Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic Interview with Matthew Kelly

Author Interview

Matthew Kelly is the founder of The Dynamic Catholic Institute and the bestselling author of seventeen books. For twenty years he has been speaking and writing about the genius of Catholicism. The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic is his latest book and was released on November 1, 2012.

This interview took place a week before the release of the book on October 25th, 2012.

Dynamic Catholic (DC): Ten years ago you published Rediscover Catholicism, which has become the bestselling Catholic book ever in America. Why did you decide to write The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic now?

Matthew Kelly (MK): In the work I do as a business consultant my partners and I help companies determine how engaged their employees are and deploy programs to increase employee engagement. Several years ago I was sitting in a board room at a Fortune 500 company discussing employee engagement and it dawned on me that the Catholic Church needs someone to take this issue really seriously.

I began to look around for research that had been done in the area and was amazed that there was no research. So I sat down with some researchers and began to discuss the idea of doing the research. They kept asking me over and over again: What is the primary question that the research would explore? The question I settled on was: What is the difference between highly engaged Catholics and disengaged Catholics?

When we started the research I did not have a book in mind. It was only as the research began to unfold before me that I started to get an itch to write a book about it.

DC: Do you see this as a sequel to Rediscover Catholicism?

MK: No, I really don’t. It is my next major Catholic book since Rediscover Catholicism was published, but the two are very, very different books. Rediscover Catholicism is something I cannot explain. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think it would ever become as popular as it has become. On one level, it is quite simple. On another level, it is quite deep. But what the years have taught me is that it is exactly what many Catholics need to hear at this time.

Rediscover was really me just saying to people, “Hey, give Catholicism another look! It’s worth another look. You will be glad you did.” The Four Signs is very different.

I think this book has a duel nature. On one hand it is a handbook for someone who wants to become a highly engaged Catholic, and a guide for those who are highly engaged to really refine their spiritual life with great intentionality. But it is also a call to mission. This book is just me saying to people, “Hey, yes, things are a bit of a mess. But we can do something about it. It may seem overwhelming at first glance, but if we approach it with a plan and remain intentional, we really can renew Catholicism in America.”

DC: You speak about the “four signs” concept, what is that and how is that different to the book?

MK: To me the book is not that important. But the concept really could transform the Catholic Church in America. The book is just a delivery mechanism for the concept. But, think about it for a minute. We want more highly engaged Catholics. We now know the difference between highly engaged Catholics and disengaged Catholics. It turns out it can be boiled down to four things. Now, imagine if we started relating everything we do in a parish to the Four Signs. Imagine if we started encouraging and educating around these Four Signs with great intentionality.

The book really doesn’t matter much. The concept could be a game-changer for any parish that decides to take it seriously and pursue it rigorously.

DC: What surprised you the most about the research?

MK: I was stunned to discover that 6.4% of American Catholics contribute 80% of the volunteer hours in a parish and 6.8% contribute 80% of the finances. I suspected it was low, but not this low. This surprised me. I think it even depressed me for a little while. I got overwhelmed. But that really led me to find a way to solve the problem that would not overwhelm others. And the 1% idea was born from that.

On another level I was not surprised at all. It is not surprising that highly engaged Catholics are committed to prayer, study, generosity, and evangelization. What was absolutely fascinating is how the Four Signs manifest, how these dynamic Catholics developed these disciplines, and in many ways how simple the process is once you know what you are striving toward. So, it was the details and the beautiful stories of how these amazing people live out their faith each day that was truly inspiring to me.

DC: Which sign do you struggle with the most personally?

MK: I would say the First Sign: Prayer. I am a doer. I like getting things done, accomplishing stuff. So it is really hard for me to slow down and be still with the Lord some days. On other days I yearn for it deeply, and on those days I am happy to spend hours in prayer and reflection. But it is that daily consistency of the First Sign that challenges me. It is more than twenty five years since I first started taking prayer seriously, but still most days I have to force myself to do it.

DC: The subtitle you chose for the book is, “How engaging 1% of Catholics could change the world.” Tell us about that.

MK: As I described earlier, the results from the first phase of the research overwhelmed me. It occurred to me then that if I just published the statistics, bishops, priests, and parishioners would also be overwhelmed by the problem. I started at that point looking for a strategy that could be presented with the statistics that would make people think and feel, “I can do that!”

The 1% is that strategy. Yes, we have an enormous engagement problem in the Church. The 7% are essentially doing everything and paying for everything. We want more like the 7%, but we won’t get them by going after the other 93% all at once. We must go after them 1% at a time.

If a parish with 2,000 adults can engage twenty of it parishioners (1%) each year for seven years – that parish will be completely transformed. If we can engage 1% each year as a Church we will change the world.

DC: There is a lot of talk about the “New Evangelization” in the Church today. How does your research reflect the need for change in the Church?

MK: There is a lot of talk about the New Evangelization and we need to start to transform some of that talk into action. One of the things I love about the Dynamic Catholic Parish Book Program is that it is a simple, practical, effective, and powerful way of evangelizing.

The research shows predominantly in this area that more than 90% of highly engaged Catholics have never been taught how to evangelize. We need to come up with simple ways to teach people how they can share the love of God and the genius of Catholicism with others in their circle of influence.

DC: You mentioned the Dynamic Catholic Parish Book Program earlier. Rediscover Catholicism was the first title ever made available through this program. Will this new book be available and when?

MK: Yes. The same time the hardcover edition is released, Dynamic Catholic will release a paperback version both for its free single copy program and the bulk book program for parishes.

DC: What is the connection between The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic and The Dynamic Catholic Institute?

The mission of The Dynamic Catholic Institute is to re-energize the Catholic Church in America by developing world-class resources that inspire people to rediscover the genius of Catholicism. The research behind the book was the first step in building these resources. We wanted to know as much as we could about highly engaged Catholics, so that we could lead other people to that high level of engagement.

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