It went like this: Bishop Ingham said, 'That if Jesus were with us today, I think the message He would give us is this, 'Tweet others as you would like to be Tweeted'.
Fr Michael and Tom's quest to learn from healthy churches began at Saddleback, California. This was just prior to Rick Warren, the pastor of that mega church publishing 'The Purpose Driven Life' which quickly rose to the top of the Christian best seller list and stayed there. (Ed. It is a good book, but it does contain a few ignorant digs at liturgically based churches, so if you read it do so with discernment.)
Not surprisingly Fr Michael and Tom were concerned at the reception they might receive at such a place if they were outed as Catholics. When they arrived the first building they came to was a big one, but it wasn't the church, it was the nursery. Eventually they found the church, and were very surprised to see how very plain it was on the inside, think Walmart with chairs. There was nothing fancy here at all. But the people, there was something different about them. They were SO friendly, and SO happy. And they were SO happy to see me. Anxious to find out whether this kind of welcome was the same for everyone, Fr Michael ducked out a side door, and came in through the front door, and received the same kind of enthusiastic greeting. The experience begged the question, 'What are they so happy about?'
Following this, Fr Michael and Tom visited and studied several other mega-churches and went well outside their comfort zones. 'Growth is always on the outside of our comfort zone'.
From these studies they learned three big (huge) lessons:
- Focus must shift from the churched to the unchurched
- Prioritise the weekend experience, 'It's about the weekend, stupid!'
- Move the churched people to action
The non-attendees are your growth market. So who are they?
We didn't actually know, nor did we know how to reach them.
So we worked on a description, and called him Timonium Tim.
Tim is a great guy. He grew up Catholic, but stopped going to church soon after Confirmation. Everything he thinks he knows about Catholicism is a muddled mess. He has a stressful life. He has a long commute to work, and has three kids, who go to three different schools. Tim has a lot of debt and is living beyond his means. The financial stress is having an impact on his marriage. Tim has a crazy life, and on the weekends Tim wants some Tim-time, time to relax and do his own thing. Mostly that means going to the football game or playing golf. Tim does not ever consider going to church. If he ever thinks about church, the words boring, bad and irrelevant come to mind.
The old paradigm, 'Open the doors and they'll come' – doesn't work anymore at all.
You will never get as many people in your doors on weekdays than on weekends. Even with our Family Friendly Fridays we were getting 600 people, compared to the 1800 showing up for weekend Masses.
If someone has a bad weekend experience at church, they will assume
- That the rest of what you have to offer is equally bad
- That there is nothing there for them
- And this will lead to thinking , or confirm their thinking, that God is irrelevant in their lives
THE most important pillars of your weekend experience are MUSIC, MESSAGE and MINISTERS.
Music has the power to transport a person on an emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey. God has bestowed on His people the gift of song. God is present whenever His people sing. Music leads us to the higher realm of things. Music can do what words alone cannot do. More than anything else music can change hearts and minds for the better.
Historically at The Nativity, the music was very bad. We had a choir Mass, a folk Mass and a quiet – no music Mass. The folk Mass was the most popular choice, but the music group struggled. Our choir was convinced that they had musical skills beyond where reality lay, and had a few prima donnas. And no one sang. No one. If you sang, we knew you were a visitor, and we would probably stare at you until you shut up. Most people were apathetic about their involvement in singing.
At one of our town hall style 'get feedback from the people' meetings there was a riot of complaint about the music.
People were coming to church, and leaving angry because of the music.
What did we do? Nothing... Because we didn't want to offend people.
It is very difficult to change the music. To do so you must make the commitment and wear the consequences.
There are very good musicians right now in your pews, who won't step forward and haven't stepped forward because there are other musicians (usually of lesser quality) in those spots.
God gave us the courage and the grace to make changes in the area of music.
Message. Words are powerful.
This is where the relevance comes.
This is where you can give spiritual direction to hundreds of people at a time.
This is worth dedicating time and effort to.
People feel 'fed' if the homily is good.
This is especially so for Tim who is not at the stage of feeling fed by Holy Communion.
Ministers. They create a sense of destination for those who come.
We have a Host Team, consisting of greeters, ushers and people to help with parking. These people are about creating an irresistible environment for people to worship in. They help create the sense that 'something exciting is going to happen here.'
We have a Children's Team. Parents need support. The family is where the foundation of faith is laid in children. What we want to happen is to see what Fr Michael saw once: a dad struggling to escort his son in the direction the dad wanted to go in, with the son telling him, 'Dad you just don't get it, I want to go back in the #@&! church'.
One thank you letter The Nativity received explains why this is so important.
'Thank you. We found it hard to go to church and to keep our children happy and occupied. Your kid's programmes were such that our children wanted to come back. Everyone was so helpful, friendly – and smiling. Now we know we can come to church and sit as a couple for an hour to be refreshed and renewed, and to get what we need to get us through another crazy week.'
Question to start asking yourself
- Is there something your parish is doing that is not making disciples?
- What can you do to improve the weekend experience at your parish?
- Who is your Timonium Tim or Sydney Sid?
The next blog-post will feature the homily from Thursday's Mass at the Conference and a few other things.
To read the first chapter of Rebuilt for free, visit http://rebuiltparish.com/book/ and fill out the details in the black box on the right hand side of the screen.