Are we becoming an austerity Church rather than one of abundance? We seem to be abandoning a theology of Christian hope and retrenching as if we are businesses instead of mission-driven agencies of the Kingdom of God on earth. Have we forgotten the blessing to the Church that lay ministry provides? Have we forgotten that the Holy Spirit is in charge?
At the same time parishes cut back, the cultural challenges to church participation and attendance are greater than ever and call for additional skills and strategies from our catechetical and liturgical leaders. Replacing them with well-intentioned but unformed people who are simply able to organize and operate a program can only have negative effects.
We have not lost the need for catechetical leaders who can see the big picture - people with the ability to evangelize families and draw people into deeper participation in the life of the church, not just people who can "make the trains run on time." We need people able to evaluate catechetical materials intelligently, who can deal with the very real issues of non-practicing parents of children in formation, and who have the ability to choose, lead and form catechists to provide more than what is in the textbooks. We need leaders who can discern and support volunteers, with a vision for the future, who are available to attend local and diocesan formation to develop new strategies and skills, not part-time people who have another day job and/or the responsibility for a young family.
Parishes also need to provide more, not less adult faith formation. The promise of "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us" that adult formation should become the priority in parishes has not been realized in most places - and without someone giving that area attention, parishes provide either nothing or very little to engage and catechize adults. Small wonder that stewardship of time, talent and treasure for many people is tepid or irrelevant to their Mass attendance (if they attend at all.)
This church needs liturgical ministers who understand the beauty of the liturgy and have the ability to lead volunteers to enculturate the celebration appropriately to make it lively and appropriate for the community, not just people to play keyboards. The most frequent complaint parishioners have is about the quality of liturgy. When pastors cut back on liturgical staff, they make good liturgical leadership even less possible - and more of the burden goes onto the pastors themselves.
Back in 2005, Paulist Father Robert Rivers proposed that we need to go From Maintenance to Mission - to move forward as a church to accept the challenges of evangelizing in today's culture. Today, it is even bleaker than that, as we seem to backslide into retrenching, rather than maintaining.
The ROI (return on investment) in good lay ministers who are able to work with a pastor and independently to provide and inspire great parish leadership will naturally be larger in terms of participation, engagement and stewardship of its people. The experiments by the Gallup organization with "church engagement" strategies have shown how true that is.
The larger question here is why are pastors listening more to the voices of their business managers than to the voice of the Holy Spirit? There is a term that seems to apply here: "Functional Atheism" - meaning we say there is a God, but we act as if God has no power to affect our situation. We are going into a Year of Faith. Perhaps it should instead have been a "Year of Hope" instead.