Learning to do the Church Leadership ‘pivot’

By Deacon Tony Hoban and Annette Hoban, 3 July 2020
Image: Shutterstock.


Deacon Tony and Annette Hoban offered the following as their experience of leadership in the time of COVID-19 at a recent Diocesan online forum. Deacon Tony and Annette are the Pastoral Leaders of St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community, Marsden Park.

We recently watched a few videos by the Canadian Christian writer and podcaster, Carey Nieuwhof. The focus was on the need to be able to pivot in our roles in church leadership.

While many of us believe we pivoted at the start of the COVID lockdown time, his challenge is that we need to continually pivot every 30, 60 or 90 days. That is, to evaluate what is working and what is not – every 1, 2 or 3 months! And to develop ideas based on what is changing in our world and why it is changing. To look for trends. To not only see how these changes might restrict us, but also what they make possible. And finally, to implement plans on what we will do differently.

Importantly, this is not something for the leader to do on their own. It is something to be done with a leadership team.

And so, this pivot process should be repeated every 30, 60 or 90 days.

It caused us to reflect on what pivoting we need to do now, in our new faith community at St Luke’s Marsden Park, which is just over two years old. What are the realisations that we have come to that require us to ‘pivot’ going forward?

We came up with seven things we think are relevant for pastoral leaders and staff to consider:


1. Engaging cultural Catholics as disciples.

We have observed that while many people have engaged with us in Zoom Masses and Communion Services, and have taken up the invitation to request to come along to Mass in more recent weeks, a surprising number of people have not.

It seems that, for some, the dispensation from attending Sunday Mass has been taken as a kind of permission to forget about communal worship until the Sunday obligation returns.

It is an aspect of cultural Catholicism that we knew existed, but which has been highlighted due to the pandemic. The question that we are still pondering is how we more fully engage these people into a discipleship approach rather than a compliance approach to their faith.


2. Democratising of faith.

Due to our Zoom liturgies, we were able to use surveys several times to get responses from our community members on several topics. While pastoral councils are great for getting the voice of the people, sometimes we need to hear from everyone and get their input. As we pivot going forward, we will look for opportunities to capture the voice of all the people at appropriate times.


3. Reviewing how we ask people to give.

On the financial side of things, it has created an opportunity to really push for direct debit for our collections. The new aversion to touching physical currency for hygiene reasons opens the door to push for people to set up ongoing electronic contributions to our first and second collections.


4. What is the role for online liturgies going forward?

Do we still need to cater for the sick and elderly via online Masses beyond the pandemic? What is the role of online liturgy for people who are exploring our faith? Daniel Ang, Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, wrote recently of a suggestion for people to be able to listen to the readings and homily online via Zoom and then be able to go into a breakout room for a facilitated discussion to unpack what they are thinking and learning.


5. The ongoing role for online.

Is there an opportunity for many small groups to utilise online platforms like Zoom for small groups like Alpha, bible study, and prayer groups? Some people find online groups less intimidating socially, and also it is so much more convenient to jump on Zoom from your loungeroom or home office than get into a car and go out on a cold winter’s night.

One of our local prayer groups has seen an increase in numbers since going onto Zoom in recent months.


6. A good database is essential.

We aim to capture the names, phone numbers and email of every new person or family in our worshipping community. It has allowed us to send emails and text messages where there is important news to report about restrictions and information about our Zoom Masses.

It has reinforced the need to capture this data, and also the need to think about what things we communicate to our people. Perhaps the need for a weekly, printed bulletin no longer exists.

We have also used Facebook more than ever to put out updates. We know we need to do a serious overhaul of the content on our website because that is where many people first go when looking for potential places to worship.


7. Drawing on the wisdom in your community.

We have learnt of the importance of tapping into the wisdom of our leaders.

When the restrictions first hit, we met on Zoom with our ministry leaders and talked through how we could use Zoom to continue to have Sunday liturgies. The general idea was refined and enhanced with great ideas from our ministry leaders – things that we would not have thought of ourselves, like using the chat function in Zoom to allow people to type their own prayer intercessions during the prayers of the faithful time and interviewing two younger members of our community each week to ensure that we keep focussing on children and youth.


We know that as we pivot going forward the voice of these people will be vital in shaping our plans.

Deacon Tony and Annette Hoban are the Pastoral Leaders of St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community, Marsden Park.


The Diocese of Parramatta Pastoral Planning Office welcomes your own discoveries, initiatives and wisdom. We want to hear from you to share with parishes and communities across our Diocese. We also encourage you to contact your Deanery Pastoral Council chairperson or Dean to share them amongst other communities in your deanery.

The team at the Pastoral Planning Office are available to work with communities via video conferencing and phone to accompany you during these times. Please email pastoralplanning@parracatholic.org for someone from our team to contact you.


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