Disciples In Mission

Disciples in Mission is the Pastoral Plan promulgated by Cardinal Seán O’Malley in 2012 based on the recommendations of the Pastoral Planning Commission. It is founded on the recognition that our parishes are Eucharistic communities of God’s faithful people, entrusted with carrying out the mission given by Jesus Christ to the Church. Each element of this proposed plan is a means for enabling parish communities to fulfill the Gospel mission.  

What is Disciples in Mission?
Disciples in Mission is the Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Boston.  It was promulgated by Cardinal Seán in November of 2012.  It was developed from a long process of consultation and deliberation, involving many thousands of people throughout the Archdiocese.

Will you summarize Disciples in Mission for me?
Parish-based evangelization works, and we can train for it, but we need strong parishes in order to do so.  Disciples in Mission calls every parish of the Archdiocese of Boston to become a strong, stable, intentional, and effective center of the New Evangelization.  Disciples in Mission is not a plan to close parishes, because we believe that parishes are going to grow, not shrink, and we are going to need all of the space that we have.  In order better to focus our resources on evangelization, Disciples in Mission organizes the 288 parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston into approximately 135 Collaboratives.

What is a Collaborative? A collaborative is a grouping of one, two, or three parishes that work together for the goal of evangelization. A collaborative has one pastor, one set of assigned priests and deacons, and one Pastoral Team (including Pastoral Associates, Religious Education and Faith Formation leaders, Finance and Operations specialists, and administrative and facilities personnel).  All of these work together for all of the parishes of the collaborative.  The collaborative has one Pastoral Council, and one Local Pastoral Plan for evangelization.

Why are we doing this, and why are we doing it now?
We are dealing with what we have come to call our “four deficits.”

  1. We don’t have enough priests.
  2. We don’t have enough trained lay ecclesial ministers.
  3. We don’t have enough money.
  4. We don’t have enough people coming to Mass.


The first three deficits are directly related to the fourth.  It is very tempting to try to make a Pastoral Plan which just addresses one of the first three.  For instance, if we were to close a bunch of parishes, we would need fewer priests. If we cut way back on expenses and sold lots of property, we’d have more money.  But no plan can outpace the rate at which the fourth, and most important, deficit is having an impact.  In 1970, some 70% of self-identified Catholics went to Mass on a weekly basis.  Now, about 16% of self-identified Catholics are at Mass on any given weekend.  So, Disciples in Mission is basically a plan to address the fourth deficit.  Without addressing that one, no plan can work.

You can say all that, but isn’t Disciples in Mission just a back door way of closing Parishes?
From 1990 to 2000, the Archdiocese of Boston closed about 60 parishes.  In 2004, we closed another
65, in a process called “Reconfiguration.”  Those closures solved some of our problems, but they did not solve the core problem.  Each year, in the Archdiocese, about 5000 fewer people come to Sunday Mass.  That has been a steady decline, which began in the early 1980s.  That is our basic problem.  No form of Pastoral Planning can be effective which does not address that core problem.  Since we believe that Parishes can be effective centers of evangelization, this is not the moment to close Parishes.
Disciples in Mission is a plan for growth, not a plan for downsizing.  Indeed, it would be a very poorly conceived plan if it were intended for downsizing.  We believe that we are going to need the space we have, because we believe that we are going to refill our churches and our Parishes and our seminaries.
It is possible to conceive of a Pastoral Plan that is a managed form of downsizing.  Disciples in Mission is not that plan.

What is a Local Pastoral Plan?  In some sense Disciples in Mission is a Pastoral Plan, but in some senses what it really does is to create a context for Pastoral Planning.  The heart of the archdiocesan wide implementation of the plan is the Local Pastoral Plan which each collaborative will develop. The plans are developed over a period of more than a year.  Drafts of the plans will be submitted for comment, and Cardinal Seán will read and approve the final plan.

Each plan will identify three critical mission areas for a collaborative – we call these areas priorities.  These priorities are central concerns that must be the work of every person in the collaborative.  For instance, one priority could be Adult Faith Formation, or improved experience of Sunday Liturgy, or better welcoming on every level.  One of the priorities must pertain to fostering vocations to the diocesan priesthood. Each priority will have at least two SMART goals associated with it – goals that are specific, motivating, attainable, relevant, and trackable.

Each goal needs to have resources assigned to it – both staff and money – and the assignment of those resources needs to be reflected in the staff job descriptions and in the budgets of the parishes of the collaborative. The plans last for three years.  At the end of those three years, the parishes take a year to reflect, and to rewrite their plans.

The Cardinal has asked Collaboratives to make Vocations a priority when writing their local pastoral plans.  How do we begin to raise awareness in a prayerful, practical way in our parishes? To assist Collaboratives in the important evangelization work that they will be doing in their Collaboratives and parishes, the Vocations Office has compiled some useful resources.  The complete list of over 20 detailed suggestions can be found at this link.  Here, parishes will find ready-to-print prayer services for Holy Hours, sample bulletin notices and prayers of the faithful, a template for establishing a Collaborative Vocation Team, and more ideas than we have room to print here.

Read Disciples in Mission here:
DISCIPLES IN MISSION: A Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Boston

Visit http://disciplesinmission.com for all current planning news!