NEW YORK – When Father Sean Dresden addressed the St. John Paul II Parish faithful for the first time as founding pastor, during a Mass held at a Henderson, Nevada high school, he emphasized that the physical location of their worship wasn’t really essential.

“The heart of my message is that we’re not necessarily building a building, we’re building a community,” Dresden told Crux. “I’m a firm believer in providence, and whether it’s three years or 15 years before we get a building, the important thing is the people, the community that we’re going to build, and the message of the gospel that we’re going to share.”

The first Mass for St. John Paul II Parish was March 3, and right now it has about 400 parishioners, which Dresden said “is a wonderful start.” With the growth of the area, it projects to have about 3,500 families by the time a new church building is opened in what Dresden said will hopefully be three to five years.

St. John Paul II Parish is the first new parish to open since Las Vegas was elevated to an archdiocese by Pope Francis last May. Its projected growth, and Dresden’s emphasis on building a community, is a microcosm of what’s taking place across the archdiocese.

Archbishop George Leo Thomas of Las Vegas told Crux that the archdiocese currently has seven building projects underway, including a new chapel in the student center at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The other six projects are either new facilities or expansions to existing structures, both multipurpose and church buildings.

Thomas said they’re also targeting land in the north end of Las Vegas, where there is also considerable growth.

The archdiocese now has 34 parishes, including St. John Paul II Parish, across the five counties it covers. Thomas estimates the archdiocese has 800,000 to a million Catholics, and with the growth of the city of Las Vegas itself and the surrounding suburbs, Thomas surmised that the archdiocese could add another 10,000 parishioners on an annual basis for the foreseeable future.

Thomas said the archdiocese is also in good shape with clergy, with 35 incardinated priests and about 50 others serving the archdiocese, as well as 14 seminarians.

“In a sense, it’s just a bustling archdiocese,” Thomas said.

Dresden, too, anticipates a bright future.

“I think it’s going to be shining light for the church, believe it or not. It really truly is,” Dresden said. “A lot of great dedicated people from all over the world come here, united in Christ to worship, and it’s a beautiful thing to see, and I’m very honored and privileged to be a part of it.”

Inevitably, though, the growth of the region one day will slow, as there’s room for only so many sports teams and companies in one locale. The question, therefore, is how the archdiocese will maintain its new infrastructure and keep all its new communities afloat and vibrant.

Thomas said it boils down to a number of values that he preaches to the archdiocese’s pastors and lay leaders, which, he says, “are not rocket science.” They include the importance of dynamic preaching and a beautifully celebrated liturgy to ensure a sense of hospitality and welcome, an emphasis on youth and young adult ministry, and the idea that every person is a missionary disciple.

The most important, however, is co-responsibility between the clergy and lay faithful.

“It’s important to understand the importance and the impact of collaborative ministry and shared responsibility – that the pastor does not bear the brunt of the responsibility alone,” Thomas said. “To involve the lay faithful in every aspect of parish life is very important.”

“So, how do you maintain all of this? I think it’s going beyond, as the saying goes, from maintenance to mission,” Thomas continued. “I think our parishes are on fire right now because the pastors and the lay faithful are taking very seriously all of the values that I have just described.”

As for the irony of it all that one of America’s fastest-growing dioceses holds the secular moniker of sin city, Thomas said that the reality of what Las Vegas is might work to the archdiocese’s advantage. It’s a theory he said to “put in the ‘for what it’s worth’ department.”

“That is, that the carnality and secularism of the Las Vegas strip I think has caused people to really own their faith, and I think that Las Vegas stands for intentional Catholicism,” Thomas said. “People love the lord. They love the church. They love the faith and I think it is a direct reaction to the carnality of the strip.”

“Paul said ‘where sin is present grace abounds’ and I think grace is abounding in these communities,” Thomas continued. “We have standing room only liturgies in almost all of the parishes.”

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg