By: Deacon Lee Benson, Hickory, MD
Deacon Lee Benson from St. Ignatius in Hickory first attended the ChristLife National Training Conference after searching for a way to bring life back to the parish. Below, he shares about his experience:
My wife, Deborah, and I attended our first ChristLife conference three years ago. We were looking for something to help revitalize our parish. In the previous year our pastor initiated a parish census, asking parishioners to review information about their family in the parish database. Only a small number of parishioners responded. Additional steps were taken, but ultimately door-to-door visits were necessary. Deborah and I made some of these visits.
Most people did not answer the door. The few that did were friendly and courteous. They told us they had not switched to another parish or even another denomination, but simply stopped going to church. Their children completed their sacraments, so there was no further need to attend church or live any life of faith. They had joined the church of “none.” We came away from this experience discouraged, but knew we had to do something.
We heard about the ChristLife Series, but knew little about it. Our pastor gave us the go ahead to attend the conference and we asked another couple to come with us. During the conference we found the program to be more than what we expected. The testimonies of the previous participants truly encouraged us. We listened to success stories, and also stories of mistakes made and lessons learned.
We loved the details of how to run the ChristLife process. Nothing needs to be invented—we simply needed to follow the instructions. ChristLife offers a proven model that has been tested and revised through experience. It is not a theoretical program, but one based on lived experiences. We left the conference anxious to try the program at our parish. The conference gave us the confidence we needed to run the ChristLife series.
Our pastor gave us permission to run a “pilot” program of Discovering Christ with a hand-picked group of volunteers. Most enjoyed it and were ready to help promote the full program. Many of these people become facilitators in the subsequent pastor-approved, parish-wide program. We are now in our third year of the using the ChristLife evangelization process. We start in September with Discovering Christ, continue after Christmas with Following Christ and finish after Easter with Sharing Christ. While we do experience some attrition, more than 70% of those who start go all the way through to the finish of Sharing Christ.
Our pastor admitted later that he fully expected us to fail at getting people to come. To date, over 300 people have attended the full series. Our pastor is thrilled. Last year we added a “small group” program for the ChristLife graduates. Many of these groups still meet and we look forward to adding more this Easter.
All of this started because we attended the ChristLife Conference. I encourage anyone to attend no matter how unlikely you may think it is that your parish will adopt the program. If nothing else happens, you will grow in your relationship with Jesus and you will meet some terrific people.
The ChristLife National Training Conference will be hosted April 26-28, 2017 at St. Philip Neri Parish in Linthicum Heights. Speakers, conference talks, and registration information is available on christlifeconference.org.