Making church matter: ‘Rebuilt’ authors share strategies at diocesan event


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Think about the people who aren’t in the pews with you at Mass each weekend. Maybe it’s the guy who works third-shift and sleeps in on Sunday. Maybe it’s the family making the rounds to ball games or dance performances. Maybe it’s the non-Catholic spouse preparing Sunday brunch.

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Michael White and Thomas Corcoran, authors of a successful book on revitalizing parish life and ministries, visit with Carol Kaalberg, parish cluster coordinator for Hills, Lone Tree and Nichols, during last week’s June Institute at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

As baptized members of the church, we are called to invest in relationships with people who don’t know or who have forgotten Christ. When the timing is right, we invite them to church. Father Michael White and Thomas Corcoran shared that message at the June Institute last week at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. The institute, an annual gathering of diocesan priests and deacons, opened up a daylong session to parish staff and lay leaders so that they could pick up practical strategies to revitalize parish life and ministries.

Fr. White, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., and Corcoran, the pastor’s associate, are best known for their groundbreaking book “Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter.” The book describes the amazing transformation of their parish after much soul searching and visits to congregations that seemed to be doing things right, such as Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., led by the Rev. Rick Warren.


One of the first steps, the speakers said, is to change focus from the churched to the un-churched. Begin by specifying who that unchurched person is in your community. In Timonium, it’s “Timonium Tim.” The weekend Mass must be welcoming, offer music that stirs the soul and homilies that speak to “Tim.”

Define your “Tim,” Corcoran advised the gathering of 135 laity and 95 clergy. At tables throughout Sacred Heart Cathedral’s diocesan hall, the participants brainstormed to define their “Tim.” For each parish, the composite was shaped by the community’s unique characteristics. For St. Mary Parish in Grinnell, for example, it might be transplanted professionals who go back home on weekends. For Prince of Peace Parish in

Clinton, it might be a shift worker whose schedule isn’t conducive to going to Mass or a farmer too busy planting or harvesting crops.
For St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, it might be a young adult who questions church teachings on hot-button issues. For St. Anthony Parish in Davenport it might be a parent hauling kids to sports events or families who have fallen out of the habit of going to church. For cluster parishes in the Riverside area, it might be a person who has to travel 20 miles to get to church and finds that just a little too far.

Church of the Nativity gets “Tim” to church through his friends, co-workers or family members who invite him, the speakers said. They create an excellent and irresistible environment at weekend Mass and follow up on Monday. Then, a group critiques Fr. White’s weekend homily. “What did “Tim” think of it?

“The Eucharist is not enough to reach the unchurched,” Corcoran said. “Jesus wants us to share the value of the Eucharist.” Music, message and ministries — the three pillars of the weekend Mass — convey the value.

“Music is the water on which the whole experience sails,” Fr. White observed. “It is the music that can touch and change people’s hearts for better or for worse.” Invest in music…. Invest in the right people.” Musicians have to be good at what they do, but they also have to acknowledge that it’s not a performance.

For the message, Fr. White and his team plan ahead and prepare a series of homilies; each congregation at Mass on a given weekend hears the same message. “Words are powerful,” the priest said. “But the Word of God is more powerful.”

The third pillar, ministries, begins with hospitality. From the moment churchgoers enter the parking lot, they need to feel welcome. Children’s ministry provides kids with a message tailored to them while their parents focus on the Mass. The kids return during the offertory. Layers of welcoming ensure that the Word of God can get through, piercing the hearts of churchgoers and changing their lives, the speakers said.

The church is about introducing people to Christ and helping them to grow into more developed followers of Christ. It’s about moving non-churchgoers to church goers to contributors to committed members of the parish. It’s about moving from consumers to service.
“The church is a movement, not a monument. So it’s got to move and grow,” Fr. White said. The church is always under construction. It’s a work in progress.” Expect it to be messy at times.

Five steps to help people grow as followers of Jesus Christ
1. Pray regularly
2. Serve in a volunteer ministry or through missionary outreach.
3. Join a small group.
4. Become generous givers.
5. Invest and invite un-churched friends to church.
Learn more about “Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter” at

Take-away from “Rebuilt” conference
“It’s all about people,” said Eleanor Kiel, director of liturgy and music for St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. “I am very thankful to Bishop Zinkula for giving us the opportunity, through the things we learned today (large and small) to move our parishes and the diocese toward greater evangelization and a more Spirit-filled community.”

Judy Benevento of St. John Vianney Parish appreciated the analogy of the church as a building site, a construction zone, and that the work is going to be messy at times. “It’s our calling to go and make disciples,” said St. John Vianney Office Manager Julie Mishler. There’s a process involved in doing that.

“Good, practical stuff,” said Father Rich Adam, pastor and rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral. “We all need to be reminded of making our church what it can be, what God calls us to be.”

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