Book Review: The Rebuilt Field Guide

Are you a parish that just can’t seem to get started on moving from maintenance to mission?

A place where money, staffing, your community (and more) have been viewed as insurmountable barriers to evangelizing?

A parish that gets (or has gotten) bogged down in long-term strategic planning or any attempt to do something “big”?

The Rebuilt Field Guide: Ten Steps for Getting Started (Ave Maria Press, 2016) fills a niche by providing one of the most concise and all-in-one starter tools available to help parishes become evangelizing environments. At less than 100 pages and less than $10, this is a book that anyone can make it through, that any team can use to avoid becoming paralyzed by the myriad of (great!) ideas for evangelizing, and instead get to doing, learning, and adapting in one’s own parish setting.

Coauthors Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White pull together ten hands-on chapters, each a stand-alone exercise designed for a small (5-8 person) group of parish leaders. There’s a devotion and prayer prompt, excerpts from Rebuilt series books, discussion questions, space for your personalized parish reflections, and a final “rallying cry” to implement and preserve in single steps to move from maintenance to mission in the typical experience of parish life. Some exercises might take a week to complete, others months–the overarching point is to get moving. Start the engine. Begin driving, rather than merely watching the New Evangelization in whatever circumstances your parish may find itself.

How is this book different than the original “Rebuilt” or “Tools for Rebuilding”? At it’s core–this is much simpler. Very little back story on Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD (the authors’ parish), not a focus explaining the roots of our theology of evangelization, and no advanced steps that presume a level of staff capability and past progress. If you doubted that Rebuilt was relevant to your parish because Church of the Nativity just seemed so “different,” then this is the book for you, because it’s all about your parish, your community, your unique setting to live out Jesus’ instructions to go and make disciples (cf. Matt 28:19). This would be a boring book to read by yourself–because it’s all about the future of your parish.

The coauthors are spot-on as they explain:

It matters not at all what kind of parish you have: big or small, urban or rural, affluent or struggling. To undertake these exercises, you don’t need any particular resources, additional staff, or budget, and you won’t have to hire a consultant. You really only need one thing: a team. (viii)

And this matters. While there are more and more parishes implementing concrete changes to be evangelizing places for all who enter, sadly, the reality is that most Catholics are not in these parishes. The typical American Catholic experience is of maintenance, not mission. And in these churches there’s not a groundswell of action. Instead, there is often slow decay, sadness, hopelessness, or a sense of inevitability–that “religion” just isn’t a thing anymore, that the best that can be imagined is a well-managed decline.

The Rebuilt Field Guide offers the concrete basics to get moving. And moving counts, as Fr. White and Corcoran note, when “you apply or adapt what you think might work in your setting” the process itself teaches you “more about what actually does work for you.” Waiting to have a perfect grasp of Catholic theology of evangelization, dynamics of a healthy and learning organization, ministerial leadership, and more before starting will likely only keep you waiting. This book provides a path for learning by and while doing.

If you’re searching for a deeper theological understanding of the New Evangelization or comprehensive guide to parish renewal, leadership, and planning–this isn’t it. It’s something wholly different and uniquely suited to help parishes get moving. To take the first steps on a journey the world needs each and every parish to take.

Disclosure: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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