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154 of 167 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2013
Before writing this review I had to read the book twice.

And this review is my opinion. I admit that. I may be and probably am completely wrong, but it is my perception of a ministry and a method based on a text. If I got to visit the parish the book is about, my opinion may be completely different. And this review doesn't cover half of my praises for the work that these two men have done and the concerns I have. It is just a few of them.

As a Director of Religious Education and someone who has been praying and working in my parish for 6 years there were times when I wanted to give the book 10 stars and was screaming "YES!" out loud, and other times when I wanted to give them -10 stars. After all, there are people at my parish who love me and others who want my head on a silver platter. I am sure their staff is used to this type of reaction. I am excited and invigorated by the work this Catholic parish has done to grow disciples and be evangelistic. The mere fact that they got any kind of reaction at all out of normally apathetic parishioners is impressive when they started the paradigm shift at their parish. Our changes have been slower than theirs, but we experience many of the same results, parishioners yelling at us and leaving the parish, withholding their title, new young families coming in, and so on.

There is so much to be commended and imitated - and oh yes - I will be taking some of their ideas. Much of what they have experienced in growing disciples, I have experienced at my own small parish. However, I have concerns with their approach as well.

It appears based on the book that they have seemingly made their Catholic identity an afterthought in their ministry because it is not seen as being "seeker friendly". This leaves me a lot of questions about when their parishioners are being fed the "meat" of the faith. There seems to be the creation of a "Catholic lite" atmosphere because seekers do not want "Catholic deep".

Modeling themselves on modern Protestant ministry and non-denominational mega-churches they have in some areas given up the language of the Church to appeal to as many people as possible. After reading the book the first time I set out to a popular Catholic youth forum and without giving any hint to my thoughts on the parish, asked Catholic youth to tell me if the church is, based on its website, Catholic or non-denominational. The majority responded that they had figured out it was Catholic, but only with great difficulty. Many thought they were Protestants. There was a very real level of discomfort among these discipled Catholics. One person even said they probably would have never converted if this was the parish they were exposed to.

So we know that while they remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, a deep Catholic identity can be seen as a liability. This is similar to my experience in mega-churches and their approach to identifying themselves as Protestant Christians. Social outreach and comfort are seen as primary driving evangelistic opportunities. Neither of those are necessarily bad ways to evangelize and I will look at incorporating some of their ideas. My concern: How do you wean the unchurched off of the milk into a mature spirituality, not just service? How does this play into the liturgy as well which they have "tweeked" for seekers.

I have been in a similar parish in my own diocese that had become "seeker friendly" and transformed the parish & liturgy, as much as they were able to along these modern lines. Greeters, information booths, coffee houses, hobnobbing with your pew neighbors during Mass, high tech A/V systems and a pastor who did his best to be "hip". It was immensely difficult to pray, and impossible to pray deeply (think about that and the long term consequences). There was a complete loss of the sense of the sacred. Yes, the Mass remains a sacred act, but the atmosphere proper to the Mass, sacred space, and sacred time, was gone. Since I have not been in the actual parish the authors describe, I don't know if it would be the same experience, I am just wondering.

The authors themselves admit, contradictory to other great works such as Denis McNamara's Catholic Church Architecture & the Spirit of the Liturgy, that they do not believe beauty plays an indispensable role in the liturgy or evangelization (see the chapter on Pretty Churches and Other Lies) - infusing modern technology and as one reviewer put it "rock & roll" does. Yet, beauty remains a transcendental and one of the three natural attributes (with truth and goodness) that attract people to the faith, so there we disagree. I believe a parish can be steeped deeply in our rich Catholic heritage and tradition and still draw in seekers. There does not have to be a discontinuity here. Our family was drawn to the beauty of the Church when we converted. Fr. Robert Barron explains this well in the Catholicism series.

There is a lot that is not answered in the book. One of my questions is what happens when the congregants and the formally dechurched start to get bored with the new trends? This goes along with who they are trying to reach - the "de"churched (a term that needs to be better defined). It happens all of the time in the modernized Protestant churches, including the one I came from. People get bored with the "style" and start to church hop. Most of those teens that were part of the busy youth ministry at my Baptist church have long since left the faith. There is no developed interior life and relationship with Jesus keeping them there. Perhaps, because this is unique experiment in infusing Protestant elements in a Catholic parish, the Sacraments will be enough to keep people there when the trendy is no longer trendy. Or perhaps their staff will be equipped enough to keep up with the trends and change fast enough to keep the attention of their consumers. That is a priority that they list for their staff. I wonder how the work that they are doing now correlates with trends to be seeker friendly in the 70s. How much this work is an updated version of that?

With their staff I do have concerns about the "hire from within" mentality and the quality of training those people get (are they sent to schools like Franciscan to get a formal eduction?)

Very little information is given in regards to catechesis. We do know that they use a much criticized and well known method of "lectionary based catechesis". There are many limits to this type of catechesis. They may have ways of making up for this that are not in the book. Our solution to getting kids to care has been Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for elementary school. Kids want to be there and they are developing a deep interior life starting with 3 years old. And yes, it draws in new families. Our parish has built similar environments with middle & HS, but with programs that deliver the entire content of the faith, as the bishops ask us to do. Those are some of my concerns.

Again, there is much to praise: They have built a culture of evangelization and outreach, the pastor is keenly aware of the effect of his homilies (again, he drops the Catholic language for Protestant terminology) and seeks to improve it, they have an awareness of the importance and role of stewardship and how to build faithful givers by building faithful disciples. Small groups have been hugely successful at our parish. Best practices in hiring is a great chapter - not so sure about leaning so heavily on Protestant leadership formation - however weeding out people who do not fit the mission and hiring disciples with strong character is right on. They are, in my experience, absolutely spot on about current music in most of our parishes. I am not sure that praise and worship is always the right answer. The reaction to changing music is usually either to return to the great traditions of the Church, or go with P&W.

All of that leads new questions (which are really old questions) about creating different parishes for different people, much like pastors experiment with creating different Masses for different people (the old people Mass, the children's Mass, the biker Mass, the queer Mass, the youth Mass, the traditionalist Mass, the young adult Mass, the liberal Mass, the clown Mass, the folk Mass, the BBQ chicken Mass (no, I am not kidding), the speed Mass, the Lifeteen Mass, the choral Mass, etc) and the value in doing that. I am biased and do not believe we should have different Masses for different groups of people.

So the book gets 5 stars and 1 star from me at the same time. With what they have accomplished, despite what my review might indicate, I lean more heavily on my inclination to give 5 stars than 1 star. I am impressed, but I have areas of a real concern surrounding catechesis, Catholic identity, and borrowing so heavily from Protestantism to the point of adopting their language along with their practices.

I believe this book deserves to be read, praised, critiqued, and talked about at every parish in the US by every pastor and his staff. What they have done isn't 100% new, but it's the first time we've gotten a chance to see it on paper. I am deeply impressed by their vulnerability in being so open and honest. I am itching to buy everyone on my pastoral council a copy, and yet those guys need to read Forming Intentional Disciples first.

Finally, I would love to see Fr. Ed Fride of Christ the King in Ann Arbor write the next book on parish life.
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72 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2014
If you heard about this book and were expecting a mainstream attempt to restore the Catholic Sanctuary, authentic Catholic piety and Catholic worship as well as to rejuvenate the faithful and quicken the spiritually dead, you will be sorely disappointed. It is yet another source of liturgical innovation which dilutes the Faith through the laver of secularism. This time it is finding its way into the Church through the Protestant “Seeker Service” movement. The Catholic reader should be aware that even within the Protestant camp, the formula presented in this book is rejected or criticized by a large percentage of Christian churches for producing false conversions and ill-formed disciples.

Rebuilt, explains how the culture of an established Roman Catholic parish is changed. According to the authors, their church, the Church of the Nativity, was not successful because it was irrelevant to the community. It was irrelevant because it was unwelcoming and it was unwelcoming because it was populated by “churchpeople”. To the authors, an unwelcoming church is a problem because it prevents evangelization and consequently, church growth. In other words, their definition of a successful church is one that is “healthy” because it is increasing its membership through converts. The objective of the book is to remove the impediments that keep people from attending church and propose innovations to attract newcomers.

In a nutshell, Rebuilt teaches that the role of the local parish is to reach lost people and evangelization is accomplished by inviting the unchurched to attend church and then keep them coming back. This is facilitated by not offending them when they come through the door and meeting their felt needs once they are under the roof.

The Church of the Nativity has ultimately acquired its ideas from corporate America by copying the operating strategy of the Protestant Evangelical megachurches, Willow Creek and Saddleback. The pastors of those churches, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, were schooled by the twentieth century management consultant guru, Peter Drucker, who believed that his marketing principles could be successfully applied to any type of entity. Hybels and Warren adapted his methods and their operating model has created megachurches that fill 5,000 seat arenas and have made many pastors megawealthy.

The old school marketing technique was for a business to convince potential customers that they needed the company’s products. In other words, they tried to push their products onto their potential customers. The modern marketing technique is for a business to determine its potential customer’s needs and then create products to meet those needs. It is called a market-driven approach. When Bill Hybels first started his church, he went door to door through the local neighborhoods canvassing the residents about why they did not go to church. Using this data, he created a church which provided those people a church of their own making. Ironically, true evangelism is probably closer to the old school marketing approach whereby God has provided the Cross of Christ and by grace through the agency of the Holy Spirit He convicts us of our need for Him. Nevertheless, market driven techniques from the business world have been successful at filling up 5,000 seat church auditoriums and spawning dozens of eager imitators.

Not surprisingly then, Rebuilt is packed with corporate lingo and buzzwords from cover to cover. The business jargon would only be annoying if it wasn't so pernicious. Management consultants understand that in order to change a culture they need to disorient the members and re-creating the language of the organization severs the ties to old paradigms. If existing terminology is replaced with new terms, it is more difficult to resist the change because the change agents have destroyed the frame of reference. Therefore, for the Church of the Nativity, the Catholic Sanctuary becomes a “worship space”. The church becomes a “campus”. The ushers become the “host team”. The judgment of God becomes a “performance evaluation”. Attending Mass is called a “weekend experience”. Pagans are the “unchurched” and apostates are the “dechurched”. The furnishings of the church are the “environmental elements” and on and on it goes. In a surprisingly open and antagonistic manner, faithful Catholics are derisively called “churchpeople” and the culture of the old church is called “churchworld”.

The object of Rebuilt is to change the culture of the church and the thesis is that the “church has become a comfortable consumer exchange for the convinced”. As such, it has become irrelevant to the world and this explains why “everybody else is growing and the Catholic Church is not.” The foundation for the rebuilt church is to create a church that is relevant to the world for the purpose of fulfilling the great commission of the new evangelization. The focus shifts from preserving what is true and beautiful to creating something that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, this creates an either/or dichotomy. The underlying false premise is that the church cannot worship God in truth and simultaneously attract the unbeliever. But this belief denies the uniquely Catholic principal that beauty is truth and is therefore a path to God.

Much of the book discusses worship, but never defines it. Worship is fundamentally sacrifice (Gen.22:5), which we are commanded to do in reverence and holy awe (Heb12:28). Without the Eucharist, therefore, it is impossible for a Protestant to worship in all its fullness. Because of this, Protestants dispute among themselves if worship should focus on praise, entertainment, thanksgiving, prayer, education, etc. It is a simple matter, therefore, for the megachurch to create a market driven worship service because there is no consensus about proper worship.

As the jacket cover of Rebuilt explains: “one reason many disengaged Catholics have left the Church and joined other Christian communities is the music experience during Sunday liturgies. The team at the Church of the Nativity explains in Rebuilt how they tried many different approaches to music ministry, finally settling on one key difference: Make your music program a worship program!” Here, Liturgical music, the glossolalia of the Holy Spirit, devolves into a “program”. The book asserts that the appropriate music for the Mass is “praise and worship” music which it describes as a kind of alternative rock with Christian lyrics. This choice is rationalized by quoting Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, and using it to defend praise and worship music. The authors advocate for the belief that the music must be all about attracting the lost and not about what the churchpeople want.

Who does praise and worship music attract? The principle demographic of the megachurch member is a 35-50 year old white suburbanite woman who drinks Starbucks coffee. They outnumber men by a significant amount (This is also the same demographic that is abandoning the Catholic Church in the largest numbers). They love this kind of music. I have nothing against this demographic. I am even married to a woman who is in this demographic, but their music listening preferences do not define appropriate Liturgical music. In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger also teaches us that “the Holy Spirit leads us to music that serves the Logos and integrates man by drawing him in. But, it should not disintegrate into mere sensuality”. However, a majority of praise and worship hymns are simple, syrupy, wistful romance melodies. For the most part, Jesus’ name can be substituted with any other person’s name in many of these hymns to turn them into ordinary love songs. One song by Lincoln Brewster “performed” at the Church of the Nativity has the congregation screaming “oh”, “oh”, “oh” ad infinitum, ad nauseum. It sounds like something is being consummated, but it certainly isn't the marriage supper of the lamb. If the staff of the Church of the Nativity is serious about attracting the unchurched, one can make a strong argument that schmaltz like this will drive away large numbers of men looking for biblical masculinity in an increasingly emasculated culture.

A brief review of the songs (these aren't hymns) used in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or performed on the Church of the Nativity’s CD album indicates that most are from Protestant artists. These performers, Chris Tomlin, for example, make handsome incomes from music sales and then start their own churches which are Christian versions of a Branson, MO celebrity theater. Or in some cases, the church’s praise band, Hillsong for example, becomes the public personification of their church. They in effect are self-appointed “popes”, answerable to no one, and compose lyrics to promote their theology. While Catholics may be able to recognize some truth in their messages, most often these songs have been written to convey a theology that contradicts the teachings of Sancta Mater Ecclesia (Holy Mother Church). In that case, what is there to recommend songs that are so theologically ambiguous? Paying royalties to use this music contributes to the financial success of heretics. Moreover, we would never put these Protestant heretics in charge of teaching the Catholic faith to Catechumens, so why does the church of the Nativity make Lincoln Brewster on his Fender Stratocaster its “worship leader”? This mediocre music of the pop-church corrupts Sacred Tradition. Even sober minded Protestants don’t tolerate this kind of noise pollution. Why do Catholics consider discarding their treasury of sacred music for pap like this?

The authors claim that praise music increases participation but subjective observations do not bear this out. An amplified praise band, like embalming fluid, can preserve the appearance of life where there is none. It fills the auditorium with lively sounds even if few are singing. Consider this comment by a reporter from the Chicago Reader about the worship at Willow Creek: “The crowd claps politely but seems somewhat detached from this polished, enthusiastic rendition of Brand New Life. It is no more spirited when called on to stand and join in two verses of "Amazing Grace." An assembly of 4,000 ought to blow the roof off, but these folks are just taking it all in.”

How else can the rebuilt church continue to grow? The authors believe that “the homily is the defining element of the weekend experience for the lost because they don’t understand the Eucharist”. Therefore it must be a “fresh and relevant presentation of the Gospel to reach the dechurched”. On the contrary, the Eucharist is the Gospel made visible. It is how Christ proclaimed the Gospel! But the megachurch rarely has a communion service and they do their best to avoid any appearance of formality or liturgy. Unfortunately, Rebuilt does not provide many details about what constitutes a “fresh and relevant” message. However, the megachurch examples that they seek to emulate are devoid of critical instruction for the follower of Christ. Generally speaking, the message in these churches is intentionally uncritical. The minister often exhorts the congregation with a social gospel or tickles their ears with lots of esteem building motivational speeches.

In its essence, the megachurch worship service attracts people because they put on a good presentation of pop music, skits, drama and a motivational talk all wrapped up in a Christian multimedia experience. In the Protestant church, this formula is known as a “seeker service”. It is not worship, nor is it even the predominant form of Protestant liturgy. The service has been designed not to offend and it promotes a gospel of easy believism. It is not how the follower of Christ communes with God and they even admit as much. According to Lee Strobel, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek, “The weekend services at Willow Creek are not intended as worship.” “Seekers," says Bill Hybels, "want to be left alone," meaning they're not ready to sing, confess their sins, or do anything but sit and observe.

Around the periphery of this core of misguided Sunday activities is a multitude of suggestions and ideas that flow forth to enhance the concept of a seeker friendly church. Some are benign. Some are actually good ideas to increase the sense of community. However, some are theologically questionable. For example, encouraging EFT for the weekly offering might stabilize and even increase the parish’s revenue, but what does it do to the theology of the Mass? The Mass does not belong to us. It belongs to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, prudential judgment requires caution before unilaterally and suddenly making these kinds of changes to the Liturgy. Did the authors look to the Church for guidance on this issue? What do our theologians have to say about the practice?

The authors mistakenly believe that “everyone else is growing and the Catholic Church is not.” To be certain, Catholics have a lot to learn about evangelization, but Willow Creek is not the model. According to Forbes, the never churched only account for about 6% of attendees. The rest of the congregation has come over from other churches or were previously churched. Their growth is predominately the result of the monkeys shifting branches on the trees. Catholics who have left Mother Church for Protestantism have told the authors that “they weren't being fed” in the Catholic Church. This is a very common euphemism in the Protestant church to indicate why a person has left a church. Since most Protestant churches are generally much smaller than Catholic parishes, leaving a church can result in a lot of hurt feelings between members. However, the get out of jail free card is to claim that one is not being fed, so one hears this kind of language all the time. Furthermore, the number of young adults who abandon the Protestant church in their late teens and early twenties is every bit as disheartening as the Catholic dropout rate. No, the solution to problems in the Catholic Church is not to ape Protestant Superchurches whose superficial measure of success is revenue and big attendance numbers.

The most troubling antidote told in Rebuilt is the story of the church’s two part time secretaries who “hated” each other and “glared” at each other. How does the Church of the Nativity deal with sin on its “dysfunctional staff”? Well, as they put it, they got lucky because the secretaries both just stormed off, although the authors are not really sure why. If Catholics really want to attract the attention of the unchurched, they need to become communities of love. They need to apply sound, Scriptural principles for dealing with sin between the members of the Body of Christ. I’m afraid that the author’s mission field is right under their noses but they can’t see it because their focus is more about the weekend experience for the unchurched instead of feeding the sheep in their own flock.

This example of poor discipleship seems to illustrate an issue in the Catholic Church that many of the faithful agree upon, the lack of true conversion and heartfelt faith. However, the Evangelical megachurch that the authors of Rebuilt idolize is every bit as problematic as the Catholic Church in this respect. One of Willow Creek’s own internal surveys of its members has revealed that 25% of singles, 38% of single parents, and 41% of divorced individuals admitted having illicit sexual relations in the previous six months. Not to mention that the teachings of these churches approve and condone contraceptive sexual relations without hesitation. As a result, Bill Hybels openly admits in the book, Reveal, Where Are You, that his church growth model has been a failure and a mistake! It produced numbers but not disciples. Isn't it obvious why the members love their church? It is because Willow Creek is not an Apostolic Catholic Church in any sense of the meaning. It is a secularized church which entertains its members, teaches a social gospel and has a nice Christian theme.

Some secular sociologists rightly credit Martin Luther with being the father of Western culture’s “radical individualism”. Luther’s doctrine on the perspicuity of scripture (me and the bible) gradually morphed into the pervasive secular dogma of “it’s all about me”. The seeker church movement communicates a gospel message that God’s primary purpose for the believer is to help them achieve relational goals, vocational fulfillment, comfort, peace and general happiness and church thereby becomes just another tool in one’s personal development toolbox. Insidious, non-biblical terminology such as “personal relationship” and “personal Lord and Savior” reinforces the radical individualism. The Church of the Nativity is trying to copy a Protestant church type that sells the message that “God wants to meet my needs”. That message is antithetical to one of the foundational concepts in the scriptures: We were made for Him. Or more specifically, because the nature of Holy Mother Church is corporate, not individualistic, we were made for the Church. The only proper attitude and disposition of the Christian is “me for the Church”.

However, the message of Rebuilt is how to create a “church for me”. This strategy works to attract the unchurched in the Protestant world where there is an ever evolving acceptance of sinful behaviors based upon whatever prevailing opinions are held. A church where the leadership can make the weekend experience whatever they want it to be. A church that can target members with any style of music that is popular. A church that accepts female clergy and imposes no celibacy requirements on the religious vocations. A church that has no issues with divorce as a practical matter. A church that can basically be anything. But it is diametrically opposed to the unchangeable, true nature of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2013
Our pastor has recommended Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter for our parish to read and discuss. I purchased the Kindle edition. There are some really good suggestions about growing a church. Small groups are a great way to get people to know and support each other as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

I was disturbed by the designation of some of Nativity's parishioners as "consumers". They are parishioners. They may be annoying and disagree with the vision of the authors but they remain parishioners. I also thought there was too much business-speak. God's judgement as a performance review? Really?

We need to attract the lost to our church but we also need to love the people who are already there. Perhaps some of them are lost as well. Jesus is in the Mass in the Word, in the Eucharist, and in the body of His people. Look around the Assembly. You will see Jesus there.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2014
p. 109

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I should first make an admission that my concerns about this book began when I attended their one-day Matter conference in November 2014. My parish council began reading this book in order to implement the ideas in our parish (and we have implemented many at this point) and we attended the conference as a group. It was at this conference that I realized that the majority of the changes the parish has implemented and recommends in the book are influenced by the Protestant mega-church, especially Rick Warren. This in itself is neither good nor bad, yet I came away from the conference convinced that Protestant strategies will ultimately collapse into irreverence and a very stripped down version of Catholicism. I will make more substantive claims below, but this was the impression that colored the majority of my reading of the book i.e. I saw what happens in practice, then I read the strategies. So I want to make sure I put that out there in the interest of full disclose.

First let me say some positive things as well as some clarifying remarks as to what I am not claiming. I first need to make it clear that I am in no way questioning the orthodoxy of the authors or the parish as a whole. Nothing in the book led me to believe that there is any kind of hidden agenda to promote homosexuality or “no need of the sacraments” or anything else like that. So my criticisms in this review are not to be taken anywhere near the level of urgency or heresy or even heterodoxy. The criticisms are prudential as well as a concern for what I worry will be unintended side effects. So again, the authors and the parish itself from my reading seems quite orthodox, obedient, and faithful to the teaching magesteruim of the Catholic Church.

The authors do a very good job of pinpointing what IS wrong with many Catholic Churches today. They speak often of the “consumer mentality” whereby members of a parish think they have a right to, for example, mass at a specific time, “their” seat at mass, the priest to do everything (or more generally, having “someone else” get things accomplished around the parish), the music they want, etc. The authors are not afraid to politely but firmly encourage us to say “no” to people with an attitude like this, to refuse to pander to them in fear that we might lose them. Indeed, the authors share many stories (throughout the whole book) of having to work with people with this consumer mentality and how in many cases they lost the parishioner. These stories are shared to encourage us that we need to “change the culture” at our parishes from the idea that parishioners are customers who need to be satisfied with a good “product.” Another main focus is reaching out to the “dechurched”; that is, those who used to attend Church but for whatever reason have stopped. These are people that we very desperately need to bring back into the fold of the Catholic Church.

Another good aspect of the book is the authors’ insistence on good preaching. An entire chapter is devoted to this. This is unfortunately only somewhat accidental since Protestant churches happen to be very big on preaching, but good solid preaching has always been an important part of Catholic tradition and its time we take it back. So on this point the authors are quite correct to emphasize the fundamental importance of good preaching.

But as I discussed a bit above, the advice given in this book is taken almost wholly from the Protestant mega-church paradigm and applied to the Catholic Church. This is admitted many times in the book. For example, advice is given on page 256 that to get started “chances are there is a large evangelical church somewhere in your region… start learning from the people of that church.” As I mentioned already, there is nothing wrong with learning some things from non-Catholics, but my contention is that much of the Protestant thinking and mentality has also been taken on in addition to practical strategies. I will lay some of them out below.

On page 60, the authors mention that they have been accused of violating “canon law, lack of reverence for the sacraments, and disregard for liturgical rules and rubrics.” Given all the import from Protestantism, it is not difficult to see why such accusations are made. Indeed, before reading this passage, I was thoroughly convinced that this importing of Protestant strategies collapses into a lack of reverence for the Eucharist and the sacred space of the Church after witnessing firsthand the stripped down church containing only a crucifix, the tabernacle off in a side chapel, and “games” being played in Church where people are encouraged to run up to the altar, the ALTAR, as fast as they can by being the first one there out of several people all trying to get there first. None of this stuff is advocated in the book mind you, but with Protestant methods comes a Protestant mentality. Why even engage in activities that could be misconstrued as lack of reverence for the sacraments or liturgical abuses, even if they are not? To be fair, the authors do mention on page 93 that “we want to be clear. The Eucharist is central to our parish and our weekend worship.” Again, there is no question of orthodoxy here. But the accusations are further evidenced when we read on page 80 that “obsession with religious rules and liturgical rubrics… [makes] Pharisees.” Never is it suggested that such care for the liturgical norms is made out of a genuine love of the mass or out of obedience to Christ’s Church. The idea that “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater” (Luke 16:10) is nowhere mentioned. On the very next page, we see another straw man that “building beautiful churches won’t make disciples.” This of course is not the reason we wish to build beautiful Churchs. Rather, it is to give glory and beauty to God. Just a cursory glance at passages in for example 2 Samuel shows how detail oriented and exquisite the furnishings in Solomon’s temple are. Why would this change from the Old to New testament? Here is a perfect example of the Protestant mentality that creeps through the Protestant way of doing things. This is an argument that Catholics need to be giving to Protestants, not Catholics to other Catholics.

Other times we are treated to just bizarre claims like “coming to church and not singing is like going to the gym and not working out.” (p. 105) I don’t’ think it takes a PhD in philosophy to know why the two are not at all analogous. We also see things like “worship is the act of giving value to something.” (p. 187) Huh?

As I mentioned above, our parish has implemented some of the suggestions found in the book, and one of them is “small groups.” Again, small groups is a Protestant notion. On page 156, the authors attempt to refute this claim by sharing a quite from John Paul II where he uses the word “small” and talks about living communities. This is somehow supposed to convince us that the notion of small groups originated with John Paul II maybe? I don’t really know because the very next page states that “For the content of this exercise, we use Rick Warren’s 40 days of purpose campaign.” Of course Rick Warren is the inspiration for small groups because small groups are not a Catholic concept. My main problem with small groups is that, even after reading the chapter, it remains a total mystery to me what small groups are ordered towards. To use the Aristotelian jargon, their final cause. I see that those in the small groups are supposed to sit in a circle and share stories and that lay people give other lay people advice (which to my mind is quite dangerous; that is, if you have a big problem, taking advice from unqualified or inexperienced people), but I don’t see what their purpose is. From the chapter I know what it isn’t (it isn’t bible study, or study of theology, or anything related to “content”). The authors do say on p. 166-167 that “The primary purpose of our small groups is to help people become growing disciples of Jesus Christ.” But the problem is while the efficient cause precedes the final cause in the order of execution, the final cause precedes the efficient cause in the order of logic. And there does not seem to be any efficient cause. A final cause was proposed, without consideration to the efficient cause i.e. what will bring this about? Instead we are treated to a nebulous circle-sharing-story-kind-of-thing as the means to bring about the ends.

There are many passages that have a “bible only” flavor to them. Speaking of the need to tithe and some wrong ways to do it, the authors on page 177 claim that “none of these is how God teaches us to fund the work of the Church.” This once again is a very Protestant mentality. It limits God’s revelation to the bible. It uses the bible as the paradigm for how we ought to go about all kinds of practical matters. This is not to argue with the conclusion that certain ways of making funds aren’t good ideas. Rather, it is to critique HOW they arrive at this conclusion. The same problem arises with the 10% tithe. This is simply not a Catholic framework. The Church does not have some set amount that one is supposed to contribute. This is not to discourage trying to give 10% but rather to further evidence how steeped in Protestant thought this book is. The same mentality permeates the claim that “pastors should be preparing members… for the works of ministry.” (p. 191) This is the natural conclusion, so the Protestant argument goes (which is the argument given by the authors), of a passage like Ephesians 4:11-12. Or again on page 247, we read “We don’t have any elections- notice how they don’t really do elections or take votes in the Bible.” I’m very glad that the Church does not do elections, but do elections explicitly need to occur in the bible in order for us to be justified in holding elections? And once again, here I am, a Catholic having to argue Protestant points against fellow Catholics.

There is an overarching error in the ends or goal that I believe permeates much of the thought in this book. Speaking of the fact that they have a “tech team” who for example operates and takes care of the 2 giant big screens on either side of the altar (yes, big screen projectors at mass), the authors in true consequentialist fashion justify their actions by claiming that “the end result is positive and powerful.” Other passages in the text talk about “successful” churches and their practices. During my conference there, I also heard many times to just “look at the numbers, look at how we’ve grown, look at all the people we’ve attracted.” Thus it seems to be assumed that growing your parish and having many active members is the goal. Unfortunately, the goal is not to grow your parish, but it is to get souls to heaven. These certainly aren’t mutually exclusive and the former can of course be used as evidence for the latter. But like many Protestant mega-Churches, I think the ultimate goal has been lost, as noble as the goal to grow your parish and reach out to the lost may be. In other words, it is premature to speak of any “end result” as it has not happened yet and will not until the last moments of our lives. Again, the authors by no means teach once save always saved or perseverance of the saints and would unequivocally reject such a notion, but their Protestant influenced actions belie said false teaching.

I commend the authors in their attempt to not just “go with the flow” and their taking action to bring about a much needed change to their parish. There is certainly life at their parish and they are no doubt bringing the gospel message to more people. The problem however is all the Protestant baggage that comes with adopting a Protestant strategy. This is dangerous and must be carefully avoided. If one needs ideas for how to revitalize their parish and are made very well aware of the subtle pitfalls that could possibly arise, this may be a book for you. But I think the ultimate answer is complete and life-transforming holiness for each individual. It was almost comically ironic that at the same time I was reading this book which recommends things like greeters, small groups, and information tables to transform your parish, I was also reading Trochu’s The Cure D'Ars, where the Cure does things like eliminate all dancing and taverns, restore the Lord’s day so that there is absolutely no work on Sundays, and catechize his parish in order to transform his parish. The contrast between “greeters at the door” and “elimination of all dancing in the village” is just hysterical. But speaking of “the results,” there is simply no comparing the results that the Cure produced with the results seen in Timonium. So I would rather recommend extreme holiness and a life of penance and prayer. To see an example of what this can do, read Trochu’s The Cure D'Ars or read about the tens of thousands of pilgrims who still flock to Ars every year as a result of not café teams, but personal holiness.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2014
It seems like a red flag to me when a parish is looking towards mega churches and corporations for methods of revival. I mean there is two thousand years of saints to look towards. It seems odd to be caught up in the latest new (and untried) trend. Cause ultimately these mega churches based on business models are a few decades old at the most. They don't have staying power yet and don't look like they will. I'm concerned by the lack of concern for Catholic identity and tradition in the book. Why is this dispensable? Like another reviewer said, I just wonder what these people will do when they get bored. Contemporary evangelical churches are just revolving doors. The non-denominational types "win" a lot of churchgoers over who are bleeding out of other denominations. But I know from personal experience for a lot of people this commitment isn't strong forever.

It seems like the reason people are afraid of a traditional, sacred atmosphere that might "turn off seekers" is because that atmosphere is made for prayer and contemplation and when you don't participate (in a truer sense of the word) you feel bored. Hence the need to be entertained or to "actively participate" (in the false sense of the word). But how long will that last? How long till you're just unsatisfied because at the end of the day, you've never really "gone deep" into Catholicism, you've never weaned yourself off of milk and started eating solid food. I just don't see the authors of this book providing any compelling answers to that question.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2013
I agree with the other two 1-star ratings.

I would add:
The only reason I can imagine this book is so highly rated is that it appeals to the new form of religious 'Emergent' consumer.

I am rereading this book as it was so bad (you can learn so much about the good from what's bad), and I have realised the analysis of the problems is spot on, but as soon as the turn to solutions, they show they don't understand the first thing about the importance of architecture, scripture, ecclesiology, the Eucharist, and Holy Orders. In fact, they know hardly anything Catholic, and so the book is written as if they're just Protestants interested in church growth who are sympathetic to some of the 'useful' ideas Catholicism might bring to the table.

HOWEVER: the first problem with the book is their generalised Parishioner they call "Tim" (from Timonium, in Baltimore where the church is based).

The argument of the book is that this 'Tim', who is the average, de-churched secularist in the parish, has to be pandered to if we are to get him into church. Except 'Tim', is like an obese kid who wont eat his vegetables or do anything good for him unless he's cajouled with some kind of reward, and it doesn't involve commitment, discipline, or exercise. So, of course, 'Tim' will not like Real Catholicism, so their solution is to make their 'church' (what they call 'environment') 'seeker friendly' (remove the bits of Catholicism 'Tim' won't like). In short: indulge 'Tim'.

In essence, as it relies on ideas from Protestant Evanglicalism, what the authors advocate is what Protestantism ends up doing: being completely disingenuous and ending up a 'bait-and-switch' scam in order to get them in - except they've jettisoned the guts of Catholicism in their quest for punters, and left an empty and pathetic shell of the real thing.

If you read the book, they express one aim, yet clearly want another. Their aim in the book is to run roughshod over the 'old-school' (Modernist) Catholic consumers (who were the 'Tims' of the 60s and 70s), and simply replace them with new 'Tim' (Post-Modernist) consumers (who they presume won't be problem-ridden complainers like the old ones). But, before they know it, 'Tim' consumers will prove themselves to be as intransigent as the old-school consumers, unless they constantly keep reinventing themselves, and thereby create a constantly changing 'user-base' AKA congregation. One day, they'll have to introduce 'Lap-dancers for Jesus' in order to attract 'Tim'. That is, have a programme which, by its nature, has to be alienating a percentage of the congregation, in a desperate attempt to attract the new: a revolving door church. They will find themselves, as they have always done, running to stand still as their fundamental operating paradigm is flawed.

So what's the biggest flaw of the book?
It objectifies persons - just like Protestantism - which is completely at odds with the Catholic worldview. You can smell this Protestant worldview all the way through it. e.g., "What, specifically, do you want them to change? What is the message, and what do you want them to do with the message?" p144

Lastly, the book is filled to the brim with non-sequiturs and question-begging statements put across in an authoritative manner, without any justification apart from the fact one of the people - the 'authorities', in most cases Protestant Pastors they had read - had said it.
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63 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2013
This book is based on the premise that you can present a watered-down, sanitized, Protestant-looking, and above all, "relevant" version of the Catholic faith and that it will somehow lead to deep conversion to Jesus Christ. Please pardon my skepticism but I cannot see how sipping lattes, listening to the "praise band" concert, and enjoying Fr. Michael's weekly "message" - all while taking advantage of the free babysitting service - leads to anything other than crippling self-absorption and subjective sentimentalism. It certainly bears little resemblance to Our Lord's invitation to take up the cross and follow Him.

I am afraid that the authors' success in growing the parish will prove to be like the seed scattered on rocky soil. The mega-church phenomenon that Nativity imitates is a passing fad fueled by suburban hipster consumers who have tried to reshape Christianity on their terms to fit their needs. Once a new fad emerges to meet their needs for positive affirmation and social connection, those consumers will follow after it instead, and much of the seeds of faith planted by this parish will wither in the heat of the sun.

Pastors, deacons, and lay ministers who want to grow their parishes and form committed disciples would do much better to focus on the reverent celebration of the Sunday Eucharist, a return to frequent celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, and the unambiguous preaching of the Truth of the Catholic Faith than to mimic the popular trends as these authors have done.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
I write this review after many others have praised and/or criticized the book. I read the book carefully and thought about its gist for some time. Many reviewers have commented upon the "best practices" employed by Father White and his staff (and it is "his staff," despite his denial, for a commander [or pastor] is responsible for all his command [or church] does or fails to do). There are some useful tactics and techniques described in the book, although, frankly, I cannot understand why a Catholic priest had to find these kinds of practices only, or principally, in Protestant ecclesial bodies when they are not uncommon in Catholic parishes, if one will trouble himself to look there. Father White and Mr. Corcoran are at pains to mention their "dynamic orthodoxy" and loyalty to the Magisterium. I am troubled, therefore, to find that their church website is (unless I have missed it and, if so, apologize for my error) as barren of the mention of Confession as the church itself is barren of kneelers. Selective biblical quotation is common in the book but Psalm 95:6, Ephesians 3:14, and Philippians 2:10 seem to be overlooked. I will refrain from "verse slinging" here, but I do want to point out the critical nature of seeing the Bible in light of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Teaching, in which departments this book is, I fear, deficient. There is, for instance, not a single mention of the Catechism. There is mention--in fact there is a cornucopia--of mission statements and vision statements and the latest leadership-book mantras. There is little here, though, to suggest that the Catholic Church exists to save souls and to foster sainthood. The principal manner in which we find and fix Jesus the Christ in our hearts and minds is through what Father White and Mr. Corcoran repeatedly (and a bit unnervingly) call "services," known to other Catholics as the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." I understand that some Catholics come to holy Mass to be entertained, to meet friends, to have coffee and doughnuts after "the service," and to listen to soft rock music. To crowd this review with references to Catholic teaching about the holy Mass would not accomplish my purpose here, which is simply to say that these "modern" Catholics (who seek fun and frolic at Mass) do not need better parking or even smiley greeters: they need, rather, to understand that Mass is the greatest act of worship we have, for it comes to us from Christ and through the "one, holy, Catholic [a word, by the way, they do not capitalize [see p. 276]--and that's an important criticism], and apostolic Church."

At its core, this is a troubling book because, although Father White is almost certainly not Joel Osteen in a chasuble, there is no hint here that he has read or pondered Ross Dothat's BAD RELIGION; as much as Father White and Mr. Corcoran admire Evangelical Protestants, some attention to DOMINUS IESUS, paragraph 22, was in order, and they utterly ignore George Weigel's EVANGELICAL CATHOLICISM; Russell Shaw's AMERICAN CHURCH might also have informed their text, but there is no mention of that, either. And I suspect that Father White and Mr. Corcoran have not spent long in the brilliant pages of the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, whose AMERICAN BABYLON might have proved fruitful to them--and still can!

But theirs is not an academic book, after all. So let us try a thought experiment: one Monday morning, one of the staff at Nativity tells how he and his family on Sunday assisted at their first Solemn High (Latin) Mass in, say, Pennsylvania. They loved its solemnity, its beauty, its call to conversion and holiness. "Gee, why don't we have a Latin Mass or two here, Father?" And the reaction . . . ? See what I mean?

Keep in mind, too, that the Church of the Nativity, on its website, informs visitors that "You'll experience . . . a relevant message that isn't about religion or rules [those pesky Ten Commandments, I guess]but about you and God." Well: we wouldn't want any messages about the Catholic religion or "rules," would we? It's all about us . . . oh, and God, too, of course. By the way, that excerpt may be found under "what to expect" on their website.

The word SERMON, despite its dismissal in this book, is Catholic (and Father White's neologism "Message" [which only he gives at every Sunday Mass--and for a prolix twenty minutes, to boot] is peculiar to him); the Mass of the Catechumens (a word incorrectly given in this book--and there are, by the way, many other errors here in spelling and grammar) is also richly Catholic. But then so are Eucharistic Adoration, Benediction, the Stations of the Cross, Lectio Divina, the Liturgy of the Hours, and many similar Catholic devotions--part of our rich Catholic spiritual heritage--and not a drop of ink is spilled over them in this book. The mention in this book of the most holy Rosary, in fact, is insulting to Catholics, for the Rosary as referred to in this book is put into the hands of a (presumably fictional) woman who icily and profanely refuses to greet fellow parishioners during the exchange of peace. Could the book not have included a single positive paragraph about Our Lady's sacred Prayer?

It's half a century since the publication of the profoundly important (if broadly misunderstood) document SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, which applauded Gregorian chant and the pipe organ (see #116, #120) and did not require the singing of "Kumbaya." One wishes "Al and the Band" (really: see page 100) and the "adult alternative rock" program at Nativity (but "with Christian lyrics"--for a moment there faithful Catholic readers might have been concerned) the very best of luck. Such dynamic orthodoxy seems to fill the pews and the coffers, this book assures us.

And that's what it's all about, isn't it? Filling the seats and filling the collection baskets--the criteria of parish success. The main business of the parish is, evidently, business--and keeping the customers happy and coming back for more. There is little or nothing here of the Pauline--that we are to conform ourselves to Christ, and that conformation (that conFIRMation) can be, well, spiritually painful. It can require, too, the kind of preaching nowhere alluded to in these pages. Pope Benedict XV had it exactly right when, in HUMANI GENERIS REDEMPTIONEM (June 1917), he wrote that "it is clear how unworthy of commendation are those preachers who are afraid to touch upon certain points of Christian doctrine lest they should give their hearers offense" (#19). Hmmmmmmmmm.

That we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; that we must resist the temptations of evil and of him who is evil (cf. the Prayer to St, Michael, the Archangel); that we must love God and neighbor in all that we think and say and do; that, in today's world especially, we must be a counter-cultural witness to prevent the slaughter of the innocent and the preservation of marriage sanctity; that we require the constant nourishment of sacred Text (the Bible), Tradition (the doctrine, life, and worship of the Church), and Teaching (the undiluted power of Christ's Voice in and through the Magisterium), despite the moral seduction of the World (see the Catechism, #1783-1785 [this kind of conscience formation is surely a key part of Father White's Message Sequence Strategy, isn't it?])--all these come from and are rooted in the holy Mass (both Novus Ordo prayed properly [see CCC #1125 and GIRM #24] and in the Extraordinary Form). For we will, in time, believe as we behave; if we pray wrong (by, for instance, turning the liturgy into a quasi-secular charade, complete with the fads and fashions of the day); if we deny the transforming power of Christ's Law of Grace (dismissing it as "rules" or confirming John Lennon's notion of ". . . no religion, too"), then we will surely create papier-mâché Catholics who know nothing and care even less.

Are Sacred Text, Tradition, and Teaching themes essential to the book at hand? Are they essential to the church described in and by the book? Are they essential in the catechetical programs of this "adult alternative rock" (but "with Christian lyrics") church? Perhaps so. It seems, though, as if there is substantial reason to worry and wonder about the "message" conveyed here: fill the seats, increase the collection, sing the latest adult rock, and don't worry about those silly old rules, customs, and practices which we have rejected. The Holy Sacrifice of Holy Mass to worship God, express contrition, and to ask for His blessings on all people, that we might be sent forth to be His ambassadors in a morally dangerous world? No: a service to celebrate ourselves, to enjoy the festivities, and to socialize--all planned and led by the worship leaders.

Vatican Council II reminded us that "the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself." Does the heart of this book square with that declaration? If it does, and if the Church of the Nativity preaches and teaches in the light of that truth, it will have passed the test of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38-39), and the book will do great good, despite any reservations expressed here and elsewhere; if, however, there is in this volume a kind of "Groupthink," the danger of a "cult of personality," the tendency toward religious indifferentism or syncretism; or if there is here a veiled secularism which infects its pages, the book will not long endure. One would hope, in the latter case, for a very quick, full, and apologetic revision!

A recommendation: There is a portrait of a (fictional) priest given in Brian J. Gail's novel FATHERLESS that I wish readers of REBUILT, and those connected with the Church of the Nativity, might read. The church in Gail's novel does not have a great parking lot; but its priest discovers what a Catholic parish--and his own sacred priesthood--are truly all about. Although Father White and Mr. Corcoran use the term "mission" a little differently, one might hope (and recommend) that parishioners in the Church of the Nativity have the spiritual opportunity of attending a parish mission conducted by the Fathers of Mercy in Auburn, Kentucky. (To be clear: The Fathers of Mercy do not know of my recommendation; nor are they in any way connected with this review.)

Finally, one does not doubt that Father White and Mr. Corcoran are trying to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reason. Be leery, though, of any "cottage industry" that springs up around their efforts, and recall, too, that the best of us, with the best motives, are inclined to error, pride, and other sin (reminding us why the Sacrament of Confession is such a great Divine gift). If one may fairly quote Cromwell in a piece about the Catholic faith, it was he who said: "I beseech you, in the bowels in Christ, [to] think it possible that you may be mistaken." It is wise, certainly, for all of us Catholics to remember that neither the universal Church, nor an individual diocesan church, is ours. Whose, then, are they? St. Paul answered that question a long time ago (1 Cor 7:23; cf. Psalm 24:1). Read this book and follow its suggestions only with very great care, with much prudence--and, as always, with sustained prayer.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2013
Like another reviewer, I am a DRE, so was/am keenly interested in learning the authors' approach to the new evangelization. And like the other DRE reviewer, I find myself shouting "YES!" at some parts. However, I have a concern about the way the parishioners who were in place when the pastor and youth minister arrived are characterized, esp since that parish is identified--really? If the cantor's musical ability, or lack thereof, was going to be so pointedly described, could you have made the parish anonymous? etc. The book is definitely "Forming Intentional Disciples-light". Some very good points, and an easy read. But again, the lack of charity and a somewhat smug tone gives me heartburn.
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53 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2013
I got this book before noon Mass on Sunday and finished reading it by the time my kids went to bed that night. I couldn't wait to get the story behind Nativity, since I have been considering becoming a parishioner for years now. I was born and raised Catholic, attended Catholic school for 12 years, and managed to stay faithful to Mass attendance throughout my adult life, mostly out of obligation, and despite the fact that I married a Methodist. I happened to attend the Church of the Nativity when my first set of twins were getting ready to make their First Communion. They had a weekly assignment to prove their attendance at Mass, and being a nurse who worked mostly weekends and odd shifts, it was often difficult to take them to church. One of the nurses I worked with recommended Nativity due to their convenient Mass times. So I took my girls to the 5:30 pm Sunday Mass and was blown away. I had never seen or heard such things - a video screen, a pre-Mass talk show, friendly greeters, soul-lifting music, and a message that spoke to my very heart! It actually brought me to tears. We came back for several weeks, but then had to go back to our old church due to ties to our school's parish and the distance from our home. But Nativity stayed in our minds. The kids called it the "rock and roll church" and begged to go back (kids BEGGING to go to church? REALLY!) My parents objected - stating there was no way that could be a "real" Catholic church if I had enjoyed it that much. But after reading this book, I am convinced that Fr. White has found the perfect blend of our true Catholic faith with the hospitality and evangelization of successful Protestant churches. It is real Catholicism, the way it needs to be if we are to survive into the future. Recently, we moved to a home near to Nativity, and I have actually changed my job so that I can be off on weekends - all so that I can fully bring my family into this Church. This is visionary, this is BIG and I want them to be a part of it. Fr. White is offering all Catholic parishes the opportunity to make similar changes by sharing his story with admirable honesty. When you are finished reading this book, pass it may well save your own church by doing so!
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