Rebuilding Your Parish

Inviting parishioners to a relationship with Jesus

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Father Michael WhiteThe National Eucharistic Revival (NER), sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, entered its second phase this past summer. It is styled the “Year of Parish Revival.” This effort could be an important opportunity for parishes looking to finally move on from our collective COVID-19 setback or reignite energy and enthusiasm in the face of ever-creeping malaise and missional drift.

A quick look at the “Leader’s Playbook” available on the Revival’s website states “the purpose of this current year is to discern how we might heal, form, convert, unify and send our parishioners through a rekindled relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist.” It goes on to introduce several “invitations” to pastors and parish leaders to pursue this lofty goal.

The first invitation concerns attentiveness to the celebration of the Eucharist, toward reinvigorating worship. This invitation encourages us to work toward a wider participation at Sunday Mass and promote a heightened sense of the sacred.

The weekend is the number one opportunity for people in the community to connect with the Church. And almost everyone who actually does so comes on the weekend. As such, it is our very best opportunity to reach the lost and make disciples, and so deserves our very best efforts. Putting attention and effort into the weekend Mass experience communicates to parishioners and outsiders alike that the Eucharist and our gathering to celebrate it is of the utmost importance.

Perhaps the key element to any experience of Church is going to be music. Chosen with care and attention to the liturgy, music has the power to move hearts and change minds. Excellence in music honors God and communicates that the Eucharist is important to us. Another key element comes in the experience of hospitality, which starts at the front door or even in the parking lot. Here at my parish our “Host Team” makes sure everyone receives a warm welcome, or, preferably, multiple welcomes, underscoring that parishioners and guests are stepping into something significant. This hospitable environment is also a much more attractive one for parishioners to then invite their unchurched friends and family. Doing so is actually another “invitation” of the Revival.

Still, another invitation of the NER is a call to robust faith formation, specifically through a parishwide preaching series on the Eucharist.

The pulpit is the rudder of the whole parish, and what parishioners hear from the pulpit determines where the parish will go. If they’re getting one message on a single theme over multiple weeks, as in a preaching series, the whole parish is going to go further faster. At my parish, we’ve been preaching almost exclusively in series format for many years. I’ve found that combining a topic that is relevant to the lives of the congregation with the themes already present in the Lectionary makes the Scripture really come alive. You can find resources on the Revival website or our site, Rebuilt Parish.

In addition to preaching in a message series, the NER’s invitation goes on to encourage parishes to employ small faith-sharing groups. We argue in our book “Rebuilt” (Ave Maria, $17.95) that the single biggest game changer for parish renewal is getting people up out of the pews and into small groups. Groups are where a church of any size gets small, up close and personal.

If you are looking for a curriculum for your small groups, look no further than the preaching series that you are undertaking. Real benefits come when a parish can carefully plan in advance a preaching series that goes along with a small-group program. When parishioners are able to hear the homily on Sunday and discuss it with friends in faith during the week, they will experience renewal and the parish will be strengthened. As a consequence, the parish celebration of the Eucharist will be enriched.

Why not take up these wonderful invitations and make the coming year a time of revival, renewal and rebuilding for your parish?

FATHER MICHAEL WHITE is pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, and author of the best-selling “Rebuilt” (Ave Maria, $17.95).

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