Author, evangelist Kelly draws crowd in Bloomington-Normal

Game Changers

NORMAL — “We have to decide how interested we are in keeping the next generation of Catholics Catholic,” says evangelist Matthew Kelly, indicating urgency in an Australian accent.

The best-selling author and motivational speaker succeeded in keeping nearly 1,100 Catholics edge-of-their-pew interested at Epiphany Church in Normal on Oct. 24. In three evening presentations spiced with humor, Kelly outlined serious challenges facing the church and called for dynamic action to engage Catholics in their faith.

“We have to do something big, bold and soon,” said Kelly, pointing to declining weekly Mass attendance in the United States, now less than 30 percent. “If we don’t, we’ll be like Europe,” he added, where Mass attendance in countries such as France (4 percent) has reached shockingly low numbers.

“Is that what we want?” asked Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic Institute and

Kelly’s “Passion and Purpose” presentation was sponsored by five area parishes — Epiphany in Normal as well as Holy Trinity, Historic St. Patrick, St. Mary, and St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington — to boost their own renewal efforts. Early reports indicate success.

“The atmosphere at this talk was uplifting and vibrant,” said Rich Sealy, coordinator of evangelization for Epiphany Parish. Folding chairs were set up in aisles and the church’s gathering space to accommodate the crowd, and “people came away fired up and inspired to make a change in their lives.”

For example, Sealy pointed to a follow-up event at Epiphany at which 200 people signed up to continue the discussion in small groups for at least the next six weeks.

St. Patrick Church of Merna is also promoting small group discussions and issued a “1 percent challenge” beginning Nov. 1, asking Catholics to spend 1 percent of their day listening to God in Scripture and prayer.

The renewal efforts address what Kelly called “an engagement problem” in the church.

“Visit any Catholic church and you’ll see a spectrum of engagement,” said Kelly, ranging from passionate Catholics to what he called “quit and stay” Catholics, who are physically present but show no interest in deepening their relationship with Christ.

And then there are perhaps seven-out-of-10 not even physically present.

“We need some game-changers,” said Kelly. “We’ve got to start doing things in a different, exciting way. Everything that we do for the next 20 years will impact the following 20 years.”

Kelly pointed to new ideas being pursued at Dynamic Catholic, including book giveaways to those who come to Christmas Mass — 4 million of his books will be given freely at parishes around the nation this Christmas — and a new confirmation preparation book and video series, “Decision Point,” also offered free to every parish.

“We’re hemorrhaging young people,” said Kelly, claiming that 85 percent of young Catholics stop practicing their faith within seven years of being confirmed.

He called Catholics to stand out in today’s culture the way the early Christians did in theirs — by living differently, loving differently, and working differently.

“Modern Catholics? We blend in,” said Kelly, adding that “nobody’s intrigued, and nobody’s fascinated” by our choice for mediocrity.

Still, Catholics have an “astounding story” to share and are in the best position to change a world that’s “in a bit of a mess,” said Kelly. He called on Catholics to begin by creating daily “holy moments” when they do what they know God is calling them to do. He also encouraged learning more about the saints, who he called “masters of best practices,” and to emulate the practices of passionate Catholics, including prayer, study, generosity and evangelization.

“What is God looking for?” asked Kelly. “Only one thing: availability. How available are you to God? Twenty percent? Fifty percent? Make yourself 100-percent available and incredible things will happen.”

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