Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Tools for Rebuilding

About the Book:
In their barn-burning first book, Rebuilt, Michael White and Tom Corcoran shared their story and vision of building better Catholic parishes. Now, in their eagerly-anticipated second book, White and Corcoran lay out seventy-five proven tactics for getting the job done. 

Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran know that the fundamental work of the Church is to evangelize--to introduce people to Christ and make them disciples. Still, they're the first to admit: "the difficulty comes when we reach down into the details and get to work." In Tools for Rebuilding, White and Corcoran share seventy-five foundational tactics that helped to rejuvenate their parish. Their candid, hands-on advice gives a clear way forward--one that will make church matter to the people in the pews and that anyone working in parish ministry can implement. 

Principles/tactics include:
  • Get the Right People on the Bus
  • Christmas Is Over, So Throw Out the Dead Poinsettias
  • Stop Advertising (Other People's Stuff) in Your Bulletin
  • Don't Let the Insiders Take All the Good Seats
  • Just Because It's Slow Doesn't Mean It's Holy
  • When It Comes to First Communion, Just Surrender
  • Funerals Are Scud Missiles
  • Preach the Announcements
  • Start Getting Rid of Fundraisers
  • Everything Takes Longer (Than You Think)
  • Pastor, It's Not All About You
  • Stop Trying to Make People Go to Church and Make Church Matter
My Comments:
I read this book in August, no too long after writing about attracting young families to your parish and about parishes being welcoming.  About the same time someone on my alumnae listserve started a thread about churches and churchgoing.  In short, I'd spend more than the average amount of time thinking about parish outreach and when I saw this on NetGalley I grabbed it.

In short, this book is written by the pastor and a pastoral associate of a large parish in suburban Baltimore.  They have adopted many of the programs and models of the Evangelical megachurch to the Catholic parish.  While this book does not give numbers to validate its approach, it claims to want to get people in the door and then to move them to discipleship.  

Tools for Rebuilding is very readable and it uses scripture quotes to defend why things are recommended.  The recommendations vary quite a bit from what I often see on Catholic websites and/or blogs about increasing Mass attendance.  For one thing, the authors are very pro-church nursery.  While the version I had was an ARC and subject to change before final publication, I have to agree with this statement "Where in the churchworld did we develop the idea that we should force our youngest kids to sit through a service that is incomprehensible to them such that they distract everybody around them in the process?" Their parish offers a church nursery and Liturgy of the Word for Children and cryrooms.  If a crying child is not removed by his/her parent, the usher will encourage them to do so.  While not specifically advocating any particular style of music, the authors note that the people they are trying to reach don't turn on organ music in their cars. They point out that vestments may be very important to church people but non-churchgoers don't care about them and don't decide whether or not to attend church based on the style and quality of the priests' vestments, or other decorations in the church.

The book advocates creating a vision and mission statement for your parish and then evaluating all programs, activities etc. to see how they fit into that vision and mission, and stopping them if they don't.  It reminds us that churches are in the communication business and advocates a well-done internet presence and making sure the the messages they are trying to communicate are clear.  One thing I really wish the average preacher would do that was suggested was to summarize your homily in one sentence about what you want them to know and then give a once sentence suggested activity.  For example:  What do you want them to know?  God wants you to trust him.  What do you want them to do?  Spend six minutes a day in the coming week in quiet time/prayer time to demonstrate and strengthen your trust.  

Usually those trying to reach unchurched Catholics mention the life-passage moments--baptism, marriage, funerals--as times that can give you the opportunity to reach those who otherwise do not darken your doors.  While not talking about weddings, this book does talk about Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation and funerals.  While the authors do not advocate holding the sacraments hostage to lousy (or even good) preparation programs, they sound like funeral masses are more trouble for them than they are worth to the non-practicing Catholic.  I really don't like that attitude, though I can see their point.  

The main complaint I have about this book is that it seems heavy on the slogans and low on the particulars.  I'm sure that's by design but there are ideas I would like to have seen fleshed out a bit more.  

You can read more about the parish at their website.

I'd like the thank the publisher for making a review copy available at NetGalley.  Grade:  B.


  1. I've watched the videos, read the blog, read other things the Rebuilders have reminds me a lot of the praiseband-AV-heavy non-denoms that are all over where I live. I'm very ambivalent about what their approach seems to be. For me a good index of parish discipleship is vocations, but I think it's too early to tell in this case.

  2. Cry rooms are terrible. No one can pay attention to Mass, the children do not learn how to behave. The parents do not feel like they went to Mass and can not hear anything.
    Our parish does not have one. The children learn to behave. When they get too noisy, the parents take them out to the lobby. There are speakers there and the parents can hear the readings etc and can walk with their child until they calm down. We have Liturgy of the Word classes for little ones until offertory time (from age 4 up to grade 2 or 3 I think) and they rejoin their parents but this is optional. Personally, I do not see how children will learn about Mass if they are gone for part of it so I never did that when my kids were little. I understand why some would like it though.
    But cry rooms? No way.
    (Sorry. This is one of those subjects that pushes my buttons!)
    As for the rest, I kinda agree with Christian's comments. I feel a bit ambivalent.
    We have a very active involved parish. Why? A lot of factors. I think it is about community. About relationship with Jesus and approaching each other with love and mercy. We have a lot going on at our parish and encourage all to get involved.
    And we reach out to people who want to return to church.
    I get a little nervous about "methods."
    Thanks for this great book review! Surely got me going! :)

  3. Without going back to reread Ruth's comments, I thought they were referencing a nursery rather than a cry room--a quite different beast. We've always tried to run the middle ground on that topic, bringing the kids to church on non-choir weeks but putting the little ones in Sunday school and/or nursery the days we're leading the music. But the lack of volunteers in our parish have rendered the nursery a moot point for the moment; we've now had to start farming out the toddler to random Mass-goers on choir days. It takes a parish, as I wrote a few weeks ago.

  4. What makes a Catholic Church different then the Christian Church down the street? We have the Eucharist.
    My daughter lives in Maryland. Maryland is overwhelmingly Catholic. Personally, I think this pastor is bringing people back to the Church rather then converting new people. It is a wealthy suburb of a very poor city. Saying that, here is what I think about the other ideas:
    If we baptize infants, they should be allowed to be at Mass. If we don't want them there, then they should be left out of the mix until they are 12 or 13. (Which I do not advocate). If you are too busy to care for your children at Mass---you are too busy ( sorry). Catholics are not raised in the nursery- we are a family of God.
    I do like Children's liturgy. It gives them the Word at their level and permits parents to get a message. My daughter's parish (which is packed at every Mass) does this for 2 1/2- 10 year olds. My grandson can come home and clearly enunciate what he learned every time.
    I think mission work is important. It can be mission work to the inner city - but it is mission work. The mega churches I know do lots of this. I am seeing more Catholic Churches do some interesting mission work. My daughter's church actually bakes all the food on the second Friday of the month for the homeless shelter. Everyone bakes something and they bring it in. Creative.
    I will be ordering their book to read their ideas about the sacraments. I think we have done our level best to "only give Sacraments to the best and brightest" or at least those who get a gold start for attending. It is a mistake, IMHO. At the time that people need Sacraments the most- they should be made available- starting with reconciliation. (Who goes at 4 in the afternoon on a busy Saturday???) As long as there is basic understanding (and I mean basic since I don't even understand sometimes), there should be NO hostage taking. I clearly blame the Catholic Church's six months, silly classes and NO pregnant women being married policy for the decline- and now the disregard of marrying in the Church by the common person. I know--- very much my own opinion.
    I, personally, do not like a short, one sentence homily. I enjoy the teaching that my pastor puts his time and effort into. Saying that, my last seven year have been with a pastor that took no time or effort on his homilies. I wish he had given us the one line and let us free of his stories of the farm. Lord, I am truly thank Your for deliverance from that misery! Nice man---but UGGG!
    Mega Churches depend on excellent speaking by the pastor(s). I think a person who has studied should have the pulpit.
    As far as music goes---I think there is room for almost the entire spectrum. We have a two song- no instrument Mass, a teen crazy Mass, a 1980's music Mass and a normal- pick whatever hits the music minister Mass. All are well attended by very different groups.
    Small groups are not new (something on their website). The problem is how to integrate new people into those groups.
    Really, if the Catholic Church got their act together (that includes me) our Masses would be overflowing. This generation WANTS to belong. They are there for the picking. Make them a part and the parish will move forward. Heck, I want to belong to something. Give us something more then "show up for Sunday and don't be connected" and they will come.

    1. I think you misunderstood what I said (or I didn't say it very well) about the homily. They weren't advocating extra short homilies, they were advocating being able to sum up your homily in that short way--I think too often priests try to cover too much or don't really know what they want to say or what they want your take-away to be.

    2. I understand what you are saying now. Thanks!

  5. I am all for a nursery for the under 5yo crowd BUT what I have seen and don't like is the heavy recruiting of Confirmation students (and other high schoolers) as volunteers who then don't to go Mass on Sundays they are volunteering - despite there being multiple other Mass times.

    I am not opposed to Children's Liturgy for those no older than 1st grade. Once a child has made FHC, I feel they belong in Mass.

    The reality is that folks need to understand the WHY we go to Mass. It's not a social occasion, it's not about being entertained... it's about worshiping as a community and receiving the Eucharist.

    1. But by saying that, aren't you like a mom saying "This medicine may taste awful but it is going to make you feel better". That may work, depending on how bad the medicine tastes, but maybe you'd just be better off ordering (even if it costs a few cents more) the flavored stuff--and when the kid gets old enough to pick his own medicine, he may reject yours for what the neighbor kid said worked just as well and didn't taste awful.

  6. As far as music, I lean more toward traditional music. I have no problem if a parish wants to offer various styles BUT I think it should either be always at the same Mass times (ie: Sat night is guitar folk music, Sunday 9am is traditional, 11am is Childrens choir etc) or if it rotates should be published in advance.

  7. Why should we baptize infants if they are not allowed at the meal?

    1. which I guess goes to the question of the Eastern practices vs the Western--they communicate all members from infancy on.

      I used the church nursery. I don't think any parish should force the issue, but I do think a nursery and other alternatives should be offered for young kids. I never took my babies to the opera but when I took my 17 year old, she behaved just fine. My eight year old behaved at the ballet even though she'd never been before.

  8. The Parish referenced here is the one my husband grew up in (he was their first alter server LOL) and the one my daughter just got married in. We attended there on occasion when my in-laws were alive but lived an hour away. As someone pointed out - it is HUGELY AV oriented. Three big screens (even over the altar) and highly professional everything from lector to musicians to camera men. It is definitely NOT my cup of tea, but what cannot be denied is that it is a growing and thriving faith community. With that being said - the pastor (who co-wrote this book) does not 'do' weddings or funerals. So, although my in-laws were founding members of this church, substitute priests, who did not know them, did their funerals, and my daughter had to find a priest for her wedding.


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