What could be done to most improve Sunday Mass attendance?


Amen to everything you said.

For a while my Eastern Catholic parish had a truly wonderful temporary pastor. One of the best priests I have ever met. He came from an evangelical Protestant tradition. Truly awesome. He was placed there to help “heal” the parish and his presence had immediate effect. Once things had calmed down, he planned to send a personal letter to every resident in the parish’s well-defined immediate neighborhood of 780 homes asking them to visit our parish.

My part was to go to the local library and using a guide (I forget its name), create a mailing list by address and homeowner which I did. He was going to follow the mailing by knocking on each door over a series of weeks. It was amazing to watch how he thought and how he worked. Where I really wanted to gain some experience was going on some home visits with him – his personality was just amazing.

Just before the first mailing of 100 letters, he was called back to the diocese for a rather serious assignment. Sadly the project fell apart. His replacement simply didn’t have the qualities to make it work. I’m certain he would have at least doubled the size of the very small parish. How I wish he would have been able to complete this project!


There isn’t an objective “better”. Some in my parish consider it “better” when the Youth Choir sings, because they prefer the song choice and musical talent. Others want the familiar congregational hymns. Some think it is “better” when it is more formal; some think it is “better” when it is less formal. Some think none of those things matter. There is no objective standard of what is a “better” Mass, and what is a worse one. It is, by its very definition, subjective.

I don’t want to sound harsh, but you spend a lot of time criticizing those practices you feel need to be improved to make the Mass “better”. I want you to imagine yourself in the place of an outsider to Catholicism, listening in on what you say about Mass. Based on what you hear, are you going to bother making it a priority to attend? What are you imparting as the value of attending Mass?


Absolutely beautiful…

As much as it bothers some people, even the small things count – because they often aren’t all that small, right?

Thanks for your input.


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How about a bus ministry? The parish I lived in as a kid owned a bus or two they used for the school during the week. On Sundays, the bus was deployed to bring people to mass from the very fringes of the parish.


We have one that serves several of the local retirement communities for Sunday Mass. Busses them in, and back home. Typically 20 or more per trip. Also has wheel chair access.


That’s an awesome practical idea. Again, my brother’s Protestant church runs buses on Sundays. They have their own drivers (they train parish members to get their bus-driving licenses) who drive buses that run M-F by an operator that contracts with local schools.

Heck, how about a ride-share coordinator to begin with? You need a ride to Mass? Call the parish, give them your address and see if someone will give you a weekly shuttle. Transportation is an area where our Protestant brethren (non-Mainline) consistently beat us.


Does your parish own or contract for the bus?


Having been someone who wasn’t as faithful about attending Mass as I should have been, I’d say:

  1. Encourage the faithful to see regular Mass attendance the same way they see regular sleep, regular exercise, regular tooth-brushing: that is, as a need that you have, such that neglecting it is a serious matter of not just neglect of the love of God but neglect of self-care. Yes, it feels good, too, but you cannot afford to do it only when you feel like you need it! No, you owe this to God. You need it. Just Do It, No Guff.
  2. Encourage the faithful to be more serious about keeping the Lord’s Day holy generally.
  3. Ongoing catechesis concerning the vast difference between participation at Mass and other means of prayer or fellowship. There is a great deal of temptation to rationalize that other things can substitute.

I don’t know about the “tuned” Masses, as I’m wary of dividing the church into cultural ghettos based on interest group. This is particularly true with regards to age group or state of life.

Reverence, fellowship, and quality of the ritual and music are very important, but I don’t know if they are primary factors in why people do or do not attend Mass when there are distractions or anxieties that tempt them to consider it a “negotiable” part of one’s week.


Surprisingly, it is run by one of the resorts. I think the parish once (many years ago) noticed their shuttle bus ( for taking people to the airport etc) mostly was unused on Sunday and asked if they would drive their guests to Mass. Over the years they began to make other stops along the way at other retirement communities.

If you know Super Shuttle kind of vehicles, it’s a van kinda like that.


There are areas where priests who convert their new parishes over to lots of Latin and favor the Tridentine Mass actually lose attendance to neighboring parishes. Many people who don’t understand Latin find it off-putting. They are very uncomfortable going to a Mass at which they don’t understand the prayers, regardless of how reverent everyone around them is. They feel stupid, they feel left out, and they go elsewhere. No, switching back to the older forms requires preparation. It isn’t an automatic recipe for success, not by any means!

I’m not saying Latin is a bad thing. I am saying it is not a panacea and can be implemented in the wrong way.


I never missed Mass in my life because someone else was complaining about it. I actually never missed because I didn’t like the music. I did choose one parish over another on that account, but it wasn’t why I missed Mass.

I missed Mass because I rationalized that it was optional or that the obligation to worship could be met another way. If someone feels going to Mass is somehow negotiable, that is where the trouble starts. All one has to do after that is to get busy, tired or distracted, and the “priority” will be set aside.


I’ve tried to show love and mercy for fifty years and I believe I’ve never increased church attendance in the least. All that happens is people think “that’s a nice lady”. Very few people would ask the question, why is she being nice?

I like all these ideas. Another one is whole days of confession advertised outside the main Basilica. Another one is greater involvement with the schools by the priest.


May I tell you of one experience I had not long ago? I am a cradle Episcopalian and have always been active in my parish. However, I had heard of one RC church here in San Francisco and decided to visit it to see what it was like. (I often have opportune to visit churches in other denominations - much learning to be done from different branches of the Church).

I got to the church, and walked up the steps. There was no one to greet me. I saw a bulletin lying on a table, so I took one, and went to find a seat. I said my prayers and looked around a bit. The church was filling up; there were older women in lace head coverings, there were students from the local university, there were families, there were gay couples (this is San Francisco, so quite expected), there were single people sitting alone.

The mass began with the entrance hymn but no one sang. A few people mumbled their way through the music. The sound system was WAY too loud and only picked up the music director singing.

The homily was - honestly? - pretty boring, I saw iPhones coming out at that point. Communion happened and most people left after receiving. I stayed but as we finished the last verse of the closing hymn, there were only about a dozen of us left. I looked around and the church was empty. The priest was at the back door talking to a few people, but he didn’t seem to see me waiting to introduce myself. So I went home.

Now I have been to Catholic masses many, many times, and they have not all been this way. But let me tell you, on this particular Sunday at this particular parish, I felt unwelcomed. There was no passing of the peace, so I didn’t even have a chance to say hello to the people around me.

So, to answer to OP’s question: perhaps be a bit more welcoming and inviting. Be glad people are in your pews. This is your community of faith.


I am brand new to the church and I am in R.C.I.A. inquiry stage.

  1. I think interacting with the community by doing good works in the immediate neighborhood of the church could bring in more people like me, who maybe be curious and already have a positive view of good works, but do not have many friends who are practicing Catholics.
  2. I notice that many people attend mass alone, without their family. If people could explain to others why it is important and would strengthen their relationship, maybe their reluctant relative may attend with them. I am new, but it worked for me.
  3. As a relatively younger person in my church… websites, social media, and technology would keep me feeling more welcome to organizations and more connected to my community. I like receiving texts, reading blogs about updates / positive things, and being able to explore well-designed websites. People my age get FOMO (fear of missing out!) which is frequently leveraged by the most tech/social media savvy people. Churches should take advantage of these aspects of my generation to drive up attendance.
  4. I have talked to many people my age who are non-practicing Catholics. They all said they began to feel intimidated or unwelcome at their church due to common modern issues of sexuality. I think it is more important to emphasize that most people have a unique struggle with many kinds sin, and even if you do not yet have all the answers on how to reconcile the church’s teachings with your own life, it doesn’t mean you cannot apologize to God or become closer to Him. I also suspect they did not have a warm relationship with their priest if they feared speaking frankly with him or confessing to sexual sin.
  5. If not for our breakfast social hour, I would not feel so connected to individuals at my parish. If I felt like nobody knew me, attending Mass would take a bit more discipline.


I very much know where you are coming from. Just look at how most Catholics view no-meat Fridays. The prohibition is still in place, but we now have the option of substituting a work of mercy. I’ll bet no more then 25% of US Catholics know that. They just figure it went by the wayside. That’s shameful.

One thing I still struggle with is God’s mercy if the only Mass we are able to get to is full of abuses? I’m still of the feeling that if the only Mass one can get to is choke-full of actual liturgical abuses, that I would feel comfortable spending an hour on Sunday in prayer or reading Scripture rather than endure that garbage. I would never recommend anyone else follow my lead on this one, I would never say I know God understands what I’m facing and He’s effectively granted me a dispensation – only that if things ever got that bad again, I would be at peace not going to Mass and placing myself at His mercy.


Great input, thank you for sharing! May God bless your journey Home…

Fellowship is critical. It’s not the Mass, but it’s still critical. Sad that so many Catholics poo-poo the need for fellowship before and after Mass.


A (metaphorically) long way from Grace Cathedral, aye? :confused:

I am very sorry to read of your experience. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon. Depending on the celebrant and the cantor/musicians for the Mass, this is pretty much exactly what you would experience at the Mass I attend. If you happened to enter through one of six entrances, you would be greeted by Margaret. Otherwise there are no greeters. They used to beg for them in the bulletin. Week after week. They never seemed to realize that no one wanted anything to do with the snarky “hospitality coordinator” who was in charge of the greeters. Ironic, aye?

I hope you will try out some other churches. SF has some wonderful and historic Catholic parishes. Some are quite good.


I forgot to mention that we do get a spike in Mass attendance at the grade level Masses offered once a month. We get twice as many people on those dates. Once a month it is for grades 1-3 and once a month for 4-6. The kids sit with their Catechist and take up the gifts. Father tailors the Homily to the kids. He actually comes from behind the ambo and walks next to the pews while he speaks. The message always has to do with the reading/Gospel but in an age appropriate way. The weeks without a grade level Mass or a Mass for teens the attendance plummets. Summer is the worse for attendance.


I think it’s also important to look at how we can reduce the numbers who drift away. I wonder if some sort of safe space discussion of this within a parish could help increase understanding of why it happens and maybe how to identify people at risk and come up with some strategies.

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