Building Capacity for Faith Formation

Mar 20, 2024
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ca·pac·i·ty “the ability of a person or organization to do something" (Cambridge Dictionary); “the ability to understand or to do something, such as the intellectual capacity for something, the work capacity for doing something, or the capacity to do something to enjoy life” (Oxford Dictionary).

It is not an overstatement to say that most churches today have capacity challenges. Leaders find it increasingly more difficult to sustain and expand their ministries due to what they experience as a lack of resources (capacities)—professional staffing, finances, volunteer leaders, program materials, and more. These churches may want to provide more robust ministries, and a more comprehensive lifelong faith formation but feel that they have too few people and resources to respond effectively. The challenge to build capacity points to a new role for all pastoral leaders

One of the essential roles of all pastoral leaders today is to develop the mindset, the processes, and the skills for becoming capacity builders.

What is capacity building? Capacity building is the process of developing an organization’s strengths and sustainability. Capacity building refers to activities that improve and enhance an organization’s ability to achieve its mission and sustain itself over time. This includes identifying a communications strategy, improving volunteer recruitment, identifying more efficient uses of technology, and engaging in collaborations. When capacity building is successful, it strengthens an organization’s ability to fulfill its mission over time and enhances the organization’s ability to have a significant, positive impact on lives and communities.

Pastoral leaders today need to become capacity builders. The good news is that churches now have access to an abundance of resources available to them at little or no cost. Technical expertise is available from websites, blogs, and online groups. Faith formation resources are available in digital formats (websites, video, podcasts, apps, and more). Training is available for free or low-cost through online webinars and courses. The digital transformation of society and church is giving mid-size and small churches access to the same resources and expertise that was once reserved for high capacity churches.


A Capacity Building Mindset

All of this abundance will go untapped unless leaders develop a capacity building mindset. A mindset is our way of thinking, a mental attitude or frame of mind. A mindset is our collection of thoughts and beliefs that shape our thought-habits. And your thought-habits affect how we think, what we feel, and what we do. Our mindset impacts how we make sense of the world, and how we make sense of ourselves.

In my experience church leaders have two different mindsets about capacity. One group of leaders has a scarcity mindset—not enough volunteers, money, resources, facilities, and so forth. These leaders often limit the scope of their ministry to fit their scarcity mindset. “We can’t try anything new because we don’t have enough people, money, and resources to continue what we are already doing.” The scarcity mindset hinders leaders from adapting approaches, expanding ministries, reaching new audiences, and developing innovations to address new needs. The scarcity mindset has a direct impact on creating, sustaining, and enhancing church vitality. Practiced long enough, the scarcity mindset is a prescription for church decline.

Another group of pastoral leaders embrace an abundance mindset. They start with the belief that their community has assets and strengths to uncover and build on. They believe that there are an abundance of resources they can access for ministry and faith formation. Their primary job is to discover resources in the people of their community, in community organizations, in the wider church, online, and much more. They believe that they will be able to discover the resources necessary for adapting approaches, expanding ministries, reaching new audiences, and developing innovations to address new needs. They are capacity-builders.

Capacity building is designed to improve and enhance the church’s ability to achieve its mission and sustain itself over time. Among the essential capacities needed in churches today are leadership (professional and volunteer), financial sustainability, facilities, communication, technology, collaborations with other churches and community organizations, and programmatic resources in all forms—print, audio, video, digital, and online.

A good practice for capacity-building is to conduct an annual Capacity Assessment (for the whole church or for catechetical ministry). Review the plans for each ministry and ask, What do our ministry plans require in order to be implemented effectively and successfully? Use questions like the following to guide your assessment. Customize these questions for individual ministries.

  1. What capacities do we require to implement our ministry plans for the coming year?
    • What will our plans require of the pastor and ministry leaders (competencies, skills, processes, and procedures)?
    • What volunteer leaders will be required for our plans, and what competencies (knowledge and skills) and resources will they need to perform effectively (tools and resources)?
    • What material resources (facilities, communication, technologies, print and digital resources) will our plans require?
    • What financial resources will our plans require?
  2. What capacities (resources) do we already have available to us for the coming year within our church community (people, programs, resources, finances), and outside our church in other religious congregations, schools and colleges, community organizations, dioceses, and church organizations — regional and national?
  3. What capacities (resources) do we need to develop or enhance in order to implement our plans and flourish as a community (or ministry)?


Create a “Capacity Report” that presents what is required this year, what you already have, and what you need to develop. This can form the blueprint for creating an action plan.


John Roberto
NCCL Executive Director
[email protected]


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