Parishioners at an Emergent Strengths workshop at St. Thomas à Becket Church in Montreal. Photo courtesy Emergent Strengths

A search for ‘strengths’ in community

By 
  • February 21, 2020

Fr. Dominic Barber believes he’s found the tool that will take St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham, Ont., on the path to a stronger, more engaged parish.

“We’re trying to get people on what we call ‘the road,’ ” said Barber, pastor at one of the largest parish communities in the Archdiocese of Toronto with 7,000 families registered and a weekly average of about 2,800 people attending Sunday Mass.

“The road” is beginning a journey where you meet Jesus, then His (Church) community and getting to know His ways before joining Christ’s mission. But to do this, you need to be prepared.

“At that point when you’re ready to join His mission that’s where (an individual’s) strengths can be very powerfully used as a tool,” said Barber. “When you’re ready for that mission you need to be equipped.”

Barber raves about “Live Your Strengths,” a program developed by Barry Koen-Butt and his wife Elizabeth Yorski Butt, a married couple heavily involved in parish ministry at St. Patrick’s. It’s formed the basis of the parish’s strengths ministry, which invites parishioners to grow their understanding of the relationship with God and understanding His perfect will in their life. The goal is to have parishioners discover their God-given strengths and talents and develop these to become more engaged in the parish. 

A lack of engagement in parish life is something the Catholic Church suffers from, said Barber.

“People no longer think that church matters any more. We see this over and over again. I think this is a good bridge where people can see how they can be engaged,” he said.

Koen-Butt and his wife have backgrounds in both the public and private sectors. He has worked in social marketing, corporate communications and public relations while Yorski Butt was a learning and development professional. They developed Live Your Strengths using professional development from their combined backgrounds to help with their ministry. The five-session program was designed specifically for St. Patrick’s originally, and its success there has led them to start EmergentStrengths Consulting + Coaching, a business that is bringing the concept to other churches. 

The goal is to help Catholic organizations build stronger and more vital faith communities, said Koen-Butt. It’s not unlike the corporate world where companies try to develop employees’ strengths for the betterment of the business. They had come across many assessment tools, but found Gallup’s Clifton Strengths tool the best of the bunch. 

The key in this tool, said Koen-Butt, is discovering and developing a person’s top strengths, their “raw material.”

“These are your God-given talents,” said Koen-Butt. “This is how God uniquely made you. What you need to do is take how God made you and invest in that to be all you can be for His glory.” 

Gallup studies show how this tool can help in a religious community, he said. Engaged parishioners “with a deep sense of belonging to the organization,” Gallup found, are more likely to invite someone to the parish, are three times as likely to be satisfied with their own lives, are likely to spend more time serving their community and likely to give three times more financially to their faith community.

“But what they also found is when people feel valued and they value each other, projects go more smoothly, people volunteer more, there’s less drama because people appreciate each other,” said Koen-Butt.

Staff at St. Patrick’s have taken part in the workshops and Barber has seen a difference. There’s been a reshuffling of roles and responsibilities that “has realigned our staff where their strengths can be better leveraged,” he said. 

Barber had an initial trepidation about using a tool associated with the corporate world. But it’s been a fairly seamless fit in the parish, he said, as many parishioners have been exposed to such programs in their work lives. 

“Ultimately these are God-given talents, strengths or gifts, and once we become aware of who we are, what we have, how we’ve been gifted, now there’s a challenge or an onus put upon us… God gives these to us for a purpose,” said Barber.

Barber has spoken to other priests about the program and he’s seen the philosophy “gaining traction” in other Christian denominations and churches. But the challenge, he said, is to make sure it doesn’t come across as “just another kind of program.”

Koen-Butt has been able to get other parishes to buy into the program. He’s presented it to staff at 17 parishes in the Archdiocese of Montreal, where last fall they ran workshops.

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