Plans under way for Catholics Come Home

By | September 3, 2009

0928cch-logoweb2Sound too simplistic? Just read what happened in the Diocese of Phoenix, where a Catholics Come Home (CCH) pilot campaign was launched in 2007. Commercials began airing there during Lent 2008.

Once the commercials began airing on network and cable TV channels (3.5 million people saw them an average of 14 times each), parishes saw a dramatic spike in church attendance and inquiries. According to statistics provided by CCH, within three weeks of the commercials airing:

• More than 10,000 people contacted parishes;

• More than 6,000 people visited the Web site, www.catholicscomehome.org.

• Some 15,000 Catholics began attending Mass again;

Six months after the commercials aired:

• Nearly 1,000 people were involved in parish programs created for returning Catholics.

• Adult faith formation programs aimed at sharing faith with others increased 20 to 30 percent from the previous year.

• Participation in the diocese’s RCIA program in March 2009 increased 14 percent from the previous year.

• Mass attendance was up 92,000 people from the previous year – equivalent to a 12 percent increase in Mass attendance across the diocese.

Read letter from

Bishop Ricken on

Catholics Come Home

Prior to airing the commercials, the diocese created online and parish resources. Additionally, diocesan and parish personnel were trained to respond to inquiries resulting from the commercials.

The success of CCH in Phoenix (and repeated this past year in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas) was largely due to the quality and content of the TV commercials, along with an equally successful interactive Web site, www.catholics comehome.org. Each commercial ends with a message for viewers to visit the Web site, which offers information about the faith and resources to help reconnect with the church.

In the Green Bay Diocese, Dr. Kristina DeNeve, diocesan director of spirituality and evangelization, is coordinating CCH. She believes increased church attendance is just one of the outcomes the evangelization effort will provide.

“This is an opportunity for people to take a step forward in their faith wherever they are at,” she said. “Our hope is that (active Catholics) will find themselves identifying more strongly and happily with their faith. And maybe they will find themselves more interested in talking with others about their faith or about these commercials as a jumping off point for their faith.”

She said that when Bishop David Ricken and diocesan leaders approved CCH for the diocese, the first recommendation was to inform Catholics that the commercials would be aired.

“If they know, then there’s the opportunity for them to do whatever they feel will help,” she said. “Whether it’s going online in advance and checking out the commercials, whether it’s doing a little bit of reading (about the church), whether it’s just smiling at someone they don’t recognize (at Mass) or moving over in the pew. If 110,000 of us who go to church regularly are aware that this is happening and try to take advantage of it by talking with others … about how we can help, then there’s a chance for amazing things to happen.”

What can TV viewers expect to see?

Three different commercials – one describing the history and highlights of the Catholic Church, one asking viewers how the “movie of your life” will play out, and one offering testimonials from fallen-away Catholics who returned to the church – aim to give viewers reasons why they should “take another look” at the Catholic Church.

All three commercials can be viewed at the CCH Web site. Spanish commercials can be viewed at www.catolicosregresen.org.

Tom Peterson, founder and president of Catholics Come Home, Inc., told The Compass that TV commercials are an ideal way to evangelize.

“It makes sense for Catholics to use the media, since studies show the average American spends 38 hours a week consuming media, with television being the top choice and Internet their second,” he said.

Peterson cited statistics that show the need for Catholics Come Home.

• While Catholics account for 23 percent of the U.S. population, only 33 percent of people who identify themselves as Catholics attend weekly Mass.

• Up to 100,000 baptized Catholics in the U.S. drift away from the church every year.

• Slightly more than 13 percent of Americans identify themselves as non-religious.

Peterson said that a recent survey showed 90 percent of people who left the church did so without bitterness. “They just drifted away, caught up by the lures of the world,” he explained. “Yet when we invite them back, with creative and loving television commercials and informative, interactive, bilingual Web sites they return with joy.”

Effective TV commercials need to offer an authentic message, he noted.

“People, especially our youth, can tell when they are being ‘sold’ something,” said Peterson. “The key to a successful evangelization initiative is to put forth inviting and authentic messages filled with truth and beauty.

“It is God’s grace, the prayers of family members, and the invitation of the Catholics Come Home ads that are bringing hundreds of thousands of people home,” he added. “When we asked the returnees, why they came home, most said, ‘Because you invited me.’ You and I need to invite our friends, neighbors and relatives home to the Catholic Church.”

According to DeNeve, the cost of airing the commercials will be $215,000. Money will be raised by the Diocese of Green Bay’s Catholic Foundation with the assistance of CCH. She stressed that Bishop’s Appeal money will not be used to buy air time, but does help fund salaries for diocesan employees assisting in CCH.

Peterson explained that CCH will partner with the diocese to host fund-raising lunch and dinner events, “where supporters can learn more about the success of Catholics Come Home and our local and national plans.”

“We also hope to gain the support of Catholic families who can help in a substantial way with advice, prayers and funding,” he said.

DeNeve said money from Advancing the Mission’s evangelization endowment would also be used to provide extra resources for parishes. “There’s a possibility that we can give parishes mini-grants to underwrite some of the things that parishes might want to give people returning, or to have their worship space more inviting.”

Peterson and DeNeve said the benefits of CCH outweigh the costs.

“For an average cost of $2 per soul, we can help (bring) more families back to church and more souls to heaven,” said Peterson.

If the Green Bay Diocese comes close to the success experienced in Phoenix and Corpus Christi (with increased weekly Mass attendance of 12 percent and 17 percent respectively), parishes could experience revitalization.

For example, if 10 percent of Catholics in the diocese who do not now attend Mass return, more than 25,000 people will fill the pews, according to DeNeve.

Parishes will soon receive materials from the diocese to help them prepare for the expected onslaught of inquiries that follow the commercials.

Peterson will oversee the purchase of commercial time slots and work with the diocese to assure that people from all parts of the diocese see them. “The funds we raise will go toward airing commercials on local Green Bay and surrounding network TV affiliates and cable systems … where 99 percent of the viewers will see the inspiring ads an average of 13 times each,” he said.

Green Bay is one of nine dioceses and four archdioceses across the country that will launch CCH campaigns in the next year. Some will begin airing commercials at Advent while others are waiting until Lent.

Peterson’s ultimate goal is to air CCH commercials throughout the country. “We plan to air a national campaign in Advent 2010, to help more families come home across the United States,” he said.

DeNeve said CCH is more than a program. It is an opportunity to change the way Catholics view evangelization.

“This is the beginning of how we try to invite people back to our faith,” she said. “This isn’t really a program, but an opportunity for folks to reflect on (what) they might do to help people deepen their relationship with Jesus and to help people feel connected to a community, to the body of Christ that we all are.”

 

A letter from Bishop David Ricken

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As I celebrate the first anniversary of my installation as twelfth bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, I wish to express my deep gratitude for the generous welcome you’ve shown me and for the deep commitment towards building the Kingdom of God that you so clearly manifest each and every day in such a multitude of ways. God is alive and well and the Church is vibrant and healthy in Northeastern Wisconsin!

I’ve been asking you this past year, “What shall be our legacy?” And, when I visit your parishes and schools and talk with both the lay faithful and pastoral leadership, I consistently hear your desire that we reach out to our inactive brothers and sisters, to our fellow Catholics, both young and old, who are no longer regularly participating in our Eucharistic assembly. We are each of us members of the one body of Christ. Therefore, we cannot help but notice the absence of our fellow Catholics and feel the pain of separation from them.

For these reasons, I’m delighted that the Diocese of Green Bay now has the opportunity to participate as a pilot diocese to air television commercials inviting people back to our Catholic faith. Beginning next Lent, Northeastern Wisconsin will cooperate with www.CatholicsComeHome.org to air three television commercials inviting people back to the Church. These commercials were created in conjunction with the Diocese of Phoenix, where over 92,000 people (equivalent to 12 percent of that diocese) returned and were regularly attending Mass more than six months later. If we conservatively estimate that five percent of inactive Catholics in Northeastern Wisconsin might return to their faith, after viewing these commercials and being welcomed by our parishes, we may soon find an additional 12,500 people worshipping with us.

You’ll be reading more in this issue of The Compass about the resources available to help your parish maximize this opportunity to welcome back inactive Catholics, to help newcomers inquire about our faith, and to enliven and deepen the faith of our active, faithful parishioners and staff members. Resources will include, but will not be limited to the following: tips on creating a Radical Welcoming System; help developing/improving your parish website; materials that can guide a Pastoral Council meeting on this topic; Liturgical aids; and formation opportunities offered explicitly for everyone ranging from Pastors to DREs to Receptionists. For now, please view the commercials at www.CatholicsComeHome.org. Feel free also to direct any feedback or questions to Dr. Kristina DeNeve, diocesan Director of Spirituality and Evangelization. She can be reached at [email protected] or 920-272-8304.

There is no better time than now to share our faith. As Pope Benedict XVI expressed in his second encyclical, “To come to know God – the true God – means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.” We who have been blessed by a life transforming encounter with the living person of Jesus Christ are also charged with sharing what we’ve gained, this Good News, with others. I hope you share my enthusiasm over this new and exciting way to do just that.

Sincerely yours in Christ,


The Most Reverend David L. Ricken, DD, JCL
Bishop of Green Bay

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