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What does the diocese of the future look like?

BY Matthew Warner

| Posted 8/26/12 at 9:53 PM

 

Catholic dioceses today face all kinds of challenges. Many of the challenges are very different depending on what part of the world you're in and on what kind of leadership is in place (or was previously in place there).

One of the great things about the diocesan model is that each diocese has quite a bit of autonomy in determining how best to run their diocese for their specific circumstances (subsidiarity). The problem is that they seem to forget this and instead just sit around copying each other or waiting for somebody else to do it first! We need our dioceses to lead, not follow.

And especially at a time like this when so many parishes are struggling (financially, spiritually and otherwise), the organizational leadership and coordination of resources at the diocesan level could very well end up making the difference between a growing or a shrinking local church.

Unfortunately, a lot of diocesan offices are just not fully equipped to make this important difference. There are three key reasons for this: attitude, agility and accountability.

Attitude: Dioceses of the future need to have an attitude that is proactive and missionary. But too many dioceses today are mostly re-active and stuck in maintenance mode. They are only looking inward, not outward.

Agility: Dioceses of the future need to be agile and adaptable. Things move fast these days. Whether it has to do with technology, public relations or personnel, organizations must be quick, nimble, creative, innovative and willing to take chances with decisive action. But too often they are slow, inefficient and impotent when it comes to solving basic problems. Their personnel are clinging fearfully to the status quo. And their bureaucracy rivals that of the federal government...except they are held even *less* accountable! 

Accountability: Dioceses of the future must be held accountable. Whether it's politicians, CEOs or your 14 year old teenager, people perform better when held accountable. It's in our fallen nature to perform more and more poorly the less we're held accountable. And it has nothing to do with how well-intentioned or skilled the person is. Right now, the average parishioner knows nothing about what their diocese is doing with *their* money and resources. Awareness is low and expectations are even lower. So, inevitably, a lot of dioceses are underperforming and are allowed to go on endlessly doing the same.

This is not at all to minimize the very difficult challenges many dioceses are facing or the good work they're doing. I think they have a uniquely tough job that most people on the outside don't fully appreciate. But the above reasons are making the job that much tougher.

But for those same reasons, I think the makings of the "diocese of the future" will be found in a, perhaps, unlikely place: Small dioceses.

Small dioceses are agile enough to come up with great ideas and then actually go *do* them. They can implement the latest and greatest technologies and then actually get them "approved" before the technology becomes obsolete! They don't have so much policy that it squelches the innovative process before it ever has a chance to start. They can quickly try new things and find new solutions...but only if they have the attitude to try in the first place.

On all three accounts above, though, small dioceses have an advantage. They can correct their attitude with less effort, are naturally agile and are more easily held accountable. And when they have the right people in there, they are finding that you can do a lot these days with very little. And they are also finding that even a small diocese has a lot more resources than they think. It just takes the right leadership to draw them out, coordinate their use, inspire people and communicate the vision.

In the business world, it is almost always small - not big - businesses that lead the way in innovation (the big businesses just copy them, aquire them or have bigger applications of it). I think it will be much the same for dioceses. I'm excited to see how many of the small dioceses out there - ones many of us haven't even heard of yet - will be showing us the way and leading us into the future.