ARTICLE – The Growth of the Church of the Nativity (Fr. Michael White)

In the book Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter, Michael White and Tom Corcoran describe their journey in revitalizing the Church of the Nativity in north Baltimore. They share the challenges they faced with declining attendance and engagement and the failures and mistakes they made in trying to turn things around.

The turning point was when they decided to stop trying to please everyone, and instead focused on making the church matter to both existing Catholics and the unchurched. They learned from successful mega-churches and business leaders while staying rooted in Catholic theology and the Eucharist. As a result, they tripled their attendance and giving, restored vitality and health to parish life, and created an authentic Catholic revival centered around making disciples and transforming lives. 

Here are the key advice from Fr. Michael White on how to renew and grow a parish:

Cultivate Outreach

  • Create a culture of invitation and hospitality
  • Equip people to share their faith with others
  • Reach out to the lost in the community

Focus on Relationships

  • Foster small groups and spiritual friendships
  • Show the love of Christ in practical ways
  • Spend time with God in prayer and adoration

Focus on the Weekend Experience

  • Make weekend services excellent – attractive music, engaging preaching, high quality production
  • Design it to reach the unchurched and dechurched
  • Create a welcoming, inviting, and festive environment

Emphasize Discipleship

  • Help people grow in their faith through small groups, sacraments, service, giving, etc.
  • Have a clear discipleship pathway with next steps
  • Equip people to live out their faith and become missionaries

Cast Vision

  • Craft clear mission, vision and strategy statements
  • Communicate them consistently across channels
  • Let them guide decisions and evaluate progress

Mobilize the Next Generation

  • Prioritize ministry to children, youth and young adults
  • Create programs tailored to their needs
  • Develop leaders and parent partnerships

Preach Relevant Messages

  • Teach Scripture in practical, applicable ways
  • Use creativity, humor, stories to captivate audience
  • Challenge people to grow and take action

Develop Leaders

  • Identify, train and empower leaders at all levels
  • Give them ownership, responsibility and accountability
  • Provide support through coaching and team collaboration

Evaluate and Adapt

  • Regularly assess the effectiveness of revitalization efforts and adjust strategies as needed.
  • Remain flexible and open to feedback from parishioners and leaders.
  • Stay committed to the overarching mission of making an impact for Christ in the community.

According to White, the key is to make the parish a place where people are loved, challenged, and equipped to become missionary disciples of Jesus. This often requires change at all levels – programs, culture, leadership – centered around the mission of making an impact for Christ.

Pierre-Alain Giffard

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