Wednesday, March 4, 2009

DOR Mass Attendance Free Fall Continues

When I began this blog 14 months ago my first post detailed the precipitous decline in weekend Mass attendance in the Diocese of Rochester over the 7 year period ending in 2007. During that time Average October Attendance had fallen from 108,000 to 84,000.

Last year's number is now available and it shows that this trend is continuing unabated. DOR's 2008 AOA was 80,710.

DOR has now lost over one quarter (25.3%) of its weekend Mass attendees in a mere 8 years. Put another way, we have been losing an average of 3.58% of our Mass attendees year in and year out since 2000.

The data

Here is the AOA data from 2000 through 2008 in tabular form:

In graphical format it looks like this:

Spirit Alive! is having no effect

In 2007 the diocese launched Spirit Alive!, a 3-year effort that is DOR's idea of what a diocesan-wide spiritual renewal ought to look like. One of the purposes of Spirit Alive! was to help stem the decline in Mass attendance.

I had my reservations as to how any program lacking a healthy dose of catechesis could have any real effect (see CCC #8) and it now appears those reservations were well founded. Whatever good things Spirit Alive! might be accomplishing, keeping folks in the pews is not one of them.

National attendance trends are steady

Eugene Michael at Rochester Catholic has recently posted an article dealing with declining Mass attendance in the Irondequoit area and citing sources showing that decline to be an anomaly. He quotes Dr. Mary Gautier of the CARA Research Center at Georgetown University as saying that nationally,

The percentage of Catholics attending Mass has remained stable over recent years (my emphasis).

In other words, things like the pedophile priest scandal and the "generational shift" have had no real effect on our national Mass attendance rate.

The question remains

There's no denying that DOR's weekend Mass attendance is in a death spiral and that there is no nationwide statistical explanation for it.

And so the question remains, why is the Mass attendance rate in DOR falling off a cliff?


Interstate Catholic said...

My guess for the decline is:
1) Clustering. Parishioners feel that they have no say in the future of their church/school buildings.
2) Pastoral leaders that question the church hierarchy on every issue and promote their dissent in word or in action.
3) We have done a poor job in teaching/practicing the faith.

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Nerina said...

Dr. K,

You are absolutely right about the effect of Ecumenism (when not properly understood). If it weren't for the Eucharist, it would be hard to differentiate my church from the non-Catholic churches in my area.

Nerina said...

And as far as the "Spirit Alive" initiative is concerned, has anyone attended the events? I took all of my kids to the kick-off video presentations in our church and I must say they were very poorly done. Forgive me, but Bishop Clark is not very charismatic (at least not via video) and my kids were bored to tears. They said it would be geared to "all ages." It was not and it was more of the same navel-gazing that we've come to expect from our diocese.

Mike said...


I haven't been to any of the events but I did watch the bishop's retreat on and remember being singularly unimpressed.

I just went back and watched the first video again to refresh my memory. Throughout the entire thing the bishop never mentions the words "sin" or "repent" once.

Towards the end he does say, "If you learn anything from Christ it is that he came to transform our total humanity and invites us to join in the transformation of the world."

Well, I suppose that's true, but Jesus himself tells us to "repent and believe the good news" and "I have come to call sinners."

The bishop seems to want us to believe that this transformation of our humanity can be done without any recognition on our part of our sinfulness and our constant need for repentance, for conversion.

This is a lot closer to lukewarm Protestantism than authentic Catholic teaching or, as you said, "more of the same navel-gazing that we've come to expect from our diocese."

No wonder it's having no effect.