Engagement or Encounter

Photo by Thomas Vitali on Unsplash

Why aren’t people coming to Mass? I’m going to list some reasons I hear from family, friends, co-workers, parish surveys, articles, and people I follow on the internet. COVID-19 has exacerbated this issue, but it’s not the only reason why people are staying away from Mass. So here are the reasons I’ve heard:

  • When Mass is longer than an hour, people don’t have time. Keep it short to 45 to 55 minutes.
  • The lector doesn’t enunciate.
  • The altar servers don’t know what they’re doing.
  • I can’t stand the crying babies.
  • My Mass time was changed.
  • Our parish combined and now the time I like is at the other parish.
  • The music isn’t to my taste.
  • Father wears those old looking vestments.
  • The Mass parts are in Latin, and I don’t speak Latin.
  • Those young people don’t dress right.
  • The Bible readings aren’t in language I can understand.
  • The homily is too long. Doesn’t address social issues. Addresses too many political issues. Is read from a piece of paper. Is too short. Doesn’t use real-life experiences. Isn’t ‘teaching’ enough. Doesn’t focus on young people. Excludes older people.
  • The Mass is too complicated; I don’t understand why the have to do…
  • Can’t I just watch it on TV like we’ve been doing these past 3 months?

The list goes on and on. I’m sure you can add your own. I was reading some survey data today thinking, “Really? You couldn’t adjust your Sunday schedule to accommodate a new time?” A co-worker told me about how they were thinking of switching parishes because the Mass time they liked was eliminated, and they didn’t want to change their Sunday schedule.

Most of these reasons are convenience and preference. They’re valid for the person saying them. It will take a lot to change your schedule around. It’ll be hard to adapt to a reader who doesn’t speak to your liking or who has an accent that’s hard for you to understand.

You’re ministry leaders. You know all of this exists in the minds of your people because you hear it from them all of the time. I’ve even advised you to work on engagement, getting people involved in the Mass, training your lectors, adjusting your homily, etc. But as I was thinking about this today, I kept going back to encounter over engagement.

Instead of asking “How can we engage our people?” Let’s ask “How can we facilitate an encounter with the Risen Lord for them?”

When planning this week’s schedule, this Fall’s programming, the next homily, etc, ask yourself, “How will this help our people encounter Jesus?” Measure success with this metric more often than you calculate the number of people who attend.

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