‘Rebuilt’ authors share best practices at formation day

| April 27, 2016 | 0 Comments

After realizing the programs they were feeding to parishioners were making “religious consumers” rather than disciples, Father Michael White and parish staff member Tom Corcoran decided to scrap the programs and start anew at the Church of the Nativity north of Baltimore.

1-59471-386-3x1140-285x100That endeavor meant turning to faith communities — even Protestant mega-churches — whose membership and engagement were growing. Father White and Corcoran wanted to learn churchs’ success stories with hopes of implementing best practices at their own parish. Their research turned into a book: “Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish” (Ave Maria Press, 2013).

Through their efforts over several years, weekend attendance has almost tripled, from 1,400 to more than 4,000. Nativity recently launched a capital campaign to expand its space.

Parish leaders attending Spring Formation Day April 14 at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie heard from the authors about the three key pieces it took to rebuild Nativity: music, message and ministers. With this approach, the focus shifts from people already in the pews to people who aren’t, creating an environment the latter would want to come to.

Music, the authors said, is worth the time, money and investment, even if that means reassigning roles in the music ministry.

“Music does what words alone can’t do,” Corcoran said. “It is the music that can touch and change people’s hearts for better or for worse.”

Considering preachers’ spiritual messages could potentially reach thousands of people, they need to invest time in their homilies, he added.

At their parish, Father White and Corcoran started a variety of ministries to get members involved in their faith.

“The message begins in the parking lot,” Corcoran said.

With parking attendants, information tables, greeters and hosts, they created “layers of welcoming.” By adding a comprehensive children’s ministry during Masses, parents have a chance to focus on the liturgy and message rather than taming restless children.

And technology can’t be ignored. They made the parish’s website primarily for newcomers, not parishioners. On it, visitors can read Father White’s pastor blog and watch live streams of Masses.

But ultimately, the authors said, the experience is about building relationships.

Corcoran noted that each parish needs to figure out who they’re trying to reach and the necessary steps to reach them.

“Your ZIP code is your mission field,” Corcoran said.

He added that change can be difficult.

“Growth is always outside of our comfort zones,” he said.

Spring Formation Day, sponsored by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was the conclusion of a three-part series launched last year with the aim to “inform, inspire and equip” pastors, parish staff members, trustees and volunteers.

Attendees also heard from Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College.

For more information about “Rebuilt,” visit RebuiltParish.com.

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