By Dan Ebener
“The Four Ways Forward: Becoming an Apostolic Parish in a Post-Christian Age.” By Susan Windley-Daoust (2022). Huntington, Indiana, Our Sunday Visitor. $19.95. The book is available at Our Sunday Visitor Bookstore website and on Amazon.
If you want to read one book on the new evangelization, make it this one. It is a synopsis of everything else that is being said and then some. Susan Windley-Daoust writes as a teacher, a scholar, a mom, a parishioner and a diocesan director of missionary discipleship. Mostly, she writes as a missionary disciple herself.
Reading Susan’s book is like waking up to a bucket of cold water. It is the wake-up call that the average parishioner in the pew needs to awaken to the fact that the world has moved from Christendom (a time when it seemed that everyone was a practicing Christian) to an Apostolic Age (a time that is similar to the first four centuries of the early Church).
The fact is that as a Church, we need to focus much more on mission and less on maintenance. This book provides not only the rationale for that paradigm shift, but also four models of how to make that shift as a parish. The four models Susan describes in detail provide four specific ways for Catholic parishes to focus on evangelization.
The four models include (1) Radical hospitality and first proclamation, (2) Spiritual multiplication small groups, (3) Organizational mission (re)focus and (4) Signs and wonders.
Susan draws from Scripture, every recent pope, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the saints and scholars of the past. She also quotes extensively from the literature of the present, from recent authors such as Sherry Weddell, Father James Mallon, Julianne Stanz, Msgr. James Shea, Father John Riccardo and many others. (Don’t miss the footnotes; it might be the best part of the book.)
In the process, she touches on the best practices and contributions made by the many organizations that can facilitate and assist with parish evangelization, including Divine Renovation, Alpha, ChristLife, RENEW, Weekend Away, FOCUS, Rebuilt, SEEK, Encounter Ministries and Amazing Parish.
This book is a must-read for anyone working in evangelization in the Church. It would also make a good study guide for small groups of lay people who are trying to grasp the current reality we find ourselves in as a Church. The book helps us understand that evangelization is not only the work of the clergy, but the calling of every baptized Christian to respond to the Great Commission to go and make disciples.
While Susan does provide some data signaling the changes in church attendance and participation, she does not dwell on those facts but moves rather quickly to provide hope that we can and must adapt as a Church. As I reflect on what I was reading, I became convinced that Susan was indeed inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this book.
(Susan Windley-Daoust, Ph.D., is the director of Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, a married mother of five children and a former theology professor. Dan R. Ebener is director of Parish Planning for the Diocese of Davenport.)