NCR’s Tiresome Idea for Renewing Parishes

While I typically avoid National Catholic Reporter for obvious reasons, I came across their article titled Parish Renewal Groups Teach Lessons from Megachurches. Interested by how a catholic website would openly advocate for the adoption of protestant/non-denominational/new-age megachurch practices, I decided to click.

The article pretty much suggests what most crusty progressives yearning for fleeting cultural acceptance have been saying since the 70’s, that we should ‘modernize’ Catholic parishes musically, architecturally, and liturgically. While this half-century-old message has been heard and tried many times, it still manages to elicit cringes and eye rolls when someone who genuinely thinks this idea is somehow novel or in any way appropriate for the Roman Catholic Church/Kingdom of God/Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

Below I’ll give the article the ‘TSP Cliffs Notes’ treatment:

I [suggest] that Catholic pastors take a look at what was happening with evangelical megachurches. Inspired by the Willow Creek congregation outside Chicago, evangelicals were tapping into the power of good old-fashioned American business marketing, finding out what people wanted in a church and delivering it to them.

He is correct that megachurches tap into business marketing and are good that that. That said, while megachurches may follow certain business practices and try to “deliver” to people “what they want” that is not the mission of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Roman Catholic Church as founded by Jesus Christ. The writer’s suggestion shows a lack of understanding of the Kingdom of God because the Church does not exist to give people what they want, it exists to give people what they need (as a loving Mother) and save souls in the process. Obviously it’s a twofer if the will of an individual also wants what the Catholic Church offers, but that is simply a secondary pleasantry. The point is the Church exists to form souls, not the other way around.

Willow Creek, an independent congregation, was established in the 1970s, free from denominational constraints, via a process of intensive surveys of what people in the growing exurbs were seeking in a church. Willow Creek became famous for its non-churchy look, welcoming small communities and contemporary music. A visit there researching the book indicated that Wednesday night gatherings, held in a shopping mall-like food court, were as important to the congregation as Sunday morning worship.

Ah, there’s that whiff of religious pluralism you knew was coming; Catholicism is simply one of many denominations, right? And the denominational labels are constraints to what people really want from their church. We need modern, round-edged buildings, and songs that reflect persuasions of pop culture to remain relevant to young people! <sarcasm/> It’s as if thousands of Catholic parishes haven’t already tried this following the “reform” in the 70’s. You show me a Catholic parish with a ‘modern’ feel, and I’ll show you empty pews with few Millennials.

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Catholic pastors are beginning to pay attention thanks in part to a growing number of businesses and nonprofits intended to assist them in a time when many baptized Catholics have stopped going to church.

Sure, misguided Catholic pastors who are also decreasing in number.

RENEW (group dedicated to make churches more attractive) preceded Willow Creek and is based largely on Vatican II theology. It grew out of renewal movements popular with Catholics in the 1970s… Catholic parishes can no longer wait for people to come to the pews. There has to be a concerted effort to bring them in.

Ah, so this effort to protestantize the Catholic Church is rooted in the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II. Again, this all so predictable. Let me get this straight, this is based on efforts out of the 70’s–over 45 years ago–and even though the attempts to “reform” the Church that took place in the 70’s are widely argued to be the catalyst for the most destructive era for the Church in its 2000 year history with empty pews, confusion, and scandal, we are to continue forging this failed path. You have to almost feel bad for the people who keep thinking these efforts will somehow work all of a sudden.

The critique Willow Creek faced in the evangelical world can apply here as well: is this Catholic lite, an effort to make hard truths easier…And extensive studies of the Willow Creek megachurch model indicates that these groups, much like Catholic parishes, have difficulties holding on to their people, with high attrition rates after five years.

As we have already seen with parishes that have tried to implement this modernist, pop-culture environment and it indeed is Catholic lite, if even to be considered Catholic. And, from what we have witnessed, they often don’t seek to make “hard truths easier”, but skit these truths all together if not openly preach the opposite! However I’m happy the author made the point that these megachurches have poor retention rates. They may have lots of young people but their interest is fleeting, inherent of anything that is not rooted in something objective or eternal, especially when it’s rooted in American popular culture.

It’s often repeated that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome…this definition I’d like to submit to people like Peter Feuerherd who wrote this piece. Why do they think that doubling–no–quadrupling down on this effort born out of the era of freelove and relativity to throw Catholic Tradition, beauty, and understanding out the window will somehow result in anything other than the repulsion of disciples, disinterest in the priesthood, and more.

I’ll end by quoting Rachel Lu writing about the reaction of aging snooty left-wing Catholics now becoming irrelevant that the base of Catholicsm is moving back towards sacred beauty and orthodoxy:

Liberal theologians see this too, which is why they feel unsettled…They sense that they are now the ones haunting the turrets of outdated, reactionary Catholicism. Their “springtime of Vatican II” has yielded confusion, empty pews, and horrific scandals. Their “courageous” protest of Humanae Vitae has led countless souls astray, but far from being retracted, the document is still very much in force, with its predictions fully vindicated by modern culture.The old guard of liberal champions is aging, while the Church’s young enthusiasts are too often admirers of St. John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or even (gasp!) the Latin Mass.

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Seminarians following evening Vespers
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