NCCL: Time to Take a Good Hard Look

Libby MahowaldBlog, Featured

by Mark Mogilka

from the November 2019 issue of Catechetical Leader, available for download here.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” Few would argue that the world and the church today are not in the midst of “interesting times.”

Near-daily advances in technology and the digital world astound and amaze. We live with a challenging political landscape, environmental changes, and the constant movement of peoples. People are skeptical of institutions, and few are willing to volunteer, join organizations, or make commitments.

In the church we have all heard the challenging numbers concerning vocations, attendance at Mass, and sacramental participation. We have seen the impact of the sexual abuse crisis, bankruptcies, the church’s ability to engage young people, the decline in participation in Catholic schools and religious education programs, and the linking, merging, or closing of parishes. Few would argue the need to embrace the Hispanicization of the church and address competing ecclesiologies. Add to the mix the competition the Catholic Church faces from various denominations in the religious marketplace, and we have named just a few of the challenges.

The impact of these “interesting times” has been felt by the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership and many national Catholic professional leadership organizations. In recent years several have seen declines in members and financial support.

In the midst of these “interesting times” we find the voice of Pope Francis, who calls us to renew our relationship with Jesus, to open ourselves anew to the action and power of the Holy Spirit, to renew the organizational structures of the church, and not to fall into the trap of “we have always done it this way.”

Aware of these “opportunities for virtuous action,” the board of NCCL this past summer decided it was time to take a good, hard look at itself. To do it well, it took the bold step of reaching beyond itself to seek proposals from several organizational consulting firms with expertise in Catholic organizational renewal. After reviewing several proposals, the board chose the professional expertise of Meitler.

Who is Meitler?

The tagline for Meitler is “Smarter Decisions—Stronger Mission.” Meitler is a professional Catholic church management consulting firm, founded in 1971, that has been collecting data, analyzing it, and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in its efforts to assist thousands of Catholic organizations, dioceses, schools, and parishes in 43 states to develop plans for growth and to more effectively and efficiently carry out their missions.

As the lead consultant, I will be working closely with the leadership and membership of NCCL to accomplish the following goals:

  1. to assess the current organizational structure and services of NCCL;
  2. to review the current NCCL purpose, vision, and goals;
  3. to study the effectiveness of the organization and make recommendations where needed;
  4. to listen carefully to needs of the membership and various groups aligned with NCCL; and
  5. to explore potential new models for helping NCCL carry out its mission.

How does this line up with the NCCL ends policies?

Section 2.0 of the NCCL Ends Policies notes the overall goal to “be aware of changing dynamics and landscapes in ministry.” The sub-goals state that NCCL “will analyze the signs of the times through empirical data, experiential anecdotes, research and study” (2.1) and furthermore “will engage catechetical partners and/or relevant entities outside of the organization as a means to effect better practices, approaches, methodologies and frameworks” (2.2).

Working closely with the leadership of NCCL, the Meitler process will facilitate the accomplishment of these ends policies.

What is the Meitler process?

The first step in any Meitler organizational renewal or planning process is to meet with as many people as possible to listen, hear their stories, and collect information. Since mid-August, Meitler has listened to and observed board meetings; participated in planning meetings for the Representative Council meeting; and conducted interviews with board members and staff, former NCCL leaders, and NCCL partner organizations and groups. I will be attending the upcoming Representative Council meeting to observe and, more importantly, to listen to the needs, experiences, hopes, and dreams of those present.

With the help of the NCCL staff and executive director Margaret Matijasevic, we have already gathered several hundred pages of information and data, including information on:

  1. Organizational structure, including the NCCL mission statement, bylaws, ends policies, and procedure manuals.
  2. Staffing, including job descriptions, annual reviews, staffing patterns, and part-time, subcontracted services.
  3. Memberships, including the various categories, partnerships, forums, and interest groups.
  4. Membership trends over time.
  5. Services provided, such as the annual convocation, Catechetical Leader magazine, website, email, blogs, publications, webinars, and advocacy.
  6. Finances, including income, expenses over time, and projections for the future.
  7. Communications systems with groups associated with NCCL: What do they receive and how does NCCL listen and respond to them?
  8. Environmental scan: a look at what’s happening in the world, the church, the fields of evangelization and catechetics that are important to keep in mind.

In addition to looking at NCCL, the Meitler team will also conduct a study of comparable Catholic professional organizations. Meitler hopes to learn how other groups are organized to carry out their mission and how they deal with these “interesting times.” 

During December and January, the Meitler team will share key data with members of the NCCL board, enter into a time of dialogue, and begin the early steps of a longer process of discernment as to what the information gathered might be calling the NCCL leadership to consider as it looks to the future.

Deeper listening to the experience, needs, and hopes of all members of NCCL is targeted for late January. Meitler, working with the board and staff, will develop a survey that will be distributed to all members. It is very important that as many people as possible take the time to respond to this online survey. The results will play an important part in the formulation of plans for the future of NCCL.

In the spring, the NCCL board and staff will receive the results of the membership survey, a report with Meitler’s initial observations concerning NCCL, and Meitler’s preliminary recommendations for potential action. It is hoped this information will act as a catalyst for a graced time of dialogue and discernment by the leadership of NCCL to prayerfully reflect on what God may be calling the organization to consider in the future. The fruit of this discernment will be the draft of a plan that will receive further consideration by the membership of NCCL at the annual convocation.

At the convocation in May, all members will have a chance to review and prayerfully consider what should be bold and innovative initiatives, grounded in the long history of NCCL, that will continue to support and grow the evangelical and catechetical ministry of the church.

Concluding thoughts

In closing, it might be helpful to consider the words of Pope Francis at the recent Amazon Synod. In his opening prayer, he asked God to give the participants “the Spirit of intelligence, truth, and peace so that they may know what is pleasing to You and have the courage to realize it.” He went on to urge participants to “pray much” then “reflect, dialogue, listen with humility, knowing that I do not know all.” He concluded his opening remarks by saying, “Pray for each other, have courage and please do not lose the sense of humor.” May these same sentiments apply to the process outlined here. (And remember to encourage one another to complete the January survey!)

Mark Mogilka is a senior consultant at Meitler and lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is the coauthor of the book Pastoring Multiple Parishes. In 2017 he was awarded the Rev. Louis Luzbetak Award by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University for “exemplary Church research.”
Contact him at mmogilka@meitler.com.