The Catholic Church has a mass attendance problem–some would say a crisis. Less than a quarter of Catholics in the United States attend Mass on a weekly basis. The question I have is: how do we go about fixing the problem? And further, is what we’re doing now working?
In general, it seems to me, that it is an issue of two groups:
- the people who aren’t there and
- the people who are there.
We can focus on either one or the other in order to fix the problem. In other words, our two goals might be:
- Get more people to come to Mass on Sunday.
- Get more people to talk about Sunday Mass.
If we don’t get #2 right, then it won’t matter how successful we are at #1.
Focus on the People Who Aren’t There
It is easy to get transfixed with the people who aren’t there. Let’s face it, most of us are just plain angry. I’ve had many, many religion teachers and catechists email me with complaint after complaint about how parents aren’t bringing their kids to Mass each weekend. It is a problem I hear from religious educators all across the United States and in other countries as well.
What happens when we focus on the people who aren’t there?
One way parishes are trying to fix the problem is make Sunday mass a requirement. I’ve heard some places even having sign-in sheets for parishioners. Others hold to the envelope system even though they offer a digital donation option. It is a big effort to try to track who’s coming and keep people accountable (whether they want to be there or not).
Campaign after campaign–taking tips from the advertising industry–have tried to appeal to people with commercials and subway adds to come back to Church. Maybe you have seen or even participated in one of these campaigns in your diocese?
The people come back and then they go. Why isn’t it working?
Focus on the People Who Are There
There is a good way and a bad way to focus on the people in the pews to increase Mass attendance.
One way is to try to give them what they want to keep them from leaving. Get a sense for the music they like and the optimum length of time Mass should run. Do everything you can to try to keep them from leaving.
The other way, and the only solution I see working in the long-term, is to create an experience that they can’t keep to themselves.
Make it unique and memorable.
Make it incredibly easy and natural for people to invite their friends to Mass. Give them something worth talking about.
Do people in your parish talk about their Mass experience? Do they talk about their experiences with the liturgy?
Are any of these elements of your Sunday liturgy worth sharing with people who aren’t there:
- communion rite
- Eucharistic meditation
- prayers of the faithful
- Children’s Liturgy of the Word
- a welcoming community
- a community of service
If your parishioners aren’t excited to talk about one or all of these things, then start there. In fact, focus on one thing and make it great. Be the _____ parish (you fill in the blank) that every parishioner can’t help but talk about with their friends.
The more you can get people to talk about their experience on Sunday, the more you will see people show up again.
If it isn’t worth talking about and it isn’t worth sharing, then why try to get the people who aren’t there to come back?