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June 24, 2016

When I joined the Parish Catalyst team (April 2016) as a Program Coordinator the very first book recommended to help me come up to speed on some of the issues and ideas in the Parish Catalyst milieu was Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter from Ave Maria Press. This excellent first-person narrative written in 2013 by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, a lay pastoral associate, describes their initiative to rebuild a dysfunctional parish culture into one positioned to respond to the context of the contemporary American culture of the 21st century. Their story is divided into three parts, which define the process stages of their journey to stem the decline of their parish and actually facilitate its growth.

In Part I, Naming the Problem, White and Corcoran make ten observations identified as initial false assumptions they held about leading their parish: (1) they wrongly assumed that if they did more and did it better, people would grow in their maturity and commitment; (2) they mistakenly thought that if they did more and did it better, people would automatically give more (money); (3) if they did more and did it better, they foolishly took it for granted that people would automatically get involved and help out; (4) they mistakenly looked to their stalwart church-goers (senior citizens) as their natural allies as they tried to move forward; (5) little did they appreciate how detached the second and third generations of demanding consumers had grown. (6) they didn’t understand how marginalized the whole enterprise of faith and religion had become in the lives of their parishioners; (7) despite their best efforts, they really were not reaching their student population; (8) they didn’t understand how profoundly uninterested the non-church-going population had grown, how distrustful of any outreach efforts they made, and how cynical they could be about all organized religion; (9) they were not tuned toward God; they were not relying on God’s leadership, and they realized they were not looking to go where God was blessing; (10) and, they foolishly thought it would all be easy.

Modern organizational theory and practice indicate that healthy and successful organizations operate with a clear sense of mission. In Part II, Finding a Way Forward, White and Corcoran describe how they turned back to the basics, that is to Scripture, to find the only truly appropriate statement of parish mission. In the Gospel According to Matthew, they rediscovered the mission Jesus gave his first followers, and indeed to us all. The mission of Jesus as articulated in the “Great Commandments” of Matthew 22:37-39, is to love God with heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as our self. After his resurrection, Jesus added an additional aspect of mission with the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:19, to make disciples of all nations. The way forward for the authors, articulated simply and directly from Scripture, was to dramatically challenge the parish status quo, and drastically change the parish culture . . . and upset a few temple tables and make a lot of people angry.

Developing the Strategy, the third and most substantial part of Rebuilt is the telling of the authors’ steps forward to do several things differently. Each of the ten chapters in this section describes a particular change to the status quo: the authors first assess a particular problem in the parish, they articulate their insight and describe what they did differently, including some missteps and false starts, and eventually what they settled on that worked. I was most attracted to the many “You Can Do This! Steps You Can Take in Your Parish” sections interspersed throughout the narratives of their ten major initiatives of change. The focus on Sunday, emphasis on small groups, directives for giving, and implications of true discipleship all resonated with me as valuable suggestions for improvement for my parish. Taken together these chapters simply represent a better way to do church, a better way to be church. The inspiration is scriptural, the theology is authentically Catholic, and the praxis is real. This book should be required reading by every Catholic pastor and pastoral associate in America.

By: Steve Picard, Program Coordinator, Parish Catalyst, Los Angeles, CA

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