ST. FRANCIS — One won’t find a Starbucks in a Catholic church, but, according to Mitchell Owens, parishes can learn important lessons from the ubiquitous coffee shop.

“That is one of the most evangelistic things we can do on the Sunday experience – to be warm, welcoming, inviting.”

Being warm and inviting is one of the most evangelistic things we can do on the Sunday experience, according to Mitchell Owens, director of music and liturgy at St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point. (Catholic Herald file photo by Peter Fenelon)

Speaking at “A Vision for the Future: Evangelization and the Sunday Mass,” Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, at the Cousins Center, Owens, director of music and liturgy at St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point, said, “Their (Starbucks) mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirits, one cup, one person, one neighborhood at a time.”

Quoting from Starbucks mission statement, he described it “as a place where they (customers) feel the sense of belonging, our stores become a haven from the worry outside, a place where you can meet with friends, it’s about enjoyment at the speed of life, sometimes slow, always full of humanity.”

Owens drew a parallel between the Starbucks mission and the church’s mission to evangelize.

“Are we called to offer quality experience when people encounter us? Are we called to improve the lives of those we meet? Are we called to be fully engaged to uplift the lives of parishioners and newcomers alike to foster that human connection as well as the supernatural connection?” he said. “Are our parishes havens for people? Shouldn’t our parishes be full of humanity?”

Joining Owens in speaking on “Sunday is Our Day: Music, Message and Ministries,” was Fr. Brian Mason, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners, who emphasized Catholics’ call to discipleship.

“Our mission is not to make better Catholics; our mission is to make disciples,” the priest said. “To make disciples is the heart of the mission of the church, and the lens through which we are to evaluate all activity of our parishes. We have to be disciples in order to make disciples.”

Fr. Mason said disciples are continually growing in and renewing their faith, engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus.

“How do we make disciples? A disciple is one who learns and yearns to grow and hunger for knowledge. Just because someone believes in Jesus or goes to church does not necessarily mean they have this hunger,” he said. “Something has to happen to make people hungry. That’s evangelization.”

Noting that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have spoken about “personal encounters” with Christ in evangelization, Fr. Mason referred to his recovering from alcoholism through Alcoholics Anonymous.

“What God has done for me in keeping me sober in ways I could not have done myself – that is a witness, that is a sharing of yourself, that is a time of vulnerability that is required of a disciple and an evangelist,” he said.

Don’t know what they’re missing

Owens used the iPhone to illustrate the importance of Catholics having a personal relationship with Jesus.

“When Steve Jobs released the first iPhone in 2007, no one knew they needed a phone that could do more than call, text and store content. Today, 68 percent of adults (more than 161 million) in the U.S. have a smartphone,” he said, citing Pew Research data from 2015.

That is how evangelization works, according to Owens.

“Until people experience an encounter with Jesus Christ, they will not know that they need Jesus Christ,” he said. “Until people hear first by listening to someone else and then experiencing him in their own lives – the difference it makes to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they’re never going to know what they’re missing.”

What Owens termed “the Sunday experience” must be a result of discipleship.

“If it is not, it will very quickly become sterile, stale, boring, too long, or any of the other descriptors we’ve heard,” he said. “The reason they think it is boring, on their part and on our part as ministers, it’s not always coming from that personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Music, message and ministries

Owens cited music, message and ministries as the keys to how to celebrate Mass faithfully, while simultaneously fulling the church’s mission to evangelize. He noted evangelization is an important consideration when selecting and executing music at Mass.

“We have to recognize who we’re reaching out to, we have to recognize who we’re ministering to, and we need to make sure the music is reaching them on a spiritual, profound level while maintaining that level of excellence,” he said.

Fr. Mason cited prayer as a basis for preparing a good homily.

“The person who preaches has to root their preparation in prayer. But I wonder how many people in the pews who crab about homilies pray for the one preaching, pray for the one during the week that, if they are preparing their homily, the Holy Spirit will touch them, that Jesus will enlighten them — and what I don’t mean by that is, ‘Oh, God, make it a short one,’” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.

Emphasizing the homily must be about the Scriptures and Jesus, Fr. Mason noted what it should not be.

“It’s not simply retelling the Gospel passage. It’s not primarily a history lesson. It’s not primarily the time for preacher to demonstrate his great knowledge of theology,” he said.

Nor is it a comedy routine.

“I hate it when parishioners come back after visiting somewhere and say, ‘Father, we had this great priest up north. He told joke after joke after joke. Boy, we were howling laughing,’” Fr. Mason said. “I say, ‘What did he say about Jesus?’ And they don’t know, they don’t remember. Perhaps he said nothing about Jesus.”

The priest said having time to prepare is imperative.

“If parishes want good homilies, they have to find ways to let the one who is preaching have time for preparation,” he said. “If I’m going to give them a good homily, I can’t be everywhere. I have to have time where I’m out of the office and I’m praying and I’m working on the message I’m going to deliver.”

When it came to ministries, the presenters focused on hospitality.

“The first and most important thing we can do as parishes is create a culture of invitation,” Owens said. “That is one of the most evangelistic things we can do on the Sunday experience – to be warm, welcoming, inviting.”

He said hospitality had to be repeatedly emphasized to parishioners in order to be “shaken out of our complacency.”

Owens cited a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in which 87 percent of parish ministers rated their parishes’ hospitality excellent or good; 13 percent rated it fair or poor. When millennials were asked about their parishes’ hospitality, 46 percent said good or excellent; 54 percent rated it fair or poor.

“We’re not as welcoming and hospitable as we think we are,” Owens said.

Fr. Mason gave an example of hospitality that regularly receives a positive response at his parish.

“When I got to St. Mary’s, I found something that I had never had at any other parish. We have parish hosts for weddings, baptisms and funerals,” he said. “They are there for the rehearsal, for the visitation; they open the church, they set up. They take care of needs of the bridal party or the family that is grieving.”

The priest said there are times, despite his “beating the drum” about hospitality, when people don’t practice it.

“Everybody says, ‘Get the young people involved.’ And then when they get involved, and they don’t wear the right shoes or they’re late, or they don’t show up one weekend, all we do is crab about them,” he said. “No wonder they don’t come back.”

Echoing a theme presented throughout the morning, Fr. Mason said, “Good enough isn’t good enough anymore. Parishes that try to continue learning and doing better are going to grow. Parishes that don’t are going to just slowly die. Maintenance parishes die. Missionary parishes grow.”