A faith study program that has been around for decades has suddenly received new life.
Discovery, developed by missionary organization Catholic Christian Outreach about 30 years ago, has exploded in the Archdiocese of Vancouver in the last year.
“It’s been really successful,” said Amber Zolc, a coordinator for the archdiocese’s Ministries and Outreach office.
Since the summer of 2017, more than 500 local people have studied the program booklets, run 100 faith study groups, and trained new leaders.
Zolc, who “launched” the program with a promotional campaign last fall, was surprised. She had hoped to reach six parishes, but soon found 14 were getting involved.
“The small group faith study provides fellowship and a place where it’s safe, comfortable, and normal to engage in dialogue about spirituality and our relationships with Jesus,” she said. “There are not a lot of places in our church today where that happens naturally.”
The program spread faster than Zolc predicted. Catholics who joined a faith study at one of the six pilot parishes were bringing the ideas home and starting new groups in their own churches and communities.
“In some ways, it can seem a bit old school in that it’s not video-based,” but, she said, that may actually be contributing to the spike in interest.
Another factor Zolc credits for the sudden take-off is the simplicity of the program.
“I think pastors are looking for programs that will help form their people as disciples of Jesus, and this is one program that is relatively easy to get started and to run.”
Discovery leader Mee Ching Chan agrees.
“If somebody walks into a Protestant church, you can bet that there will be someone who is ready to share the good news with her. Whereas in the Catholic Church, we say, ‘come back in September for RCIA,’ or, ‘come to a Life in a Spirit Seminar, but we don’t know when or where the next one going to be,’” she said.
Instead, Catholic churches “can offer Discovery Faith Studies, anytime anywhere” for people wondering about faith.
Chan said the program has a “ripple effect.” By the end of Discovery’s five stages, Catholics are equipped to start their own faith studies anywhere.
That’s a big deal for Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, who singled out Discovery in 2016 as one of two programs he hoped would take off in the Archdiocese of Vancouver and help Catholics “Get Closer to Jesus.” (The other was Alpha, a Christian video-based series.)
It seems it has. In July, 100 people turned up at St. Matthew’s Parish, nearly one year since the program was locally re-discovered, to rejoice in its success.
“It was really celebratory and a great evening,” said Zolc. But the numbers, she said, “pale in comparison to the stories of people whose faith has come alive because of Discovery.”
One of those people was Sam Teo, who shared his testimony with the crowd at St. Matthew’s.
Teo, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Delta, had been asked to pray for a couple going through a difficult time in their marriage. He was at Mass one Sunday when he found himself praying for them and had a sudden feeling that he should take the husband out for a drink and offer his friendship.
Teo resisted the idea, knowing the man was a quiet, reserved man, but “deep inside me, I was more lazy, afraid, and feeling like I wouldn’t get much out of it.”
As he tried to rationalize his decision to drop the idea, he felt as if Jesus himself was speaking to him: “What are you talking about? Don’t you know all about the great commission?”
Teo had just taken the faith study series, and works in sales and marketing. “The term ‘commission’ really hit home,” he said. “I recall physically feeling jolted in my pew. Eyes opened wide.”
He ended up taking the husband out to a restaurant, prayed with him before their conversation was over, and found himself more open to future opportunities to rely on the Holy Spirit.
“I became bolder at sharing the good news with others and finding opportunities to create conversations,” he said. If more Catholics participate in the series, “we won’t have issues with volunteers and attendance for parish events.”
The Discovery study has five stages. The most common, Discovery, is about sin and Jesus’ death and resurrection. The second, Source, discusses the Holy Spirit. The next three stages – Growth, Obedience, and Commission – are about holiness, trust, and becoming disciples.
A campaign to promote the program to Lower Mainland parishes, called Discover Discipleship, was launched in the summer of 2017.