Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making the Church Matter by Michael White and Tom Corcoran. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2013). 292 pp., $16.95. Reviewed by Daniel S. Mulhall/CNS
The Church of the Nativity is located in northern Baltimore. "Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish" tells how the parish has been transformed from a typically lethargic suburban parish with weekly Mass attendance of 1,400 into an evangelical Catholic mega-church with weekly Mass attendance of more than 4,000.
Written by Father Michael White, pastor, and Tom Corcoran, associate to the pastor, "Rebuilt" provides insights into the problems many Catholic parishes face today and the steps that Father White and Corcoran have taken to extricate Nativity from those problems. The duo offer a compelling look into areas of parish life that need changing and suggestions that other parishes might find of value in addressing their own issues.
In the opening chapter, Father White and Corcoran name some of the many problems they faced at Nativity and what they did to try to address the problems. Many a pastor or pastoral associate will understand firsthand the frustration the authors express. Here, Father White and Corcoran establish the notion that Catholic parishioners have become consumers of religion and not engaged disciples of Jesus. This is a core concept that is addressed throughout the book.
As they became aware that their best efforts at changing this consumer attitude were failing, Father White and Corcoran realized that trying to "fix" individual parts of the problem would not lead to success.
They came to understand that a complete and honest assessment was needed of how ministry was being done at Nativity. This assessment then led to a conversion of heart and a conversion of attitude. Not finding the help they needed within Catholic circles, Father White and Corcoran turned to the Revs. Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, pastors of two Protestant mega-churches, for guidance on how to reinvent Nativity. Much of "Rebuilt" tells how Father White and Corcoran used what they learned from these sources.
The authors were not afraid to critically examine each part of their ministerial approach to understand what it did or didn’t do well. Their critique of the situation is very harsh, both about former members of the staff and former members of the parish. The authors suggest that they could not reinvent the parish with the staff or parishioners they had, but fortunately for them, these people left the parish as new ways of ministry were introduced.
Chapter 4, titled "War in Heaven," tells of this battle for the soul of the church. The authors write, "Religion is not faith. It is a cultural system that collects faith and belief and then aims at supporting and sustaining them. And, like any cultural system, it is inherently resistant to change. The people in the system have what they want, or at least they have something that they want." This is important advice for all in pastoral ministry.
"Rebuilt" offers useful insights that will be of value to anyone involved in parish ministry, whether or not they think that their parish is a sinking ship. Among these are that having a clear mission and vision — knowing where you are going and why — is essential to success, and that the quality of the Sunday worship experience is paramount in accomplishing the mission and vision. The ideas presented here for creating engaging worship are a must read.
"Rebuilt" is a very valuable contribution to the field of pastoral planning. That said, it is not a "how-to" book that can be picked up and simply implemented. Father White and Corcoran write of their conversion experience. Their story points the way for others to have similar experiences of their own.
Mulhall is a speaker, writer and catechist living in Laurel, Md. He is the author of "Let the Lord Build the House: 8 Steps to Successful Pastoral Planning."