How to make altar boy program grow by 500%

Is anyone else having problems accessing this? It worked for me early this morning but since then I get a blank screen whenever I try to access the site. This on different computers in different parts of town with different service providers.

Doesn't work for me either

For people having problems accessing Fr. Z's blog I have quoted the article below. The comments in the brackets ( ...] ) are from Fr. Z.

Boy altar server involvement in Mass increases 500% by making rules more demanding [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

By returning to more demanding altar server practices, two men were able to increase participation at their parish from 10 to 60.

"Altar serving at Holy Family allows boys to be more fully integrated into the Mass and gives them a chance to experience Christ’s sacrifice up close. Holy Family provides an environment that makes them feel welcome and necessary and is an excellent experience". Carson Lind, 19 year old, 7 year veteran

The need it meets

Bob and Mark, members of Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wanted to see more boys actively involved in the Mass. They felt that being an altar server could help boys participate more fully and possibly discern a priestly vocation. Bob and Mark approached their pastor, Father Dufner, [A friend of mine for many years.] and shared with him their vision.

Where it came from

Both men had served in all-boy altar server groups as boys and remembered the experience with fondness. They wanted to share this experience with the boys in their parish.

How it works [Pay attention…]

First, the men proposed making the program only for boys. [That means that they came to the pastor with a plan.] They believed this would increase the boys’ desire to participate in the program. Father Dufner agreed. Next, the men worked on creating a more reverent atmosphere by using cassocks and surpluses and by buying uniform footwear *. Finally, the men trained the boys in the traditional roles of altar servers, but instituting cool nicknames and a system of ranks, which made them more accessible and attractive to the young boys. With these stricter guidelines, the program has seen great growth. [Of course.]

The results

In the last seven years, it has grown from 10 participants to 60. There is a wide range of ages involved, giving older boys the chance to mentor younger ones.

Key elements

The men believe that several key elements have helped the program grow. The boys at the parish have responded well to the all-boy atmosphere, especially the extra time it has allowed them to spend with Father Dufner, both during training and outside of Mass at numerous program activities such as bowling and fishing. The boys have also been motivated by the hierarchy of ranks, along with the program’s high standards of order and discipline. [Repeat after me: "This isn’t hard. This isn’t hard."]

How to implement it

A good way to implement this program is to find male adult leaders who have a desire to see greater participation by boys in the Mass and encourage them to begin an altar boy program. Help these leaders to create a fun, competitive environment by instituting a system of ranks with nicknames, enforcing a strict dress code, and organizing complementary sports activities just for the altar servers. This will help motivate the boys to serve God and their church.*

[quote="mwscott, post:4, topic:182637"]
For people having problems accessing Fr. Z's blog I have quoted the article below. The comments in the brackets ( ...] ) are from Fr. Z.


So, did they have girl altar servers before this program, and if so, what did they say to them? NOT "adios, thanks for filling in but we don't need you anymore", I hope

I don't know if anyone caught the broadcast of yesterday's Papal Mass, but, this time, the altar servers were boys and not seminarians. The kids handled themselves rather well.

I would love to see what Fr. Z reported being implemented in my parish.

We need more priest so we train them first as alter boys.

We need more mothers and religious so we train them looking after younger brothers and sisters at mass.

Some day we will again send three priests and ten women religious into a parish and see the revolution.

They will come from alter boys and big catholic families.

Brother John

It sounds wierd. does a priest really have time to take them out for fishing and bowling and ice cream? the priest is not a boy scout leader. sounds like this is from the 70's.

we have no problem encouraging boys to become altar servers. We have a huge problem convincing parents that this entails commitment on their part to get them to training and (duh) to Mass.

[quote="FrCorey, post:8, topic:182637"]
It sounds wierd. does a priest really have time to take them out for fishing and bowling and ice cream? the priest is not a boy scout leader. sounds like this is from the 70's.


well I can't access the website either but these types of activity have been severely constrained by child safety guidelines adopted in dioceses. The list of what we are not allowed to do is much longer than the list of what is allowed.

[quote="FrCorey, post:8, topic:182637"]
It sounds wierd. does a priest really have time to take them out for fishing and bowling and ice cream? the priest is not a boy scout leader. sounds like this is from the 70's.


It isn't just Father taking them out, as it might have been in the old days. With that many kids, he's going to need help on the chaperone end, anyway. In fact, there is no need for him to be the scout leader at this function. He can simply be the main guest in an event where the parish shows appreciation and gives a chance for socializing to those who serve at the altar. The parish provides chaperones who are cleared with "Called to Protect" background checks and training. Parents are welcome to attend, as well.

It is more the idea that a) the servers get the message that their group outings (and, therefore, they) are important to Father, or he wouldn't be there and b) gee, priests are human beings, and pretty bright and fun ones, at that. In other words, the priesthood is a not a vocation for men made of white plaster, and not one that sucks the joy out of a guy with everything going for him, either.

[quote="puzzleannie, post:9, topic:182637"]
we have no problem encouraging boys to become altar servers. We have a huge problem convincing parents that this entails commitment on their part to get them to training and (duh) to Mass.


Yes, we run into that, too. We've also had a few issues with servers and parents having unpleasant interchanges when a server doesn't show up and someone approaches another server to see if he would fill in at the last minute. The server says "I'd rather not", the parent says, "oh, yes, you would rather", and before you know it you have a parent-child confrontation in church!

So the person running the program has a point system where servers are given points for serving, lose points for not finding a replacement when they won't be there, and get double points for filling in for no-shows or agreeing to serve on Holy Days. The fill-ins have to stop by and ask if they are needed; no more putting the servers on the spot in front of their parents. Then at the end of the year, there is an appreciation event (like pizza and bowling) for all the servers, and the servers who have been particularly faithful are recognized.

The people running the program have also started enforcing the dress code, and don't allow those who do not show up on time and properly dressed to serve. It has made a big difference. Also, trading days can only be done parent-to-parent, not server-to-server. It is the parents who have the responsibility of keeping the family calendars, not the kids.

We don't have a program just for boys, though, and I don't foresee that happening. The chancellor of our archdiocese, the director of the office of worship, and many others with important leadership positions in our archdiocese are women. Father thinks that boys with any future as parish priests need to get used to the idea that the ability to work with women and accepting that women have some places of authority in the Church is essential. Young men who can't cope with the idea that the Church is no longer a boys club are not going to make it through the seminary for our archdiocese, anyway.

Even with that, having Father involved in server events and making serving into something that is done with attention to detail and within real standards makes a big difference. Just recognizing that altar serving is important, that it takes real skill and dedication, that the parish cares very much that it is done well and faithfully, and that it is not something that anybody that can fog a mirror is going to be allowed to do attracts those who want to do it well.

I’d like to throw in my two pennies here.

As you can tell from my signature, I’m a newbie Catholic. However, I grew up in a very, very Catholic neighborhood on the east coast in the 60’s. All of my cousins and friends were Catholic.

Back at that time, in cities the parish physical boundaries were for the most part kept. Everyone could walk to church and kids had the responsibility to get to church youth activities by themselves. Back then many mothers didn’t have cars, so there was no driving kids to activities. Kids walked to and from school, library, church, scouts, and catechism classes. Kids were also responsible for getting to and from these activities on time, and to keep their committments.

These days, churches have parishioners who live two towns over and most people can’t walk to church. Mothers drive around a whole lot and now take on the responsibility for getting their children to and from all their extra-curricular activities. Parents can be understandably reluctant to take on one more “have to” and to squeeze in driving to church for altar server classes and to and from the other activities mentioned like bowling or ice cream - not to even mention chauffeuring a kid to an additional weekday Mass other than Sunday at 11:00 a.m. I see this in my own parish, which is a city parish. I can only imagine it’s worse in a rural or suburban parish. We have adult servers at our 8:30 a.m. Sunday Masses because parents aren’t interested in driving kids to that particular Mass time and they live too far away for the kids to walk.

Unless children can get to Masses, altar server classes, and associated activities by themselves and under their own responsilbility, it will continue to be difficult to attract and retain more than the minimum number of altar servers.

also a lot of priests like to golf. can you see altar boys as caddies?

I wish we would do this at my parish but I am positive Father would NOT go for it. He seems very nonchalant about servers. He takes what he gets and how he gets them. Some of the servers are extremely distracting but they're behind Father so he doesn't seem to know. It seems the worse are the ones who are always serving. I've spoken briefly to Father about trying to increase recruitment but he wasn't interested. :(

EasterJoy makes a lot of good points, especially about not restricting such a program to a boys' club only. I think a system like Fr. Z's would be great for boys AND girls. Girls like recognition, ranks, and responsibilities too. They also like bowling and waterparks and ice cream and pizza parties. And it's just as important for girls who serve to get to know their priest as a normal guy who can relax, be fun and social, and wants to get to know them by more than family name and mass time. I grew up serving mass for 9 years, and I think it was close to 6 or 7 years before the pastor called me anything other than "hi, toots" and could shake my hand rather than pull my pigtails!

The only thing that could be worrisome is exactly how far the system of ranks goes. I know from my experience with football that my own coach had to put a lot of work in to tear down an often poisonous system of "seniority" in which people who had been around longer bullied the ones who hadn't.

If the rank system is like earning Boy Scout badges, then its cool and fun. If it actually involves some boys gaining authority over others, then it could lead to some trouble. Incentives and progressions are a great idea, but if it isn't done right, things won't have a very happy ending.

I don't want to sound like I'm disapproving of the idea, though. I think its great, and I think it really holds the key to making parishes grow again. Attention-grabbing tricks are badly overrated; the real important thing is that the parish create a community and serve as the center of that community's life, and that's why this idea will be successful as long as it doesn't hit the rocks because of bullying or hazing.

Although the ones who have served longer have a different color rope for the cross they wear, there isn’t really a rank system in our parish. There are novices, experienced servers, and lead servers. The lead servers are chosen from the more responsible ones: “You must be present to win.” Other than that, it is more a matter that someone is there to notice and thank you when you do a good job. The servers with the most points are recognized, but also the faithful ones who never missed an assignment without recruiting a replacement.

The trainer also occasionally comes to watch, and talks to the servers after Mass, giving feedback about how things went. I’d say there are about five or six positive comments, maybe more, for every one about what needs work. Again, it is a matter of adults noticing effort and where there is attention to detail in place and the willingness to make a sacrifice to serve, and not just making corrections. The servers are told, point-blank and often, that their reverence and the care with which they serve helps set the tone for the whole Mass, that they are a reminder to adults and kids alike about the holiness of what is being done. They are reminded that when they serve well, it makes a huge difference for the parish. If they dress appropriately, people notice how important appropriate dress is. Their example is very important, and the trainer tells them so. The bowling is to show the parish’s appreciation. The kids like the pizza, but it is not the reason the kids serve as well as they do. The kids serve because serving is important in and of itself, and because when they do it well, someone notices.

And yes, when a server makes missing into a habit, it is the parents who get the phone call, not the server. It is assumed that the parent is the one with the car keys.

Father thanks the servers after Mass, too, and he’s one of these priests who really takes the trouble to learn names. I think that is a great motivator, too. The servers don’t feel like they’re just bodies needed to fill the albs.

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