I Wonder If It’s Unrealistic to think I could Double the Size of My Congregation in One Year?

Why not? Why shouldn’t I aim high? And really, is it that high? Is it really so unrealistic to ask every member of my congregation to shepherd one soul back to the sacraments and the practice of the faith in the next year? Is that so impossible, for each one to reach one, and work with them for a year and to invite them to come and learn more of the faith?

Well, I’m going to try. As a parish we have been engaged in a door-to-door evangelization campaign and that’s been going quite well, actually. Over 1500 homes have been visited and our Sunday numbers are up by 50.

But I am also aware that friendship and family are a more fruitful vein than the “cold-contact” approach of door to door. We’re going to keep doing that because we need to obey Christ who sends us out two by two. But every congregant knows at least five members from among their family or friends who need to come  to God’s house either because they have drifted, or because they have never had a Church home at all. It’s time to go to work and shepherd them back.

And this isn’t going to be a one-time ask, a la “Come to Christmas Mass with me.”

What I am am asking is a year-long effort that would include some of the following:

  1. Introduce – On our Parish feast day in couple of weeks I am going to ask every member of the congregation to prepare to commit to the Lord that they will shepherd one soul back to mass.
  2. Pray and discern – Between September 18th and the Feast of Christ the King, we are to pray and ask the Lord who that person might be. It may not be the obvious one, such as a spouse or a child. Then again it may be. But pray and ask the Lord for guidance: “Who Lord? Who? Speak to my heart Lord, show me who. Who is it that I reasonably know and will be able to gently shepherd?”
  3. Commit – On the feast of Christ the King we will be asked to commit to shepherd the soul to the Lord by spending the next year praying, some fasting and abstaining too, befriending, drawing closer and meeting with that person. They will be ask to place the name of this person on a card. The cards will be collected and placed near the altar, Masses will be offered each week for these souls.
  4. Reflect on personal testimony – During Advent each congregant who has agreed will be asked to write a letter of testimony and thanksgiving to the Lord thanking him for the gift of the faith, the Church and Sacraments and to say something of why they are glad to be a Catholic and how the Lord has blessed them in their practice of the faith. These letters will be presented as a gift of thanksgiving to God at Christmas time. Writing these letters will also help the faithful to hone their own testimony which they can later share with the soul they are shepherding.
  5. On-going Parish formation – During the period after Christmas and through Lent, directed Bible Studies and seminars will also be conducted in the parish that will guide people on how to lovingly converse with the person they are leading back. There are many “meeting stories” in the Bible (e.g. Jesus with the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Peter and Andrew and so forth). These passages and other resources will be given the parishioners to help them engage in a kind of friendship evangelization. The first step in friendship evangelization is friendship. And these studies will help equip parishioners to draw close to the person they are praying to lead back in a way that is not manipulative or secret, but which is also not filled with pressures.
  6. Relate and befriend – Over the period of the year, make it a habit to contact and speak with the person. Talk with them, listen to their stories and ideas. Find out where they hurt and where they find joy. Find out how they drifted from Church or why they have never gone in the first place. Perhaps they have felt hurt or betrayed by the Church, perhaps they are not used to considering the real meaning of their life and have never taken time to consider that this life will end. There is a real power in listening to people in a respectful and loving way. In this stage we also tell our own stories and how the Lord has blessed us and what the Church, the sacraments, the Word of God and fellowship have done for us.
  7. Invite – Without lots of pressure, begin to invite them to Church functions. They may not be ready to sit in a pew on Sunday for worship. But we will have concerts, Bible studies, dinners, movie nights, the blessing of the animals.
  8. Pray and fast – Continue to pray, as will the parish. Consider some fasting, and abstinence, or take up a spiritual practice such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, devotional reading etc. and offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord for the return to the faith the person you are shepherding.
  9. Invite – As the relationship deepens, let the Lord help you to know when and how it is best to explicitly ask this person to either resume the regular practice of their faith or to begin to come regularly on Sunday’s with you. A good time to aim for this is early October when RICA and Adult education classes resume.
  10. Assess – As the year draws to a close on the Feast of Christ the King 2012, we will see if our numbers have doubled.

There is an acronym that is applied to projects that are undertaken: S.M.A.R.T. And I think this on meets the Criteria:

  1. Specific – Each one reach one
  2. Measurable – Double the size of Sunday attendance
  3. Achievable – It is quite possible for every congregant to take up this challenge and, over a year meet many if not all the milestones.
  4. Realistic – to Double our Sunday Attendance is challenging but not unrealistic if everyone does their part and we remember that the Lord has our back.
  5. Time Based – 1 year, with specific milestones on the way.

It is a true fact that simply increasing numbers is not the only, or even most important goal. But rather, that we should authentically evangelize and draw souls to Christ, to his Sacraments, his Word and the fellowship of the Church. At the heart of evangelization is relationship: meeting Christ in others, allowing them to meet Him in us. This is what Christ did, he went out and met others and summoned them to the Kingdom by stages and through relationships. He tells us to do them: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And Lo I am with you always, until the end of the world. (Matt 28:19)

Am I crazy? Perhaps, but at least call me a fool for Christ. I am going to aim high, that we double our Sunday numbers. Not just for the number’s sake, but for what they represent, souls coming back to God’s house, to be nourished at the altar of the Word and Eucharist, to be more deeply immersed in Christ.

How about you? Will you be crazy too? Are you willing to join me in being a fool for Christ? Let’s get started, there is a work to do.

Photo Credit: A Painting by the artist Atanur Dogan

Here’s a nice video that celebrates the Catholic Faith and can help us get our testimony together. The second half of the video contains a wonderful litany of gifts that are present in the Catholic Church.

51 Replies to “I Wonder If It’s Unrealistic to think I could Double the Size of My Congregation in One Year?”

  1. You are not crazy and I think the one-on-one approach works beautifully. My sister has had wonderful success introducing people to Jesus. I have had moderate success and I know exactly where I should put in more effort — spending more time with the person. I didn’t realize I should be fasting along with my prayers. I will join you.

  2. Great initiative Monsignor! I will pray for your success.

    I would like to recommend a book to you that I read recently that may aid your efforts. Rodney Stark is a sociologist who has done a lot of work looking at how and why religions spread. One of his more famous books is titled “The Rise of Christianity”. He uses sociological theory to analyze what allowed Christianity to spread so successfully in its early years. The book is well-researched, highly regarded, and quite persuasive. (And, thankfully, very readable.) I think it holds a lot of lessons for modern efforts at evangelization. As a bonus, you will also learn quite a lot about the historical context from which Paul’s letters and the stories in Acts hail.

  3. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    Beautiful video. No, you are not a fool for
    Christ. You have great ideas and if we all would do our share
    we would be filling our churches to capacity and reopen the closed ones.
    I pray for your success and all the others who will follow your lead.

  4. dear msgr pope- i have got tears in my eyes for what you want to do. i hope you can hear me all the way from cyprus-BRAVO, GO FOR IT, DON’T STOP, YOU CAN DO IT HEARTS ARE WAITING!-bill

  5. Having for a while attended a baptist church. any such ideas have always terrified me. As they do most Catholics. I am glad to be back at the Catholic faith. But if you want to do this. Make sure the homilies are inspiring. I have had a friend convert when invited. Unfortunately they subsequently left for the SSPX. Sadly their conversion was short and that was largely because of heterodox Catholics. And dissident priests.

    1. Here too, keep working and steer people to good parishes, but keep working. If you wait till the Church is perfect then you will have no fruits to show the Lord in obedience to his command that we make disciples.

  6. Great plan. Imagine the “failure” of growing “only” 50 percent. May I make a suggestion? Find someone in your congregation who has been in sales in their career and get their advice. I have been in sales my whole working career. An early manager of mine defined sales as “moving men’s minds to action”, and that is what you want to do here. An important point is to find the person’s “flagpole”, what is really important to them. This is discovered by listening. Once you have discovered the “flagpole” determine how the Church relates to it. If someone begins to see how the Church can fill a need of what is important to them you will have a new member of the congregation.

  7. Your article’s title suggests that you will be doing something but then the story is about the “members of the congregation”.Shouldn’t the clergy be leading in this? Weren’t they given the mision by Christ? Of course the laity have a role but aren’t you supposed to lead and we follow? Whos the shepherd here? People didn’t leave the Church because of the laity and they won’t come back because of them. To whom did Christ say “feed my sheep” Get the Bishops to start acting like true bishops and you may triple your congregation!

    1. Oh, I can assure I will be “doing something” It is probable that you haven’t been reading this blog for long. But I go door to door, and I too will be shepherding back a soul this year. At least one. Your remarks are inappropriate here. Get busy and stop trying to alienate Catholics from their clergy. Such a negative attitude doesn’t help. The Church will get better when you get better. As for me, I will work my own stuff and my congregation.

      1. The success or failure of any effort to increase engagement within a parish lies less with the priest than with the parishioners themselves. Certainly having an effective pastor is important, but the fact of the matter is that priests come and go. Even the most holy, well-loved and inspirational priest is not, and cannot be, the heart of a parish.

        The heart of the parish lies not only with the laypeople who lead and support various ministries, but also with every person sitting in the pews at Mass. If parishioners aren’t interested in welcoming and engaging those around them, then efforts such as the one Msgr Pope is leading will fall flat.

        I have seen expressed in this forum – multiple times – that one goes to Church for the Sacraments; if one is looking for social connections, one should go join a club. I find such an attitude lazy, selfish, and short-sighted. Our witness to Christ comes less from what we say than than from what we do. If we can’t be bothered even to extend a hand in greeting, how will anyone believe the sacrifice Christ made for us?

        1. Cynthia,

          You said: “I have seen expressed in this forum – multiple times – that one goes to Church for the Sacraments; if one is looking for social connections, one should go join a club. I find such an attitude lazy, selfish, and short-sighted.”

          I think I disagree, let me explain why.

          I attended a parish council meeting, and most of the the meeting focused on busy-ness. We were looking for a way to re-engage people in the parish. There was a lot of talk about doing this and doing that. …. restarting the program called the “Do-Dads” men’s volunteering group. This is a pretty traditional parish. (Rosary before mass, long confessional lines, stations of the cross etc.) However, I’ve observed that there are a lot of people who leave right after communion. They simply come to mass and punch their “fire insurance” ticket for the week. The focus of the meeting was on activities in the parish.

          Okay, here’s my point: If people are primarily focused on doing stuff, and it’s not rooted in, centered on, energized by Christ, it is–in the words of Benedict XVI–mere activism (e.g. being a member of a club). Most of what was talked about was attracting people to the parish with busy activities. Christ was almost an afterthought. I was thinking to myself: “This is not the Rotary Club or the Lion’s Club!” These activities are good and the fruit of a relationship with Christ. If they aren’t rooted in Christ, they won’t do.

          I’m 41, and my parent’s generation was catechized, and sacramentalized, but not evangelized. My generation was merely/barely sacramentalized. Cardinal George has defined evangelization as “Introducing people to Jesus.” If the Catholics in the school, in the soup kitchen, in the factory, in the office, assisting at mass DON’T know Jesus, it won’t work.

          We have grandparents who know/knew the rules and parents who received the sacraments, now trying to evangelize. I see this play out in our “Catholic” school. It’s a disaster. It’s the blind leading the blind.

          If we don’t start with Christ, we’re putting the cart before the horse. We have what people need–even if they don’t know it–Christ! Let’s re-introduce Christ to those who claim the title Christian as a first step. Looking at the voting patterns of Catholics and the behavior of some prominent Catholic politicians is a stark display of the need for this.

          I hope you can see from my ramblings what I’m trying to say.


          1. Mark, I’ll tell you what I’ve experienced in the Catholic parish my family attends, and perhaps that will clarify my point.

            In the ten years we’ve been registered in the parish, not one person has taken the initiative to introduce him/herself to us. When I’ve introduced myself to others the usual response is a brief stare, and then a begrudged offering of one’s name. The only parishioners who can put a name to my face or show any interest in speaking with me are those who know me outside the parish, and a few regulars at Adoration.

            It took four months for someone to acknowledge my husband’s interest in joining the Knights of Columbus Council. Had my husband not happened to recognize at Mass a PGK from his picture on the website, he’d probably still be waiting.

            It took five years for anyone to accept our offer to assist with instrumental music. The first time we played was in June of 2009, the 2nd time was in June of 2011. My husband and I are by no means a pair of yutzes; we are active, competent musicians with decades of experience. And given that I’ve only seen one flute player and one trumpet player, it doesn’t appear that the parish is bursting at the seams with wind musicians. Certainly I’ve no reason to think we’re deliberately excluded, but there clearly is no interest in engaging us, either.

            I am NOT talking about “doing stuff.” I am talking about being civil, charitable, and caring toward one another.

            My experience is not unique – and when an unwelcoming environment has come up as a topic, some people just don’t see it as a problem. They just don’t want to be bothered with any needs but their own. People like that can’t start with Christ. They’re no where near Him.

    2. This seems a clericalist response to me (in a negative way). The apostolate of the faithful is the one-on-one evangelization of their neighborhoods, families, and workplaces.

    3. @ Thomas…

      The Church is the body of Christ with Christ at its head. As the priest is, at times, in persona Christi, he can be that head. The head comes up with (or processes what others come up with) the ideas, but it’s the rest of the body that is there to do the work, too.

      I think Msgr. Pope’s idea is wonderful and I am sure that his congregation will rise to the plan.

  8. Epistle 252
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope preached Gospel according to John 4:1-42.
    Gut of the homily is many Samaritans believe in Jesus because of the Samaritan woman’s testimony.
    Secondly, now permit me to discuss some matters to relate to the homily hereafter:
    I am a Saigon man. Following matters was written by my understanding.
    Before 1975, Saigon was Capital of Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Its residents were around 3 million, in which Catholics were around 500,000.
    After 1975, Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City, a Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s largest city. Now its residents are around 10 million, in which Catholics are around 651,046 (2008).
    It is forecasted that its residents will be 20 million by 2020.
    And I forecast that Catholics will be 700,000 by 2020.
    Here, problem is that most Saigon people don’t want to become a bachelor as priest or nun.
    Meanwhile, birth rate is to increase and death rate is to decrease.
    On the other hand, Vietnamese family tradition doesn’t want to abort because aborting is a crime.
    For example, before 1975, I am a bachelor. Today I had married and having two sons, the first is 30, the second is 25.
    I forecast that my household (4 people) will be added 6 people to become 10 people by 2020.
    I have no resolution for this situation.
    I want Lord give me a vision./.

  9. I love the Defendusinbattle blog and the We Are Catholic video. Shout out to Joe and Brian, what an exciting, colorful and fresh outlook for a Catholic website! It brought to mind Fr. Barron’s new Catholicism Series and the Catholics Come Home Website. It would be nice if they linked to each other.

  10. I’m on board! Is it ok for me to copy your article and present it to my Parish Council next week?

  11. This is a great idea. I personally think that it makes a lot more sense than door to door, but maybe it’s because I would be terrible at that sort of thing!
    This is a very challenging suggestion however. Not so much because of the effort invovled, but just reading it made me react in a negative way. Setting the target of doubling the parish numbers brought up an instinctive reaction that it wouldn’t be possible and it’s silly to try. It takes a lot of effort to trust in God’s goodness and power.
    I think that this will be an excellent way to reorient parishioners towards our mission as a Church. It’s too easy to forget what we’re here for and a plan like this is a great way to stay on track.

    1. Our door to door is essential since we have lost touch with our neighbors in many ways and have become a kind of commuter church. So the effort in that realm is more long term. I figure if we are known in a more personal way by our neighbors they will be more inclined to consider our parish when and if the seeds of faith germinate.

      1. Msgr. Pope,

        We have become a commuter church because of the striking differences in parishes. Let’s be honest, some parishes are more Catholic than others. Some people prefer the more Catholic and others prefer the less Catholic but either way they probably drive to the parish that suits their preference.

  12. Msgr. Pope, may God bless and prosper your efforts!

    Amid all the heartbreaking stories over the past years about heartless bishops closing beautiful old parishes is lost the obvious fact that we laity have been disobedient to Christ in doing our part to spread the Good News of salvation to our children and our neighbors. If we’d been doing our part all these years, how much more would God be glorified in His people. Thank you for calling your parish back to true love of God and neighbor.

    1. Yes, thank you for this encouragement. I have often thought that parishes closing would be a wake-up call and it should be, as you describe a teachable moment as to how urgent our task has become.

  13. If I may be the devil’s advocate:

    Certainly one can expect one’s parishioners to be highly involved in evangelization. But I have a few worries:

    1. Focusing too much on evangelization: True, Christ commands us to preach the gospel. But at what point do we evangelize at the expense of obscuring the gospel with the work of our own hands? Is it possible that, in the midst of our own work, the work on the cross begins to lose meaning for us? When we focus on our own work too much, we may begin to believe that conversion DEPENDS on us, rather than upon the Holy Spirit.

    2. The heavy emphasis on evangelization may alienate some of your parishioners. I’m not saying that I agree with them (because I don’t), but if your goal is in some way determined by numbers, you should recognize the fact that some may leave on account of “heavy handed moralism.” Do I agree with this? No.

    3. Training is ESSENTIAL. How can Catholics preach without knowing what they preach? How can Catholics preach without knowing WHY they preach what they preach? Many Catholics struggle with the same issues that the mainstream public struggles with, ie Catholic views on contraception, abortion, homosexuality. Many of these doubts are due to improper catechesis and resulting misconceptions of said doctrine. Until we are “prepared to give an answer about the hope we have within us,” we cannot effectively preach the gospel.

    4. Statistics show that even in heavily “missional,” yet established religions, ie baptists, the vast majority of growth in these religions is due to birthrate, rather than mission work. Since this is especially the case in Roman Catholicism, wouldn’t our efforts be better focused on the rearing of our children in the Church? The establishment of Children’s masses and youth groups that are more than just “holding tanks with pizza,” seem to me just as worthy ventures as door to door evangelism.

    I’m speaking as a convert to the faith. I’m fully supportive of your efforts, just giving concerns to be considered.

    1. So what do you propose, that you should not personally seek to draw people to the faith and that the Church should cease missionary and Evangelical efforts? I see you are supportive but I don’t get the practical application of it.

      BY the way my congregation has trained for over two years on evangelization. I don’t send them out as apologists however, they are supplied with information about the faith and websites where technical questions can be answered.

      1. I am encouraged at the fact that such training is given to your parishioners. Something like this is definitely needed in Parishes around the country.

        I am just adding qualifiers to your statement. I’m not advocating the abandonment of the great commission, however, I would like to offer words of warning:

        1. Missionally oriented churches often gain a “wing,” if you will, of congregants and some staff who desire to modify liturgy in an attempt to make the Church “more accessible.” This can be seen in some of the efforts of the Paulists. For obvious reasons, this is a problem in the Church that need to be prepared for. I’m not worried about your parish on this issue, but this tendency still exists. There has to be a line drawn on how “missional” the church will be, and pre-defined areas of worship that can or cannot be changed.

        2. I support the efforts of evangelism, but I feel that in many ways the Church is losing its youth. With little in the way of Sunday school/ parish education at most parishes, many our youth grow up with what many describe as “Therapeutic moralistic deism.” Since (as previously stated) most of our growth comes from Birthrate, youth education should be a top priority. We shouldn’t reach out to others at the expense of the spiritual health of Children.

        3. And finally, the work of the cross must retain primacy. Throughout this time of heavy evangelization, I would encourage seminars and programs that focus specifically on the work of Christ on our behalf. Not only does it redirect our focus and battle the “I gotta convert people” tendency (which ignores the work of the Holy Spirit), but it also reinvigorates the parish to the good news itself: That Christ established this Church on Earth, died for us, and resurrected. With the salvific work of Christ in our hearts and minds, we can more joyfully (and effectively) proclaim it to others.

        1. I understand your concerns, Philip, but also I understand the Monsignor’s enthusiasm.

          In fact, I’ve said before in another context that, if we could each convert only one pro-choice person to the pro-life cause each year or two, we would be able to abolish abortion in the space of five years. But that is a lot easier said than done. And since there is conclusive and undeniable biological evidence that abortion is the killing of a living human being, rather than a matter of faith, believing in things unseen, one would think that converting people to be pro-lifers would be easier than religious conversion. But, as we have seen, it ain’t easy at all.

          Authentic conversion is a turning of the heart, not merely a case of putting bodies in seats. What is most important is that the horse drink, not that he merely stand there by the water. A turning of the heart is something that the person being converted has to do himself — the evangelist cannot do it for him. At most, the evanglizer can toss a seed on the soil while encouraging the person being converted to properly prepare that soil. Thereafer, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to provide the sun and rain to help the seed germinate and sprout and grow.

          Sometimes that seed is providing the substance of the doctrine of the Church, sometimes it is explaining that doctrine, sometimes it is echoing tradition and the events of Salvation History (catechesis), sometimes that seed is merely displaying love, letting the Light of Christ shine through you, without throwing a lot of facts and words at the other. But it is never more than just a seed. And whether it takes root or not is not up to us.

  14. It is not unreasonable. This is the power of hope at work, already leaning into the grace of the gifts which are to come.

  15. Wow! This is incredible! Thanks Msgr! This is really inspiring! This is the 1st time I’ve read your blog, but I’ll certainly be back!

    Door to door! I love it! Do you have other post about how you do this? I’d love to find out more 🙂

    Over the past few years my husband and I have engaged some of our Protestant friends in discussion about the faith. We kept thinking that if they just knew the Truth, they’d convert. And we felt like these friends were all genuinely seeking the Truth. But after months of discussion, we’d hit a stalemate… In both cases I think the sticking point was authority. How do we prove that Christ set up the Catholic Church? They interpret those parts of scripture so differently! Even after looking at the Didiche, they didn’t think the Catholic Church was the same as the Early Church.
    We kinda came to the conclusion that Faith is a gift and God gives it in His own time, maybe? But if that is so, why would God not grant the gift of faith to someone who’s asking for it?


    1. They interpret those parts of scripture so differently??

      They “interpret” scripture? To interpret the scriptures is to say that the scriptures do not speak for themselves, that they are not self-evidence and self-revealing, to say that there is a need for interpretation of scriptures is to reject “sola scriptura,” one of the primary tenets of Protestantism.

      If they readily concede by their actions the need for an interpreter, and presumably they assert a belief that truth exists, that truth is not relative, and that the scriptures are true, such that there is only one true and accurate interpretation of any given passage from scripture, does that not suggest the need for one authoritative interpreter? Or did God intend for His revelation in scripture to have an infinite number of meanings? Did He intend scripture to not be truth at all, but mere opinion? Because not everyone’s interpretation can be true. Is it really His plan that we all fend for ourselves in trying to understand divine revelation? Or might a loving God who actually wants us to know and understand what He took the time to reveal instead provide us a single vehicle, a single judge, to authoritatively interpret His word so that we might know with certainty what it means?

      The need for interpretation of scripture dictates as a matter of reason the need for a pope. The question is, do we have one Pope, or do we have an infinite number of popes, each man a pope unto himself?

  16. Excellent! Have you considered incorporating social media into your plan–especially to reach young people?

  17. James 5:19-20
    “19 My brethren, if any of you err from the truth and one convert him: 20 He must know that he who causes a sinner to be converted from the error of his way shall save his soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins.”

    I can’t think of a much better motivation. Let’s save some souls! The indulgence doesn’t hurt either.

  18. Msgr Pope:

    What a remarkable vision! I’ve worked with hundreds of parishes in 105 dioceses and you are the first pastor I’ve ever encountered who has dreamed on so large a scale. I just thought I’d add in a few things we learned in working with parishes that are seeking to intentionally make disciples.

    1) Having worked in Catholics Come Home Training in a couple of dioceses, I know that there is a sizable bump immediately afterwards but then no one knows what happens to those people who return or whether they left again – perhaps for the reason they left in the first place. Your plan has the inestimable value of reaching out through through real, sustained relationship – and relationship is absolutely key. We have found it extremely useful to

    2) Train people how to recognize pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development and how to have what we call “threshold conversations” where you listen to where someone has been in their real lived relationship with God so far in their life. The goal at this point is not to catechize or fix or correct but to really understand what their journey has been. Since most parishes operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis (i.e., no one will ever ask you about your relationship with God and you’ll never have to share that story), it is usually a first for both the one who tells the story and the one who listens. Most Catholics are simply petrified at asking even a simple question like “Could you describe your lived relationship with God to this point?” because we’ve picked up that this is somehow judgmental or invasive or elitist or something. Our experience is that if trust is in place, this is almost always a terrific experience for the story-tell and the listener – as long as the listener really listens and observes the limits of this particular conversation. It help alot to have a basic sense of what to listen for (hence the training we offering through Making Disciples.) And to focus on relationship with God, not questions about Catholic teachings or practices – which can actually deflect you from the primary focus of this conversation.

    3) As you have suggested, being able to share their own story – their own testimony is central and very powerful. May I just suggest that the center of their witness be their relationship with Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church, rather than secondary details about the experience of being Catholic? Ultimately the goal is that they understand that they are returning to the following of Christ, the Head and Center of the Church, the center of worship, the center of the Church’s life.

    4) Very few Catholics, in our experience, have any sense of the kerygma (although it sounds like your congregation may be an exception). They don’t know what the basic Great Story of Jesus is, much less know how to tell it – as a story – to someone else. That is an incredibly valuable bit of formation to give your people.

    5) Love your emphasis on prayer and fasting! YES! Intercessory prayer is huge, huge because it is almost impossible for us ecclesial insiders to grasp how scary and out of control the very thought of returning can be for some people. Which is why building relationship and trust and really understanding their lived experience is so central.

    6) What’s the plan when they do return? I’ve hardly even encountered a parish that thought beyond getting them back in the door. What about forming some Ananias support groups – of returnees or new Catholics/disciples who have a fresh sense of the journey involved and are there to receiving them, share their experience of re-entry and revived faith, and give them a sense of community. Your RICA team should be ready for new people, your annulment teams, sacramental prep and CCD leaders. Plan some retreats designed for the newly returned, etc. And how will the parish recognize the big step they have taken and confirm them in it?

    Just some ideas . . .

  19. For your inspiration. Paul Cho, in South Korea, started a church after WWII,just he and his wife. Every adult member is encourage to bring in one other person per year. Today this church has 750,000 members–the largest single church in the world. And one of the great stories in church history!

  20. I think it’s great that you will be and have been reaching out to your community and neighbors. I was reading some of the comments, and it got me thinking about a study I did for a class on recruiting and retaining employees in hospitals. Recruiting and retaining is not a far cry from what you are doing to get people in your parish. It’s good if sales people are involved for input, as someone mentioned above, but HR people could probably provide very valuable input. One of my two hospitals has a 90% retention rate, and they see big shifts of people coming and going about once every 10 years, in comparison to my other hospital, which sees people coming and going about every 2 years. So what is my high retention rate hospital doing that my other hospital isn’t or is having trouble with? People are happy where they work. And my high retention hospital is finding good quality people to be employees.

    My point is, recruiting people may not necessarily be the hard part…it’s retaining. Are there people in parishes that can check up on new “recruits”? Is there a way the priests can too? The other thing with high retention places is that they do not tolerate bad behavior out of their employees. I know this is not always feasible in churches though and sometimes it can be very hard to start reprimanding people for gossiping or being mean to another parishioner, for fear that they might leave. Anyways, my two cents and hopefully a different perspective on things.

    Katherine G

  21. Msgr. Pope,
    I think yours is a wonderful idea and I hope it inspires others. I second David’s recommendation of Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity”. In its own way it’s an inspiring book. About Timothy’s comment about David Cho’s church in South Korea: it inspired a Catholic version of Cho’s method, Vatican approved, which Sherry Weddell (who also commented above) wrote about on her blog. I recommend taking a moment to read about it here:


    I also recommend reading through the archives of her blog if you have the time. I have two more suggestions if you don’t mind. At my public high school Young Life was pretty active. I’ve always thought there should be a Catholic version of Young Life to keep Catholic high school students in touch with their local parish during a that time in their lives. (I don’t know how easy that would be in the D.C. public schools).

    Another think I’m concerned about is “customer service” at the parish. I know that sounds like a crass phrase but I can’t think of better phrase right now. At any rate, I hope some sort of outreach or evangelization training can be offered to parish staff, because they’re in a good position to offer a little bit of outreach, but also a little bit of “religious customer service” training, or however it should be called, because for many people the face of the Church is their local parish and how they’re treated at the parish office or signing up for religious ed. programs, etc. can inadvertently effect how they feel the Church treats them on an emotional level, even if something isn’t actually the fault of the parish or its staff. At any rate I hope your plans and prayers are successful!

  22. It was so nice to hear of a Pastor actually doing something to evangelize and catechize his parish and not waiting around for the Holy Spirit to do all the work. Would that we had you in our parish in Sonoma County, CA. We’re really going downhill. My suggestion, as a lay parishioner, is this: Along with your evangelizing efforts try doing things that Catholics have done for centuries to solve their problems–like prayer, rosary, 40 Hours, daily Mass attendance and, most importantly, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Encourage this as a parish event vs. private devotion. Ask the parish to commit to this for six months. I have heard often of parishes that have undertaken these “Catholic things”, especially Adoration, and parishes and parishioners have been transformed. One wonderful example can be found at http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110219/SPECIAL/102190315&cid=sitesearch. It’s a local newspaper article, earlier this year, about a parish in Acushnet, Massachusetts that started Adoration, saw good things starting to happen there and became “a Church on fire”, to quote one of the parishioners in this secular newspaper.

  23. Door to Door is very important. Well at least it was for me. My parents made their yearly commitments but nothing more. But every year our parish priest visited and left a calendar. Those pictures and my questions encouraged my parents to bring me to prayer as well as enroll me in a Catholic school where many sisters touched my life and led me by example to a Christian life style- those ethics and values have served me my entire life and helped me to give back in service to others

  24. Msgr.: Another book suggestion: “WInning Converts” by Fr. John A. O’Brien. Originally published in 1957, but goes into detail about just the project in which you are engaging. God bless.

  25. Awesome plan. Keep up the work and spread the faith. We have someone to offer others – Jesus.

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