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 | By Brian O’Neel

‘Go and make disciples of all nations’

It’s the Great Commission of Christ, with which all Catholic Christians are charged. But how many of us know how to accomplish this vital work? This month, the Diocese of Lansing hosts a critical workshop to explain what must be done. Brian O’Neel has the story.

Building parishes full of intentional disciples. That’s the goal. But what’s the method? How do today’s Catholic parishes figure out the proper steps to take?

These and many other questions will be answered April 14-16 at the St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, as the Diocese of Lansing hosts a workshop for parish leaders, Making Disciples 101. The event is presented by internationally known evangelist and author Sherry Weddell, accompanied by diocesan director of evangelization Craig Pohl. 

“Sherry Weddell is a pioneer in introducing the topic of intentional discipleship,” Pohl says. “She points out that we have a lot of people coming to Mass, but a good number of those people — the majority, in fact — don’t really live an intentional life of discipleship. That must change, for we must form not just disciples, but intentional disciples. We must work to build up people who really look at the call of God, take it seriously and change their lives based on their relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Topics for the three-day seminar include:

  • Our Reality Today
  • God’s Presence and Grace
  • Threshold Conversations Basics
  • Evangelization in 2024: What Does it Look Like?

Weddell believes our shared faith demands more of us than it ever has.

“We are living now outside of Christendom, in a world where faith is no longer normative,” she says. “This means we must start acting like missionaries, like people of faith have done through the centuries when they lived outside Christendom. We’re having to learn that, and to become missionaries in our own daily lives.”

Weddell points to a recent Pew Research Center Survey that found “28 percent of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated, describing themselves as atheists, agnostics or simply ‘nothing in particular’ when asked about their religion.” Many of these people are fallen away Catholics, who, according to Pew, account for 19% of the unaffiliated, or “nones” (meaning they would mark their religious affiliation as “none”). According to the National Catholic Reporter, “A large majority (71%) of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say the move from Catholicism occurred as a gradual drifting away from the Church.”

In other words, they weren’t intentional disciples, nor was anyone asking them to be.

Weddell notes that most of these people are younger, under age 50. 

“And so they are our children, our grandchildren, the current parents of the next generation,” she says. “And they won’t walk into our parishes. That’s the deal. We must go out to them. We must learn how to be outward facing.” 

“We can’t take it for granted that they will show up. They’re not operating out of obligation anymore. It must be personally meaningful and positive. A lot of them don’t trust religious organizations. They’re not just going to walk across our threshold. So parishes and communities must take on a missionary stance. And how to do that, how to help people in the 21st century make that journey is what Making Disciples 101 is all about.”

Pohl says evangelization is more than just a practice. 

“It’s something that brims forth from people who have been affected by God, who have changed their lives because of the Gospel and are now eager to go out and tell people about it and win souls for the kingdom,” Pohl observes. “That’s really what this seminar is all about. It’s aimed at helping the leaders of our diocese identify where the intentional disciples are and what pathways can be created.”

The program costs $200 per individual, including all materials, lodging and meals. For those who live within close driving distance, there is a special $100 commuter registration fee, which includes all materials and meals.