Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Attracting Young Families to Our Parishes


That block goes with an article that I've seen in several facebook feeds.  You can read it here. In short it says that parishes will stop losing young families if they: 1) Get the sacrament of Baptism right; 2) Stop offering childcare during mass 3) Provide childcare at adult events 4) Actively promote Natural Family Planning and 5) Proclaim a year of marriage and the family. I ask whether it is enough to "stop losing" young families or if we should be trying to attract them.

First of all, we need to define what we mean by attracting (or even, not losing) young families to our parish.  Do we mean that we want them at our parish rather than at the parish across town?  Do we mean that we want them at our parish rather than the non-Catholic church down the block?  Do we mean that we want them at our parish rather than at home or at the playground?  Of course our answer is "All of the above!" but I think too often when people start considering what to do, they only think of one group.  All too often when I read Catholic blogs about how to get people  to church I see "church people"--those for whom Catholicism and Catholic identity are very important parts of their lives--saying "Make the parish like the kind of parish I and my kind like and it will fill up".  Usually they'll tell the story of an old dying downtown parish where the priest started saying mass in Latin which attracted young families from across the city such that the dying parish is now one of the most vibrant in town.  What they fail to say is that those young families were already attending mass weekly (if not more often) and that they are driving past other parishes to get to their parish of choice.  Is that a bad thing?  No.  But the fact that a certain parish found a niche doesn't mean that copying that niche will fill every church; in fact, it is even possible that trying to do so would empty more churches.  More and more of our young families are unchurched; I think drawing them back is at least as important as attracting church-going families to our parish as opposed to the one down the street.

Now, let's take a look at the suggestions.

Get the Sacrament of Baptism Right:  I agree.  There are plenty of people who are Catholic on the "hatch, match and dispatch" plan.  As a community we can look down on these folks and create barriers to them "using" us and our sacraments or we welcome them and use the opportunity to try to share what we have.  Baptism preparation sessions should be well-done and should let young parents know how we as a parish can help them raise Catholic children.  They should also be realistic.  Making parents of multiple children attend the classes multiple times is just plain dumb.  While I won't get into the "during mass" vs "outside of mass" argument, I will say that no parent wants to feel like their child was baptized on an assembly line.  Figure out a system that works for your parish and the way your church is designed and make it personal for the families.  Let them know you are glad they are there and encourage them to plug into ministries in your parish where they will be with people they enjoy seeing.  Help them feel like members, not just names on a registry.  

Stop Offering Childcare During Mass:  I disagree.  Parishes should welcome children and I'll be the first to growl at any priest who tries to make children unwelcome at mass.  I think this is one of those areas where uber-Catholics disagree with those who don't attend mass.  While the anti-nursery crowd talks about the importance of children attending mass and how parishes should welcome kids and tolerate (or even embrace) their restlessness, I've known of families who started attending the non-Catholic church down the street because they offered a nursery and children's programs.  My parish offered a nursery when my kids were young and I used it.  My kids were happy and I could actually concentrate at mass rather than having to spend an hour wrestling my kids.  When the older two reached age three they started attending religion classes during mass and then, when they started school, Liturgy of the Word for Children.  The availability of the nursery and the programs for young kids was the main reason we did not switch parishes when we moved a few miles away.  Friends of ours also stayed with the parish because of those programs.  As far as the argument that they won't learn to behave at Mass, my experience is that kids whose parents attended mass regularly learned to behave at mass about the time they started school, whether the parents fought the good fight in the pew, used the cryroom, used the nursery or attended mass in shifts without the kids.  I say offer childcare at some masses; if people want it, it is there; if not, then no one is making them use it.

Provide Childcare at Adult Events:   I agree.  Of course that's easier if there is an equipped room and the parents know the people who are keeping the kids.

Promote Natural Family Planning:  If your goal is to convince church people to pick your parish rather than the one down the street, I can see this being effective.  While the large majority of women who identify themselves as Catholic choose to use artificial birth control, those who choose to follow the Church's teachings seek out and support parishes that support their counter-cultural choices. This strikes me as a ministry that can pay dividends by creating more committed Catholics but I certainly don't see it as a way to attract those who aren't regular attendees now.

Proclaim a Year of Marriage and the Family:  The authors of the article recommend proclaiming such a year and then making an effort to involve families in every aspect of parish life.  I agree, but I also think parishes should have ministries directed towards and run by young couples--though an effort also needs to be made not to ghettoize young couples in that group.  That's one thing I think many Protestant churches do well--small groups, Sunday School, whatever--they bring together people at similar stages of life and facilitate not only spiritual growth but also social interaction.  I know of more people who left the Catholic church because no one knew them or cared than who left because of doctrinal issues. 

Tomorrow, I'm gong to write about two different parishes; one of which is teeming with kids; the of which is not.


6 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of children's liturgy during Mass but if a parish is going to have it,then I believe 1st grade should be the oldest attendees. If a child is old enough for First Communion,they need to worship with the community

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  2. We have always wanted our kids to have the experience of going to church as normative, and so we didn't want them out every week. We put the littlest one in the nursery when we lead music, but we also cut back to twice a month so we could sit with our kids. I do think it's important for young children to never remember a time when they didn't regularly sit with their parents at church--just like I think it's a very good idea for no child to ever remember a time when s/he was the only child. Certain experiences are important whether they're remembered overtly or just absorbed.

    In response to Renee--we have children's liturgy about half the time and it is a godsend, because otherwise I'm not sure my husband and I would ever take away anything from the Liturgy of the Word. But after my oldest received his First Communion, I told him he was staying in the pew. Fortunately that was about the time my daughter finally decided to start acting appropriately, and he didn't need to accompany her anymore.

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  3. I just asked my 17 year old if she ever remembered not going to mass on Sunday. She said no. I then asked "You don't remember going to Little School of Religion with Ms. Rose?" She replied "I've been told it happened, but no...". She went there from ages 3-5.

    I let my kids decide when they are too big for Liturgy of the Word for Children. They read the same readings that are read in church, but they are explained on the kids level. I don't see how the kids are better off in church with what Father says going over their heads than back with the kids, but that's me.

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  4. All good points, RAnn. The plus for having baby-sitting during Mass is that it gives parents a necessary choice. Let Mom and Dad decide when it's appropriate to bring the kids to Mass.

    I also agree about the involvement of young couples. However, many young couples are really busy raising kids so it would need to be carefully planned.

    The pastor has a lot to do with attracting people to a parish. But also, considering how many non-practicing Catholics are out there who either stay home or go to the nearby Protestant church, one thing we can all do is invite people to come to Mass with us, meet the priest, and share our love of Jesus with them. I count on God putting people in my path considering the fact that I'm not out and about that much anymore. But I'm always conscious that how I treat others, especially strangers, can make the difference between whether they want to inquire about the Faith or not.

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  5. I think a nursery should be offered, but that no one should be made to feel that they must use it. I'm much more opposed to cry rooms. In my experience with them you might as well not be at Mass at all. A crying baby can be removed to the vestibule. Something that enriched my experience at church when my kids were little was having a Moms' Group which met every Friday. This meant we all had friends at church, as did our children, who then looked forward to gathering after Mass to see their friends, and didn't balk at attending parish events because they had other kids they knew to play with.

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  6. I think a nursery should be offered, but that no one should be made to feel that they must use it. I'm much more opposed to cry rooms. In my experience with them you might as well not be at Mass at all. A crying baby can be removed to the vestibule. Something that enriched my experience at church when my kids were little was having a Moms' Group which met every Friday. This meant we all had friends at church, as did our children, who then looked forward to gathering after Mass to see their friends, and didn't balk at attending parish events because they had other kids they knew to play with.

    ReplyDelete


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