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Local pastors learning from mega-churches

Posted By March 20, 2014 | 12:47 pm | Lead Story #3

By Father Paul Tougas

Some Catholics are looking at the successes some Protestant churches are having attracting and keeping Sunday worshipers. These churches, known as mega-churches, located mostly in the South, apparently have some welcoming techniques that Catholics can learn from. Diocesan pastors and lay people are also reflecting on why the Catholic Church can’t seem to keep certain generations engaged. And they are paying attention to  statistics that show people leaving Catholic churches and joining more “joyful” evangelical communities.
These issues will be addressed at an upcoming diocesan conference. Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran will present the story of their Maryland parish that was a dying Catholic parish which was brought to new life and enthusiasm. The priest and lay associate will share their experiences at St. Joseph Parish Center, 68 Central St., Auburn, on Thursday, April 3 from 5:45 to 9 p.m. They have written and described their journey, their efforts, their successes and failures in a book titled “The Story of a Catholic Parish Rebuilt.” The subtitle, “Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter,” outlines the evangelization work at hand.     Father White and Mr. Corcoran looked to the Protestant mega-churches for inspiration while keeping the Eucharist central to their mission of “seeking and saving the lost.” Their book is peppered with practical ideas bundled under the heading: “You can do this! Steps you can take in your parish.”
This book has found favor with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who has distributed copies to each pastor in the Archdiocese of Boston. The authors will also present a  workshop in Boston.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is quoted on the book cover, “If you love your parish, read this book.”
Some of our diocesan pastors are familiar with the book and are using ideas from it to inspire changes here.
Father Brian P. O’Toole, pastor in Gardner at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish and school and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and school, has not only espoused “Rebuilt” but attended a November conference and visited the parish that is the subject of the book, Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He says, “Some of us are looking for a new model of church and you have to look at success.”
For inspiration he also read “Deep and Wide” by Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, the book on which “Rebuilt” is based. Another resource in the same vein is “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Dominican Sister Shelly Weddell, he said.
Father William C. Konicki, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Hopedale, is also enthusiastic about these pastoral approaches that seem to draw people back to church. Father O’Toole has given a parish retreat in Hopedale to some core parishioners on the theme of “Rebuilt.”
The Hopedale parish is further along than others implementing changes and is ready to make some architectural alterations to express a new dynamic of welcoming and changing its focus from “the saved and present” to the “lost and missing,” Father Konicki explained. He said “the entrance will be moved and the church will be remodeled so that people will enter directly from the parking lot into a welcome center-gathering space and into a bright new area.”
Elizabeth Cotrupi, the NEWorcester director for diocesan youth and young adult ministry, is an enthusiastic lay leader. She too sees the Catholic Church dealing with declining membership and inactive young people. She has been instrumental in bringing these author-speakers to the Worcester Diocese. She points out that the unusual evening meeting is evidence of the popularity of “Rebuilt” because it was the only time the speakers had available.
Mrs. Cotrupi expects to see an impact on youth from these new efforts at evangelization and so she is excited to see our parishes renewed.
The conference is co-sponsored by the Bishop’s Office, Partners in Charity, Office for Religious Education, The Catholic Free Press, NEWorcester and the Office of Communications.
To register for the conference in Auburn contact A $10 fee includes a light dinner. The book is available at the diocesan bookstore in the Chancery, 49 Elm. St., Worcester.