First off, yes, I know – I'm about six years late to the party.
After eight years in parish work and three in business with Gloriam, I FINALLY sat down and read Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish. (You can find it on Amazon here.)
A note to begin: This is not a review of the book itself, but rather the methods this parish used to change its landscape. The book itself is very easy to read and well-written, and I highly recommend that you read it regardless of my opinions about their methods.
For those of you who like myself have never read the book before, Rebuilt chronicles the journey of a pastor and parish employee who set about to become a mission-driven parish. Taking to heart Jesus' Great Commission ("Go and make disciples of all nations"), they succeeded in transitioning their parish to this disciple-making mission, with some bumps and bruises along the way. This book was written to help other parish leaders follow this same model, which many parishes around the country have done.
Let me start off with what I loved: Evangelization EVERYWHERE!
My overall favorite thing about their strategy is that they actually had a strategy and a mission around which to orient the parish. YES! This is so important. As a marketer, I can't say it enough: you need to have a mission. The authors suggest that Jesus already provided parishes that mission: Go and make disciples of all nations. However, I believe that some Catholic organizations may have layers to this mission: for example, my goal at Gloriam is to make disciples by offering marketing and creative services to evangelization-driven companies, all for God's greater glory. So while I may not be doing the direct work of making disciples, I'm helping others do so.
I also really appreciated the authors' humor and honesty. As a former parish employee, I was nodding my head. A LOT.
One would think that working in a parish would make one holy. One would be wrong.
I met a ton of people through that job. Many of them were warm, wonderful people who stand out in my mind as the exemplars of witnessing to Christ. Others, not so much.
Working in a church allowed me to witness some of the worst parts of humanity. All of the behaviors Fr. White and Corcoran describe in their book, I have witnessed firsthand. The Church has become a consumer culture, and I tend to agree with their conclusion: you can't please everyone.
I also deeply appreciated their ability to put aside pride, as they term it, and learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters on how to engage with congregations. Let's face it; Protestant churches are growing rapidly while there are more fallen-away Catholics than ever before. One of the best things Protestant churches are doing is actually reaching these fallen-away folks (called "unchurched") and bringing them back home. I've long posited that Catholic churches need to do a better job of being out in the community and offering opportunities for the fallen away to come home. It's something we can really learn a lot from, and implementing some of these strategies does not mean that we have to abandon what makes the Catholic Church unique and sacred.
As a marketer, I also really appreciated their ability to use a character persona. A character persona is thinking about your ministry from the eyes of an outsider, particularly your target audience. It's about really honing down to a specific name, age, gender, characteristics, likes, dislikes, etc. for your target audience. This parish did that (named Timonium Tim in their case) and I had all the clap hands out. 👏👏👏 (P.S. If you want to do something like this with your parish or organization, let me know; I'd love to help!)
Now for some of the things that I didn't like so much...
I must confess that I went into this reading a little biased against it. I've followed this parish on Facebook for a while, and I knew their general philosophy from back when I worked at a parish and our pastor was considering implementing some of their strategies. And frankly, it comes off like they're trying to hide that they're Catholic. I realize they probably aren't trying to do that, and everything they do seems technically in line, but I got the impression that sometimes the theatrics of it all take over the liturgy.
For example, the pastor, at least at the beginning, did all of the preaching at every Mass because he wanted a consistent message. While I appreciate the idea behind this and it may have been the right move missionally, it seems a bit...conceited, as though the other priests don't have a message to offer.
The pastor noted they often get asked if they're actually a Catholic church. This is a huge problem to me. You should be able to walk into any Catholic church or log on to any Catholic church's website and know that they are Catholic. I've seen several churches who have followed the Rebuilt method who seem to also lose this Catholicness. While avoiding insider terms in marketing is essential, we also can't swing so far the other way that it's just a mega church with the Eucharist as a side note.
Another thing that bothered me was their promotion of their online campus. Now, as a digital media guru, I am all about online ministry. Social media, email marketing, even streaming the Mass for the homebound...but promoting an online campus to watch the Mass weekly seems to be pushing it a bit far. To be fair, their reasoning was clear that this was about letting it be a first step towards coming on campus, to give those who are curious an opportunity to watch online a few times first to see what it was all about before taking the leap. But still...it all ties back to this pseudo-Catholic feeling I get from this parish.
There were other choices like that (ie. having Christmas and Easter Masses at the local fairgrounds instead of the church building) that just rubbed me the wrong way. So while I love the ideas behind this parish's revival, especially as a marketer, I'd warn those who want to adopt these methods to not let our pursuit of inclusivity make us compromise or try to diminish our Catholicness in order to be more readily accepted.
All in all, it was a great, thought-provoking read, and I highly encourage anyone in ministry to check it out!