How small does the church become before it disappears?


In a German radio broadcast in 1969 Fr Joseph Ratzinger said among other things , " She (the Church) will become small."

I must stress that in the title of the thread “How small does the church become before it disappears ?” I am not asking about the Universal Church , but about my local church , the part of the Universal Church I am most acquainted with .

Going back to my younger days , within the town were four parishes served by eleven priests .

Now the town has two parishes served by two priests .

So we have gone from 4 parishes and 11 priests to 2 parishes and 2 priests .

I have been thinking that if in the future the church here declines at the rate it has in my lifetime there will soon be no church here .

Any thoughts ?

Anyone whose local church is having similar problems ?


I don’t think anyone’s meant to know. Part of the beauty of the faith!


When I was Protestant the general rule was when the congregation can no longer support the Church it gets closed.

I would wager the same is true for Catholicism.

I wouldn’t worry about your parishes though. Instead I would faithfully attend and contribute and if eventually it is abandoned, you did your part and partook while you could.


When we get back the faithful,orthodox,beautiful,priests like an Archbishop Fulton Sheen, we will grow.


The parishes in my areas are still pretty big. We may soon lose one of the five churches within a couple miles of my house where I grew up, but two of the other four are doing very well (one has a school, the other 3 consolidated to one school), the other two are hanging in there, and there are also four Catholic high schools, two for girls and two for boys, in the area.


It is going to be awhile in my area for the pinch to come, if it does come. In my Midwestern urban area, heavily Catholic for over a century, there are 6 Catholic churches, all with multiple daily/Sunday masses, within a mile of my house. And many more throughout the city. But there have been some closings and consolidations of parishes, not necessarily a bad thing as so many churches in such a small area was really unsustainable from the get-go. Many were built by immigrant communities (the German, the Irish, the French, the Italians) who didn’t want anything to do with other ethnic groups.

The sad thing for me is that in rural areas of the state some magnificent old churches, many built by German immigrant communities, are too cost-heavy to be maintained.


Zero members in the Communion of Saints. Which for us, the Catholic Church, will never happen


This is a trend in several places. A simultaneous decrease of faithful and of vocations. We have to do our part and pray for vocations and conversions. Ultimately I think a few sustain the faith in this age.


Basically, anywhere in the Northeast and the Rustbelt portions of the Midwest. Many dioceses have drastically reduced the number of parishes by half or more. Pittsburgh is undergoing a huge cut right now. And the process will continue, as the baby boomers die off.

The Latin Church will have difficulties, but survive for at least a couple more generations. A more dire situation faces the Eastern Catholic Churches, which were small and niche to begin with, being as they depended upon ethnic communities to subsist, and those communities are dispersing or disappearing.


This isn’t strictly true. I grew up in the Rust Belt. The suburban churches in areas that still draw families or professionals to live there are doing fine. Some of them are even fairly new. Where you’re seeing the closings are primarily areas where everything is closing and/or decaying, and where too many churches were built in the first place.


In my historically Catholic suburb, there are 12 parishes, used to be 14. Most parishes are heavily seniors, in terms of who is at church. Only one still has a school, 2 have a volunteer youth ministry. Nothing specifically for young adults.
People will fight tooth and nail to keep open 12 half empty parishes rather than putting money into youth ministry or young adult programs.


There are reasons for that. First of all, when parishes close and merge, a significant proportion of parishioners stop attending altogether. I don’t think there are many mergers where the final number of parishioners equals the combined number in the parishes to be merged, especially when ethnic politics and resentment plays a role.

Second, I’m not at all convinced that teen and young adult ministries are all that cost effective. A lot of them I have seen are shallow and condescending, and more a bandaid measure. A good youth program is not easy to implement, and a significant amount of capital outlay, as well as time, personnel and expertise are required.

The math comes out to closing or merging existing parishes and losing a significant number of already active parishioners while investing in you ministries which often have a low return on investment in terms of youth retention, especially in areas where there are few youth left. I think a lot of parishes and dioceses have thought this out, and I wouldn’t be so cynical of the decisions they have come to.


From what I have seen, it appears that Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was most likely talking about Europe. And given what has happened since he spoke (and if I recall correctly, he spoke more than one over the decades), he was spot on. Many countries in Europe have Mass attendance on a regular basis of 5% or less, and none of them are stellar. A report in 2014 from Poland noted that 39% responded that they attended Mass; the article did not sort out every week from several weeks a month to less.

The averages for the US apear to be around 22 to 23%, and likely are going to fall off from there as CARA noted several years ago that the highest weekly Mass attendance was in the over 50 crowd, at something over 50%; the 18 - 29 age groups was about 18%.

Further clouding the question is that there has been a move over time from city churches to suburbs, with parishes closing in the cities, and parishes being started in the suburbs as the need grew. So one can easily see parishes closing in cities and presume that it is occurring all over. That is not necessarily correct.

It is entirely possible that it will not get better, at least for the foreseeable future. The multitude of “isms”, driven in large part by secularism has devastated Europe, and we appear to be on the same path, lagging somewhat behind.


I’ve been living in the Northeast for 6 years now coming from Texas. There’s a church here that shut it’s doors a few years ago and about a year ago, the masonic lodge, which is about a mile
away, allows that church to celebrate mass at 10am on sunday. I’ve not been to the mass but find the arrangement akin to the term “strange bedfellows”


My gut feeling is that when churches appear struggling it can put people off because we are a tribal species and are instinctively attracted to something thriving and dynamic. It’s obvious when a church is struggling, for example the average age is going up a year every year and the parish newsletter is just a list of who is sick or recently deceased.

That said the Holy Spirit can do anything and people can be led and moved against their instincts.


I think the Church could be as small as one bishop and no one else couldn’t it? Failing conversions or the bishop marrying (as I imagine he could self-authorise) a non-Catholic and having and baptising children, his demise would mark the end of the Church on earth. I guess Catholics would say that the saints in heaven and the holy souls in purgatory together with Jesus would continue to be the Church.


I don’t think telling people to let go of a parish that they have a lot of personal ties to and put money into some program that they might not even have kids to attend is a good way to get people interested in what you’re doing. I agree with Andrew that a lot of “youth ministry” programs aren’t that great and also, any program that starts by demanding a big wad of money is immediately suspect.

If there are a lot of youth in a particular parish then it’s pretty easy to have some fundraisers because the youth that you’re helping are visible, you can see that they’re engaged with the program, and often can offer something people need or want anyway (like one church had the kids selling Cat’s Meow figures of the church, other places do car washes or food sales events where they partner with a pizza shop or something). If there aren’t a lot of youth in a particular parish then it’s not on the radar for those parishioners, and maybe the parish should be doing something that serves the needs of the elderly or whoever is going there.


@LittleFlower378 , we already have faithful , orthodox , beautiful priests , and many of them are having to work their socks off in the changed circumstances , and that includes my own parish priest .


That arrangement with the Masonic Lodge says a lot about the relations between the Church and the Masons in USA. It’s never been an anti-religious group here, just another community organization.


Yes , @Dan_Defender , as committed Catholics and committed Catholic families decrease , the vocations to the priesthood decrease .

Vocations usually come from good Catholic familes . As these families become fewer in number vocations to the priesthood become fewer .

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