national organization. Each reflects a cultural rhetoric that influences the vocation of catechetical and evangelization leaders at the local level.

Now let’s take that step further. If each of these interpretations are true, and if at least one of these would reflect the priority and/or experience of a current member of NCCL, how would this affect one’s expectation of the organization?

Here are some possible interpretations:

  • The people in the pew are declining. I need to provide programs that address this.
  • The young people in our church are declining. I need to encourage and mentor young leadership in the church.
  • The amount of staff in my parish or diocese is declining. I need to let go of some viable programs that I have fostered over the years to sustain this ministry within these parameters. I need to work differently.
  • The budgets are declining. I need to sacrifice professional development opportunities, stifling the enhancement of my skills, to balance the budget.
  • The number of hours I am hired to work is declining. I need to adjust my work habits to sustain this ministry, and balance my own financial needs by taking on other work (speaking, consulting, etc.).
  • The ability for all ministers (bishops, pastors, lay leaders, religious, etc.) to commit to group projects/initiatives is declining. I have difficulty achieving collaboration or furthering partnerships with other ministers because there is a need to cut back on the amount of commitments.

From conversations at the Representative Council the past three years, reflecting the feedback of their constituencies, the board is concluding that NCCL needs to be attentive to these systemic realities, and adjust how the organization functions. The creation of more viable resources, the assurance of advocacy for professional standards, comprehensive mentoring of new professionals in the field, and a developing staff would all be recognized priorities. At this juncture in church history, different approaches to catechesis and evangelization are expected and needed, and it is our responsibility to discover how and to implement challenging models. But what does that inevitably require?

That difficult word and process we all know: CHANGE.

It is going to require a change of management in how each of us commits to these ministries. A commitment to prioritizing collaboration at the national level, accentuating the charisms across our membership network, and sharing freely all one can for the greater mission of sharing the Gospel by utilizing new tools, approaches, and methodologies. Each of us will need to step away from silos, and enter into modern technology spaces to build relationships, express creativity, and share abundantly through the interchange of ideas and mutual support. Each of us will need to develop new skills to be trusted stewards of the vocation and mission. NCCL will need to partner strategically and comprehensively. NCCL will need to seek grants for supporting new understanding of cutting-edge methodological models. NCCL will need to consider the potential of new financial investment models to offer advocacy for its membership. NCCL will need to tell our story, both personally and broadly, to facilitate new pathways of support that engages the grassroots network of our reach, but most importantly, each of us will need to be a part of this community, to assure we are refreshed and nourished with each other’s support.

The early disciples were faced with similar opportunities, to engage a world beyond their current experience, and God’s love and mercy was generous with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, assisting in the proclamation of the Gospel. The early disciples didn’t take on the vocation alone; they were sent out two by two. Let us be brave and enter this new terrain together, and let us recommit to this vocation by being open to CHANGE with prayer, discernment, and commitment.