Parish Problem - What's the Answer?

:confused: I can truly say I have no idea what the solution here might be…

Our parish used to be really thriving until about 20 years ago, when numbers began to fall. However, over the past 5 - 10 years, Mass attendance has really dropped off to the extent that there are possibly about 1/3 of the numbers there used to be and sometimes a lot less than that.

On the other hand, the primary school (that’s aged 4 to 11) is over-subscribed every year, because a Catholic school, in a rural area, with small classes is still seen as being a good (and free) education.

The sad thing is, so many parents want to take advantage of the education, but never go near Mass themselves; nor do their children. If every parent came to one of the services, that would be around 120 additional adult parishoners, plus their children. These parents still want the Church to be there for baptisms, weddings and funerals, but leave it to a handful of increasingly aged volunteers to take on responsibilities like cleaning, flowers, choir and tresurer.

Should the school be actively and openly telling pupils they should be attending Mass every Sunday? To me, the answer should be ‘yes’. I was at the same school in the 70s/ 80s and the basics of Catholicism were really a part of everything we did. At my secondary school, the current ethos was ‘don’t come over as judgemental - you might alientate someone / upset someone’ so I actually ended up learning nothing about a lot of the more ‘adult’ topics.

We are definitely in danger of losing our church and although on one hand I applaud people for wanting to feel part of the Catholic Community enough to make the effort to arrange baptism / church weddings etc; I do find myself feeling resentful that it is left to a handful of people to keep the parish going and they just swan in when they want a ‘family do’ and to keep up appearances! This, of course, is wrong of me - and if they didn’t appear for key events in their lives and make appropriate donations - we’d have even less funds to keep going.

It’s almost like we few are subsidising their spritual lives and they are subsidising the physical infrastructure of the church buildings etc.

The big question is, how can we change this situation?

you can’t
it has to come from the top down, from the pastor.
the school has to take the risk of requiring families to be participating in the sacramental life of the Church
bear in mind however, enforcing that decision will almost certainly result in decreased enrollment and possibly forcing the school to close

If the pastor does not tell the parents he will delay (not deny, delay) sacraments for their children until they give evidence of intending to raise the children Catholic–including the all important foundation of Catholic life, regular Mass attendance–then nothing will change. there is no guarantee however that things will change even if he forces the issue. Parents and kids alike will simply disappear after first communion as they do in many other parishes. What I will say that is the majority of parents who are married in the church do bring their children to Mass, remain active in parish life and bring their children to religious education all throughout the school years. At least in the parishes where I have worked, it is the parents who are not married in accordance with church law who are least likely to attend Mass, bring their children to Mass, regard sacraments as anything more than cultural milestones, or to continue their formal religious education.

It may by your pastor already knows this and like those everywhere puzzles as to how to change things.

As far as the mandatory Mass attendance goes, our parish school madates that for people who want the parishoner discount and it’s a grade-A disaster here. The parish to a man seems to have gotten the impression that the high attendance calls for a new and bigger building, so we do no charity work (“we can’t afford it”) and offer no fellowship or catechesis (“we don’t have the room”). We are spending money we can’t afford on land we bought to build a new church on that we also can’t afford-- bought the land four years ago and it still just sits there. Meanwhile, the people coerced to attend openly disparage the sacraments and don’t give because they gave at the office- they feel their tuition payments count as charity, or they don’t care, or what.

It’s a great shame that alll the work is pawned off on you and a few other people- I have always found any work I do at church to really bring joy to my life. Sometimes people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes either-- they may see the same lady caring for the altar flowers and think that’s her province. Does your parish send out a Time and Talent survey? That could let the willing but shy know they were needed.

Aside from that, all I have are prayers. You are in mine. :signofcross:

Let me get this straight…your Catholic school operates in conjuntion with the parish and is FREE? Ours has a tuition that works as follows: One Price for church steward families: to be considered this you must attend Mass weekly, and be on a church commitee (any commitee or volunteer group)and you must contribute financially towards the yearly stewardship donation (there is a suggested amount but can be waived or seriously lowered for financially struggling families)

then there is the non steward fee: it is $2,500 higher per year per student
No Exceptions. In other words, volunter for something, anything and go to weekly Mass.:thumbsup:

:slight_smile: thanks for the kind thoughts and replies.

There is an element of the ‘old timers’ being so set in the way they do things, that it can take a lot of courage to even volunteer, so yes, that is also an issue.

I’m one of the youngest adult parishoners (I’m 39) and I am considering volunteering to go onto the cleaning rota. Truthfully, what is putting me off a bit is that the ladies on it already are all married and have lived in the parish all their lives. I, on the other hand, have lived away for many years, enjoyed a successful career but am not married, nor do I have children.

I know this has some parallels with other recent threads - but in the company of these ladies, I often feel very judged and inferior and just plain ‘different’ for being independent and single. This is actually rather hurtful because a big reason for my being single is that I really do try to follow the Church’s teaching and this has meant giving up the chance for a relationship with the man who is the love of my life. I’m not being melodramatic - it’s been the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. He feels the same, but we have agreed to respect one another’s beliefs and not ‘use’ eachother.

I am going to stick my hand up and volunteer anyway - what’s the worst that can happen?!!!

Rose, I really liked your response about “putting your hand up anyway.”

Maybe you are the light that needs to shine, for these older members of a certain committee, for the parents of the school students. St. Catherine of Siena is attributed to have said something to the effect of, “Be as you should be, and you will set the whole world on fire.”

A friend of mine is really good at being this “change she wants to see in the world.” Does she see what hasn’t changed, what needs changing? Of course. But she tries very hard not to let it deter her from the goal: of helping to create the church/school she envisions for her family.

Good luck- maybe post back and let us know how it’s going? I’m cheering for you (and would raise my hand with you!):thumbsup:

From a couple of your expressions I take it you are somewhere in the UK or perhaps OZ…Unfortunately religion is on the decline in most Western countries. You’re actually fortunate that your church isn’t standing empty and abandoned…at least the parishioners still do “swan in” and get the sacraments.

I can tell you that NO Catholic school over here that I am aware of is free. Most Catholic schools don’t have nuns teaching any more so they have to hire secular teachers, which costs money. The Jesuit high school my sons have attended does offer scholarships, but otherwise the tuition is $15K a year.:eek:

But not sure the tuition is your main issue…You really want to draw people to the church for more than just sacraments and celebrations…You need a thriving ministry program. You need people who are interesting and interested. The church needs to do outreach into the community and draw the parishioners back in…How’s your pastor? Youngish? Dynamic? Or old-fogey and keeps to himself? What happened 20 years ago when the numbers dropped initially? Did the demographics of the area change over time?

Are there other Catholic churches nearby that are growing and have good attendance? You could ask them how they draw people in. People are looking for more than just the Mass these days. It helps to be able to offer them something unique and attractive.

While the pastor is absolutely responsible for his flock, one thing that helped my parish tremendously was introducing the Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) program. This is a parishioner led effort that helps people in their personal spiritual growth, relationship building in the parish, and fosters greater service to others. The beauty is that eral parishioners give their “witness talks” on various topics. These are talks on things like Christian Community, New Life in Christ, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Discipleship and others. The “witness” is the person’s personal account of how and when God moved in their life. This helps to bring people together because no one is preaching at the attendees, but rather, people are sharing from the heart and that encourages more sharing from others. During the retreat weekend, there is time to reflect on the Sacraments and how God is truly present to His people. We have a few people who are trained Spiritual Directors available to help when individuals have questions and Father is there for Confessions and Mass. It is a really wonderful way to help people grow and set them on fire for wanting to know more and do more. . . .

Then, with that stage set and people on fire for more, you can educate them about Faith and help to foster even greater spiritual growth. From my experience (now on CRHP team #10) over the last few years, this program has dramatically increased Mass attendance because people really understand Jesus is present in the Eucharist AND because they can walk in and feel comfortable knowing who they are worshiping with.

It worked so well for us because we realized that the pastor was not going to be able to effect change nearly as well as we could with his support. We also realized that people don’t come to Mass because they “don’t get anything out of it” – CRHP helps people to see that it is about what we put into it. It really helps to change peoples’ perspectives. Perhaps you could approach your parish counsel with this program and see what they think?

That sounds a good idea!

Going back to the school, it’s in England, where state schools can also be church schools - so education is free, with no selection procedure except that children must live within a certain distance and be baptised Catholics (hence the demand for baptisms!)

As I said, it is hard because I sometimes feel slightly ostracised / viewed with suspicion by some of the ‘church elders’ because they don’t really understand the nature of my job (nothing dodgy, I hasten to add!) and notwithstanding other threads here, it is a sad fact that there are people who regard unmarried women as a threat or a danger to their own marriage; or maybe we are a reminder of what ‘might have been’ if they hadn’t married so young and enjoyed a career. Neither path is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and I never envisaged myself NOT settling down by about 25 or 26 and having lots of children. Sadly, I had a couple of really bad experiences that knocked my confidence so much I threw myself into my work…and made sure I kept busy by doing a lot of volunteering and other activities to keep me sane and cheerful!

Anyway - back to the thread (I’ve hijakced my own post:rolleyes:) I do feel very strongly that the school does have a duty to educate its pupils as Catholics - not just the rather wooly ‘everyone matters - we are all marvelous’ ethos that it seems to be pushing. I’m not suggesting they go back to the old days when we all lived in constant fear of the fires of Hell and heard tales of poor souls waiting around in Purgatory on a daily basis! However, what I’ve seen when I’ve been there on account of my nephew, you wouldn’t know it was a Catholic school at all. Everyone seems so afraid of offending anyone that there is no real moral message at all - apart from ‘everyone is important - especially you!’

We used to have a very charismatic and dynamic priest, who had huge Mass attendance figures and was very, very popular. However, as he got older and saw the way society was going, he stopped preaching about doctrine and took a very liberal view on just about everything. An example is advising a mother whose son’s girlfriend was expecting a baby that they should marry in a civil ceremony to see how it went - because that way it would be easier to annul if it didn’t work out! I can sort of see the logic in that - but in that case, why marry at all?!

A few years ago, we got a new priest who is very devout, very quiet and calm, but not afraid of saying what he thinks! Almost all of what you might term ‘Cafeteria Catholics’ left within a few months, because the service times had to be changed (he’s running 2 parishes) and the services got longer, because the old priest used to skip bits!

I think the shock of being told that the Church does have rules and Mass isn’t just a social gathering has been too much for a few people :eek: To be honest, it was a bit of a wake up call for me too! However, I really like hsi sermons, because they do make you think and they are pitched at a good level (he quotes texts, so if you want, you can read up a bit more) and encourages people to make use of the Catholic media. I honestly think a few more people would come along if they knew the services were a bit more intellectually challenging than they used to be.

The silly thing is that most of the parents at the school are educated, profesional people, because house prices in the area are so stupidly high. Some do go to other churches, because the times are ‘more convenient’ or they feel they get more out of it.

To me (because despite everyone’s image of me as a hard-nosed career woman, I’m a bit of a softy) I think we have a lovely church and we are lucky to have a priest at all. The priest - although he has taken Holy Orders, is just a human being like the rest of us - but he’s given up so much to serve us and help us that we ought to support his efforts and listen to what he has to say. I find the idea that someone can give up everything to help me very humbling.

What caused the drop off?

I think you are largely right.

We have to give the parents some credit here. If their marriage is not recognized by the Church, either because they are divorced and re-married without any annulments, or if they were married outside of the Church (on the beach, e.g.), or if they aren’t even married at all, but just living together, they know that they aren’t supposed to be receiving Holy Communion without confessing.

Since they have no intention of changing their ways, they don’t want to be hypocrites and go to confession.

And they don’t want to confuse their children by not going forward to receive Holy Communion.

But they don’t want to receive Holy Communion while in a state of sin, as this would compound their sins.

So they stay home, mainly out of a desire to not confuse their cihldren.

Like I said, their heart is in the right place, kind of, since they want their children to think that their parents are good.

The only way, IMO, that this kind of thing can be dealt with is lots of prayer and fasting by Catholics who are in a right relationship with Jesus and the Church. It’s the Holy Spirit who has to move in the hearts of all these parents and get them to a place where they will be ready to confess and leave their sins behind.

However, the Holy Spirit may have some very hard hearts to work with here.

Is there any possibility that the parish can start mailing out (email or snail mail) some kind of really good, contemporary newsletter that contains good articles about Catholic marriages, family life, child-rearing, etc., to all the parishioners? This would perhaps be a tangible way to keep the parents mindful of God’s Word, and perhaps in a gentle way, this newsletter would help them to get to a point where they want to repent, confess, and start becoming a Catholic family again.

Does Catholic Answers publish such a newsletter, something that contains really good articles by good apologists, priests, counselors, doctors, and family life specialists? I’m not talking about a huge volume; ideally, the newsletter would be a few pages long, and contain two or three short but pithy articles, along with a prayer and a Bible passage to meditate on for the week.

If something like this doesn’t exist, it should for the purpose that I described above–to give the Holy Spirit and His human workers a tool that could be used to soften the hearts and draw in Catholics who have drifted away from the Church.

Is the preaching good, meaningful, personal, full of zeal?
Do people who go to this church get invited to share - in the parish and on Sundays - their talents and gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit?
Is there a real sense of fellowship/family?

Christianity is not supposed to be a law religion. You can’t demand people to go to Church. People will come to church if they see in other people something that they really want, if they see the power of the Holy Spirit and fantastic fellowship, and if they experience that their own time is meaningfully spent in church.
Its no use telling people: “You are not supposed to feel anything… maybe you are in the dark night of the soul… what is human comforts compared to the Eucharist… just believe in the hidden mysteries…”.
We have a wrong kind of properness to our gatherings… Jesus was not like that. He cured the sick on the sabbath in the Temple, he yelled, he gave people to eat… he cared for their humanity.

Another poster is right… the changes has to come from the top. very many parishes suffer across the planet, numbers dwindling, because people have become more interested in “obligations” and rituals than actually experiencing a real and life changing meeting with the living God.
Oftentimes the priests are worn out and can’t give what they dont have.
But a priests also has the responsibility of reading the New Testament and give other people areas of ministry in the church, where they are far more talented than he is.

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