In just about every parish I visit these days, I am hearing about the dramatic and consistent drop in attendance at Mass and other activities. Everyone is describing to me the reality that our churches are declining and we must start to prepare for this drop in numbers. Most people would say that we are in desperate need of more people in our pews.
What our parishes need now is not more people in the pews. Rather, those who are still in them need to become authentic disciples of Christ.
Unlike volunteers who are willing to give God some of their leftover time, Disciples have given God their entire lives – including their time. This means that when the Holy Spirit calls a heart into action, they will obey. Assuming we have some saints in our parishes who are prepared to make an effort to do something different, what could we do?
I would suggest creating a plan to reach out to and befriend every person who is on the fringe of the parish. These are the people who still come to Mass but don’t attend any other activity offered. We must go to where they are and get to know them. Once we have developed friendships, we can lead them into the life of the parish. We are going have to get creative in our efforts.
Let me give you one example of looking outside the box. A woman who was very active in my last parish came and informed me that her husband would never attend any of the religious programs that I offered. I was struck by her candidness and decided, in that moment, that I was going to do all that I could to change that. So I asked her what he passionate about. Her response was, “He loves Texas Hold’em!”
One month later, I sponsored a “Men’s Texas Hold’em Night”. The cost was $3 per person plus bring beer or scotch to share with others. I trained my twelve best disciples (men) on how to play Texas Holdem and how to work the tables so the men will get to know each other. The opening night we had 105 men (not including myself and the twelve) who rarely attended anything show up. The only religious things we did that night was to pray for the snacks I bought with their $3.
Women rarely need an excuse to get together but I have seen some very good activities that help create relationships. The ladies could gather and play Bunko. My wife, Susan, has sponsored many of these. I have witness those ladies having a blast, with wine in hand, just being together.
Whether they are held at the church or at home, we need to befriend those who are still coming to church. Our parishes must begin to turn outward and see who they don’t know and make every effort to invite them to something. It is only when the disciple is prepared to sacrifice time to get to know these new people that will we begin to see growth return to our parishes.
There is so much we can do – brunch after Mass, morning coffee, card game nights, desserts, etc.
All it requires is a little time, effort and sacrifice.