The Story of a Catholic Parish

I just finished reading Michael White and Tom Corcoran’s book, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost and Making Church Matter. White is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland and Corcoran is a lay associate in that parish. Together, they present the story of how they brought an ailing parish back to life, in the process providing some important lessons for those of us interested in both reaching the “dechurched” (those who have drifted away or turned their backs on their church) and deepening the discipleship of those who are part of parishes.

Let me share some of those lessons, although if I wanted to make this post short, I could write simply: “Read this book. I mean it. It is really worth your time.”

First is the dual goal of conversion and ongoing conversion. That is, it is important to recognize the need to both develop a vision for reaching the “lost,” the “de-churched” and a plan for the spiritual growth and maturity of the already existing members of the parish. At Nativity, White and Corcoran referred to the internal focus (aimed at the people in the pews) as “discipleship” and the external focus (outreach to those not yet part of the parish) “evangelization.” The words are less importnat than the realization that both foci are necessary.

Second is the need to shift from a consumer mentality. Real discipleship is not possible unless there is a parishioners are weaned from a consumer mentality, a mentality characterized by shallow commitment and ceaseless demands. Merely offering more and doing more simply feeds into a consumer mentality. One thing that is abundantly clear from White and Corcoran’s discussion is that consumer exchanges lack transformative power and that a parish simply cannot win playing a consumer game.

Third (and not unrelated to the second) is the need to develop the mindset that every member of the parish is a minister. If people are only being served they are consumers. The goal should be that every member is part of some ministry team serving the church family and the community. Unless that happens, there will always be an “us” vs. “them” culture. White and Corcoran remind us that “lay ecclesial ministry is not a Plan B for the dearth fo vocations, but the mature fruit of the baptized.”

For each of these, they share strategies born of their own experience. They also share some useful information on a number of other subjects, including the need for strong preaching, the importance of community, the need to develop habits of increased giving and, importantly, on characteristics of strong leaders.

Finally, they remind us how much Catholic parishes can learn from thriving evangelical churches and from innovative business leaders. We should not be shy from learning from the successes of others.