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Melkite Eparchy of Newton
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Planning Your Program
Eight Principles for Designing Parish Programs
Planning is an essential part of any serious organizational effort, and the parish catechetical program is no exception. While many aspects of Church life are a given (there will be a Christmas, whether we plan for it or not), we need to determine how and where to deploy our energies so that the growth of our community in the Lord will best be served. The following eight principles suggest a way of discerning an appropriate course of action when planning a catechetical program.
First Principle – Plan Regularly and Early
Often in parishes there is very little, if any, long term planning. People plan one event at a time without regard for the wider picture of the Church’s ultimate purpose, or the integration of individual projects into the total effect of church life.
Some aspects of your program, such as your basic calendar, or beginning and ending procedures, may be planned a year in advance. Other elements, such as special programs may be scheduled three or six months in advance, depending on the success or failure of similar programs earlier in the season. In any case, basic planning should be done at least six months in advance. Thus planning for the fall should be done the previous spring.
Goals should be reviewed regularly with a view to changing or extending them, depending on how effectively they have been implemented or how impractical they hay have turned out to be. Just because a goal was once set, that does not mean that it was automatically implemented or can be. Thus some churches schedule a major planning session in to spring to set their schedule for the next fall and the entire next year, whenever possible.
Second Principle – Plan Through Prayer
Undergirding any church planning, for Christians, should be prayer. Is this project in harmony with what the Lord is asking of His people? Do we have any indication that this is or is not according to the mind of the Church? Where do we see the Lord in this action? Christian planners need to ask these questions at every step of the planning process, especially at the beginning. Include a significant prayer time in your planning sessions.
Third Principle – Recall Your Essential Mission and Major Objectives
Every specific goal in program planning must relate to the basic aims of the Christian life. Thus, for example, we would not imagine giving door prizes to encourage church attendance; this runs counter to the spirit of the gospel call to give oneself to the Lord. Accordingly, we need to keep before our eyes the relationship of any individual program to the more basic purposes of the Church.
In our Tradition we take it as given (a) that the aim of Christian life is theosis, the sharing in the divine nature; (b) that theosis is fostered through participation in the life of the Church, particularly the mystical life of the liturgy; and (c) that the general objectives of catechesis are to affect believers’ behavior, knowledge and attitudes in such a way as to dispose them to share in this life.
The specific programs in the Church must be designed with this aim in mind: to so dispose the participants that they will be motivated to deepen their sharing in the sacramental life of our Church.
And so in every step of planning we need to look at all sides of an idea in relation to these given principles. What are the positive effects in relationship to the Church’s basic goals? What are the negative effects? What might be the long term consequences? What other perspectives might be considered?
- Questions for Reflection
- How might the following programs dispose or detract students from deepening their commitment too the life of our Church?
- A Teaching children all prayers in Arabic,
- B Introducing rock music in the liturgy;
- C Incorporating prostrations, incense and changing into the classroom prayers.
- What do you think would best dispose teenagers to participate in our Church’s liturgical services?
- Having an exclusive teen liturgy
- Insuring them action roles in the regular parish Liturgy;
- Conducting a church school class on the history of the Liturgy
- Would any of the suggestions above run counter to the Church’s basicviews on liturgy?
Fourth Principle – Assess the Needs of the Community
Before planning any specific program, you must determine what needs you are trying to meet by gathering and analyzing data about the community. This means determining the background, knowledge, values, expectations, concerns, pressures, and cultural environment of the people involve. Effective planning must be people-centered since, although there is such a wealth of spiritual riches in our Church’s Tradition to be shared, people can only interiorize what they are ready to absorb.
Besides people’s individual needs, the church planner must consider in the life of the community as a whole; where are they in their life together, in their journey of faith. Usually there are many sub-groups in a parish – the descendants of the founders, new immigrants, converts- and each group has a different set of expectations as to what Church is supposed to be. Perhaps you will need to run a different kind of program for each group, while still challenging them to accept one another and see the value in each other’s approach.
Data gathering is the approach by which we collect the information needed to design an appropriate program for any given group. The chief methods, each with advantages and disadvantages, are (a) by written instruments, (b) by interviewing, and (c) by observation and memory. Some may be more appropriate in some situations than in others.
Written Instruments (questionnaires) are especially useful for gathering date from large groups of people who do not come together at any one time (such as the congregation in a parish with several Sunday Liturgies). They are also important as a follow-up to a general discussion, as many people are reluctant to speak their mind in gatherings lest they offend some of their fellow parishioners.
When designing a written instrument remember that the sharpness of the question determines the usefulness of the answers. Thus avoid questions to be answered “Yes” or “No”, unless you add “why” or “explain your answer”. At the same time you need to check the tone of your questions: do they imply which answer is “the right one”? Finally, you must also decide how anonymity or asking for signatures will affect the answers you get.
Remember that many people don’t take questionnaires seriously unless they have evidence that some action will result to their advantage.
In any case, be aware that data collected by such a written instrument is only part of what is needed to plan a program.
- Questions for Reflection
- Which of the following questions is the most effective/least effective in gathering date preliminary to planning?
- A. “Would you attend a youth group if we began one at St. X’s? ( )Yes; ( ) No; ( ) Maybe
- B. “If a Youth Group were begun at St. X’s, would you be more likely to join if:
- ( ) you had transportation
- ( ) the group met on Sunday evening
- ( ) The group met on a school night
- ( ) My friend (name) wanted to join
- C. “If you could pick the person who would be your group advisors, whom would you pick (choose three parishioners, please)?
Interviewing – Conducting personal conversations with individuals gives the data gatherer another side of the picture. Personal interviews can give you an insight into the other’s experience of Christian formation, the parish, or relationships with certain groups in the parish. On the other hand, sincere there is no anonymity, the person may attempt to please the interviewer. Group discussion may get people thinking about topics which they had not thought of before, especially if it follows upon an engaging presentation. Another commonly used technique to stimulate such thinking in group settings is brainstorming. Everyone identifies, without discussion in detail, the needs, objectives, or procedural steps which they envision. The facilitator compiles a list of these suggestions. Brainstorming is not for the purpose of discussion or decision making, but for generating data and helping participants get a clearer idea of the directions in which they might proceed.In either case, face to face discussion is useful if it enables people to freely share their experiences and helps build a climate of mutual trust Beginning attempts to facilitate such discussions should always be followed by the opportunity to put in writing things people would be reluctant to say aloud.
Observation and Memory – You too have a past experience with these people if you have been their fellow parishioner for any length of time. You will have your own reactions to what they say. Use what you know,but be another person should interview certain people with whom youhave had previous experience. Once you have gathered as much data as you can throughconversations, questionnaires, group discussion, and the like, you mustanalyze it. In this process you will collate the information you have gathered, analyze it for trends and priorities, then narrow the field to determine which specific needs to address at this time. The following four steps are helpful:
- Collating – Here you put all the answers to the same question together.
- Seeking Trends – Now you compare the responses, looking for similarities and differences. If you detect a trend in the responses, try writing a summary “answer” for each question which reflects the trend (s).
- Analyze trends – What is underlying these answers? Does the trend ofresponses to one question explain the answers to another? Does the questionnaire indicate real concerns or problems?
- Narrow Down – Are there several possibilities? Do you need to choose one? Will your choice be based on the number of possible participants or the importance of the issues to some persons’ lives?
Going through this process works best when it is a group effort. In this way you have the insights of several persons analyzing the input. You may also need to issue a second questionnaire after you begin narrow down the options. Here the questions must be even more specific than in the first questionnaire.
Fifth Principle – Identity Specific Objectives
You can now design a program with a specific focus based on the input which you have generated. Begin by writing a statement of purpose which spells out your aims for this particular activity
This statement of objectives should:
- Identify the problem, based on the analysis gathered above;
- Specify “the who” – a definite target group (if you are planning for children, a specific age group should be indicated);
- Specify “the what” – the desired behavioral goals your program is meant to generate, the desired action which should result to enable persons to do something more effectively;
- Be realizable in a specified period of time (“the when”);
- Be measurable as much as possible so that we can know when the objective has been attained (Note that, while our ultimate spiritual objective, theosis, is not measurable and is ultimately dependent on ourprayerful response to the grace of the Holy Spirit, other objectives, such as interiorizing a specific attitude or learning a specific behavior, are measurable.)
- Be clear and concise so that all participants can have a concrete understanding of the program’s aims;
Thus, after a parish questionnaire has determined that people want to learn some new liturgical hymns, your statement of objectives for a new music program might be: “To help the bulk of the congregation learn onenew chant each month”. You have determined the who, the what, and the when.
Having a clear objective enables the planners themselves to maintain a clear focus for their activities. Coming to a clearly understandable objective helps prevent participants from developing contrary expectations and resulting frustration. It also gives us a basis for evaluation after the stated time so that we can know whether or not we succeeded.
Sixth Principle – Design A Strategy
Once you have determined your measurable objective, your next step is to agree on how that objective will be carried out in actual events. Thus in terms of the above objective, we might decide to realize it “be rehearsing for ten minutes at the end of each Divine Liturgy”.
To achieve the most practical strategy the following criteria are often suggested:
a) Is there enough time to prepare and/or present it?
b) Does it utilize the appropriate human resources in the community?
c) Are any materials needed available and/or affordable?
d) Does the strategy maximize participation and creativity on the part of the participants?
Seventh Principle – Spell Out the Procedural Steps
In this phase you detail all the steps of your program – what happens when, who does what, etc. – to organize the efforts of those involved. Ordinarily procedural concerns include:
Time (date and time period)
Place (space use and arrangement)
Group Dynamic (ice breakers, interest centers, etc.)
Program Design (techniques)
Materials and equipment
Publicity (advance notice, recruiting and registration)
Leadership functions (specific descriptions)
To apply these steps to our music program, we would address issues such as, How would the music be made available? Who would duplicate and distribute it? Who would do the actual teaching? Would various choir members take turns demonstrating the chant while others were placed strategically throughout the congregation? How long would the choir need to master these pieces themselves before introducing them to the congregation?
Eighth Principle – Review and Evaluation
The last step in the planning process is to determine whether you achieved your objectives, whether the program was successful in terms of what you were hoping to achieve. Thus the evaluation looks at accomplishment and effectiveness. It is possible, however, that a program may positively accomplish a change of behavior but negatively affect attitudes. This is often the case when children are obliged to learn or act in a certain way: we achieved our goal of getting them to participate in vespers, but they have come to hate it! Thus evaluation must assess both the behavioral and attitudinal effects of any program.
Evaluation can be made in a number of ways, such as:
a) Interviews of participants;
b) Observations by program leaders;
c) Involvement of selected participants with planners in an evaluation meeting.
In planning any program each planning step should be summarized in writing in as much detail as possible. This is of great importance for future programs. If you choose to repeat a successful program, you have an excellent basis from which to work: you need not start from scratch each time. If elements in the program did not work and need to be revised, you will have an accurate record of that as well. Perhaps most importantly from a Christian perspective, you have something concrete to pass on to a successor rather than obliging him or her to start from scratch.
Implementing Your Strategy
The following procedural steps are common to most events. The planner should expect to record these steps and then determine who will be responsible for implementing them. Use this page as a checklist in helping others prepare events and programs:
- Contact all necessary people committed to participation (teachers, students, parents, clergy, guest speakers)
- Set the date. Maker sure that you avoid conflicts with others activities, avoid crowding one or another time of year with activities while leaving other times empty, and insure that activities are appropriate to the season and the needs of the parish.
- Select and reserve the location of program, class or meeting.
- Arrange for publicity (printed, mailed, the pulpit, bulletin board).
- Secure needed supplies (audio visuals, tables and chairs, stationary goods, classroom supplies, name tags, registration blanks, handouts, etc.)
- Determine who will perform basic tasks, eg. Open up, set up, register, conduct the opening and closing prayer, and start the session.
- Insure that the program begins on schedule.
- Arrange for introductions, announcements
- Be available for problems
- Continually evaluate the course of the program and the participants’ response
- Secure participants’ evaluation (teachers or facilitators and students).
- Put the facility in order and lock up
- Set a time to reflect on the evaluations and implement findings into the next session of this type
Method of Assessing Needs-
Writing and Objective –
Identify the problem
Identify the What:
Identify the Who:
Identify the When:
Identify the Measure Desired:
Stated Objective: – TO
Strategy: – BY
Material Needed –
Leadership Functions –
Method of Evaluation-
Suggestions for New Program –