Spot On: Church Revitalization, Evangelization, and Discipleship

H/t to Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD for this short and simple list — Church Revitalization: 5 Reasons It Works When It Works.

Breaking apart the post, Fr. Michael White offers 5 critical factors that are present when church revitalization occurs, the parish:

1. Acknowledges that they have a problem.
2. Approach the problem in prayer.
3. Preaches the Gospel (evangelization/discipleship).
4. Lives evangelization and discipleship.
5. Have a clear, consistent, and challenging discipleship path.

The all important “step zero” is that fundamentally, the parish realizes that the only true revitalization is exactly what the Church has proclaimed for centuries–evangelization that necessarily includes discipleship. I have observed situations where parishes do mistake revitalization for something other than evangelization and discipleship (for example, boosting Mass attendance, a building project, a successful fundraising campaign, increasing engagement and participation of parishioners, etc.).

Praise the Lord, I believe more and more Catholic parishes are realizing Steps 0, 1, and 2, named above.

Steps 3 and 4, however, are a bit more elusive and challenging because they are inherently zero-sum propositions. To preach and live evangelization and discipleship means that, practically speaking, other things must go. This can be hugely challenging. A stumbling block that prevents parishes from making past steps 1 and 2. 

What is this “preaching the Gospel” all about, as Fr. White explains:

Preaching the Gospel, of course, automatically means an emphasis on evangelization and discipleship that begins in the pulpit. And these churches keep the message focused and simple.

There’s only so much “pulpit time.” Yes, it can (and should in many cases!) be expanded in parish life (see here and here).  But assuming the weekly pulpit time isn’t changing in a parish, then an emphasis on evangelization and discipleship means that some style of preaching, content, and forms the parish is used to, probably have to go.

Which leads into the challenge of #4,

Preached simply enough and often enough, the parishioners will get it, and live it. They don’t just talk about evangelization, or form a committee to talk about it, or confuse it with other things they are already doing. They do it. They intentionally share Christ with others, and make invitations to their unchurched friends to come to church.

Thinking the New Evangelization is complete by merely “talking about evangelization” or making (usually well intentioned, yet shallow/surface-level) changes to things the parish is already doing is a real temptation. It’s amazing the number of initiatives and programs that seem to be re-named or re-branded as “evangelization” over the past few years, as evangelization and discipleship have become the pressing and prominent topics they always should have been in parish life.

If a community truly recognizes #1 (we have a problem), then it’s not about making small changes or surface changes–fundamentally some activities of the parish need a new intentionality, a difference substance, purpose, and direction. Again, for most people and parishes, there’s the reality of limited time and resources–so the question becomes what can’t we do anymore, if we are to live evangelization and discipleship as the simple and driving principles within our church? I find Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s alignment principle to be especially helpful here. Also, take heart! This is hard for leaders outside of the ministry world as well, as parish minister Michael Gormley shares.

Making room for true priorities is not an easy conversation for any organization, much less a parish to have–but it’s a critical conversation that needs to be had in order for the New Evangelization to be more than a theological concept, but clearly and vibrantly lived in a parish, so that no one can miss it!

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One thought on “Spot On: Church Revitalization, Evangelization, and Discipleship

  1. Our parish is going through a “trying not to be closed down” phase, which is read which is leading to a sense of revitalization… but, I’m afraid as I am reading your post, not the productive, real kind. Like you said, we try to think of ways to get more people into the church – but none of those ways seem to include true evangelization, bringing Christ to people and people to Christ. Ultimately, it’s not about the style of music, the beauty of the decorations, or the color of the front railings – to truly revitalize (bring back life to) our parish, each and every one of us in the parish must joyfully share our Christian lives of faith with other people in our everyday lives. But how do I do that and how do I help others in my parish to do the same?

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