One of the biggest frustrations that catechists and Catholic school teachers have is the lack of Mass attendance of those they teach (and their families). Recently, I shared a story of a parish that made some significant, albeit short-lived, gains in Mass attendance—64% to be precise. That post has generated a lot of attention. First, thanks to the many folks who engaged in conversation at the end of that post. (Please take the time to read their thoughts.) While some dismissed it as solely bribery and gimmickry, others complimented the pastor for trying new things; striving to be creative about such a crucial issue; and being more welcoming, inviting, and hospitable while focusing on building a sense of community. I spoke with the pastor, Fr. Larry Sullivan, who was grateful for the positive comments and felt no reason to respond to the negative ones, saying that he “would rather do something than nothing,” and that “even Jesus used miracles to draw attention!”
The conversation picked up momentum when Rita Ferrone posted about it over at the Pray Tell blog, where she facilitated a robust discussion that followed her post. Finally, the discussion also got attention from Deacon Greg Kandra over at his blog on Aleteia.
The bottom line, when it comes to Mass attendance, is sustainability. It’s one thing to “entice” people to come to Mass through a variety of “lures” such as a pizza party (which I have nothing against). In the long run, however, the key will be whether or not that parish community and its manner of celebrating the Eucharist is sustaining them spiritually.
So, what does work? In my book, A Church on the Move: 52 Ways to Get Mission and Mercy in Motion, I offered a number of suggestions for things parishes need to do in order to be renewed and revived. Here are some suggestions in brief that I believe can achieve that and contribute to increased Mass attendance. To learn more, be sure to get the book!
Ways to Get Mission and Mercy in Motion—And Increase Mass Attendance as a Result
- Focus on brokenness. Invite people to come to Mass to experience healing.
- Create an atmosphere of urgency. Don’t just publish a Mass schedule; give reasons for attending!
- Create discipleship pledge cards. When people are at Mass, don’t just ask them to pledge money; ask them to pledge time and talent as well.
- Foster a robust Catholic identity. Don’t strive to imitate non-denominational megachurches; instead do Catholicism exceptionally well.
- Articulate expectations of parishioners. When people register, articulate the importance of Sunday worship as an expectation.
- Make all parish venues more welcoming. From greeters to better signage, to a more inviting cry room to social hour after Mass, strive to create a welcoming culture.
- Develop a flourishing online/social media presence. Send e-mails and tweets inviting people to Mass.
- Enlist young adults in leadership positions. Especially in liturgical ministry, young people must see other young people deeply involved.
- Engage all the senses in worship experiences. Strive for more robust music and singing, silence, movement and gesture, and reverence.
- “Warm up” the congregation before Mass. As people enter, they should get a sense that something robust and exciting is about to happen.
- Form a homily committee. Better homilies are a must.
- Mobilize the “troops” after Communion. Call forth, commission, and send forth volunteers regularly at Mass after Communion to highlight the parish in action.
- Make adult faith formation a bona fide priority. Evangelization often happens outside of the Mass and then is sustained by the Mass.
- Empower parents to be their children’s primary educators. Empower parents to teach their children in faith formation and to walk the talk by going as a family to Mass.
- Form small faith-sharing groups. Even megachurches are sustained by small faith communities.
- Shift parish focus to serving the needs of the poor above all else. Liturgy that is tied to social justice is compelling.
- Begin a door-to-door ministry. Plan and implement “wellness visits” for existing parishioners as well as opportunities to meet and invite new neighbors.
As always, I invite you to have the last word! What other suggestions do you have for increasing Mass attendance?