Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran have written a book that at first glance would seem to be the answer to every parishes prayers. They have successfully taken their parish, the Church of Nativity in Timonium, MD and turned it from a struggling parish to a booming one. During that process and in this book are some good points and some bad points. In this review I will give some highlights of each.
I found the chapter on tithing called “Don’t Rob God” to be very interesting. They were able to considerably increase their weekly contributions without A) using the age old speech that they were in desperate need of money and B) bringing up the 10% giving standard. The chapter explains how they gradually moved everyone into a sacrificial culture. This chapter alone should serve the reader nicely.
The next section I liked was the one on missionary work. They stress the fact that this includes volunteering at the local parish level. This can be as simple as taking out trash but it gets you involved in your parish community. It was interesting how they were able to get people out of their seats and donating their time in service to the parish. Once serving at the local parish level was established, larger projects such as mission trips to Haiti and the Katrina damaged area of the US were tackled with success.
One more section that was good was the chapter on small groups. The parish formed small groups that were used for discussion and fellowship among the parishioners. These groups were no bigger in size than 10 and gave the ability for trusting, open conversation on a variety of subjects. This approach drew people out of their shells and added to the community spirit within the church.
As I mentioned earlier there were also some not so good points. I found the first 1/3 of the book to be a struggle to get through for a number of reasons. Firstly this part of the book is used to describe the various issues and reasons the authors felt their parish needed a change. In essence this is not a bad thing as realizing there is a problem is the first step towards fixing it. However, as you read these early chapters the reader can sense an underlying bitterness towards those who opposed the culture change being implemented. This comes as no real surprise as it is evident the whole thrust was to attract new parishioners or the “lost” while ignoring the established parishioners or “consumers in churchworld” as they are referred to. The authors are even so direct to come out and say you SHOULD ignore the established parishioners. This mentality is troubling as it leads me to wonder after the “lost” become established “consumers in churchworld”, what happens?
Looking at the numbers alone, you cannot take away from the authors what they have been able to accomplish. Their numbers have grown so large they need a Parking Ministry to park cars during Mass. That is simply amazing. However, in their effort to create the first Catholic, Rick Warren “mega-church” they have left out a few things. Keep in mind I have never attended a Mass there and can only base the following off of what is printed in this book. They seem so distracted with increasing enrollment that they seem to miss things that make the Catholic faith unique. Only once in the pages of the book do they mention the Eucharist and never do they mention Confession. It seems from reading this book that their primary focus has become bringing in the “lost” but begs the question, what do they do once they are there? They have definitely done an incredible job adding all the bells and whistles of “mega churches” from an in house band to a café but again no focus in this book is spent on the Sacraments. Sacraments that should draw people in if they are properly exposed an educated about them. Without these, they are simply another mega church.
In closing I am not telling anyone to pass by this book. In fact I would recommend it, as it is worth a read and does have some valid points. I only stress that going into it you take some caution and realize that no one is perfect. No one can possibly hand you the perfect plan for restoring vibrancy to your parish. Everyone is bound to make some mistakes.
I received a copy of this book for this review from Ave Maria Press. You can learn more about the book on their website here.