Churches around the country are dying at astonishing rates for the same reason: They cater to religious insiders and forget about the unchurched. Obviously, when we focus our sole attention on the few already in the pews, we inevitably ignore the great numbers of people on the religious margins. The result is dwindling attendance.
This is the philosophy of the Rebuilt movement that is sparking a global culture of parish renewal in the Catholic Church. At the core of this movement is an effort to make the Sunday worship experience more attractive to those who are not currently attending church and to revive non-engaged parishioners by getting them excited again about their faith and their parish.
The Eucharist rooted in traditional liturgical practices will always remain the source and summit of our Catholic faith. But expectations of worship have changed over the years. Many of the ancient symbols and cherished devotions that nurtured the faith of our ancestors no longer resonate with the spiritual temperament of current generations. As a result, more and more of those raised in the faith are now joining the ranks of the “spiritual but not religious” who have distanced themselves from church and absented themselves from the Sunday assembly.
To reverse these trends and attract the unchurched, the Rebuilt movement focuses on three key strategies: (1) carefully-planned, curated messages that are relevant to the lives of normal people and that inspire them to take the next step in Christian discipleship; (2) a well-trained team of lay ministers who create an irresistible worship environment by warmly welcoming visitors and making them feel at home; and (3) exceptionally high-quality music that is professional performed and easily accessible to people unfamiliar with church hymnody.
Many of the updates that we have been making to our worship experience at Saint Brendan, including our message series format, Audio Visual Lighting upgrades, enhancements to our Sunday socials after Mass, and the creation of a Greeter ministry have all been designed with these strategies in mind.
In our current Sunday message series, What on Earth am I Here For?, we are using Pastor Rick Warren’s best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, to help us determine our unique purpose in life. As we have discovered, God has given us five special purposes that bring joy and meaning to our lives. The first of these is to worship him fully.
Sadly, too many people never fulfill this purpose because they experience worship as dry, formalistic, and overly ritualized. God made us to worship him because it brings him joy. But it should also be genuine and heartfelt for us. This means that, without sacrificing the beauty of our distinctly Catholic form of liturgical expression, we must find ways to adapt in order to make church matter to the next generation and help others fulfill their primary purpose of worshiping God.
Changing our patterns of behavior or way of doing things is often painful. But we can manage our negative emotional responses in a constructive way, if we embrace these changes together.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson