There are about 67 Million Catholics in the United States. Only about 32% of those attend Mass weekly. That means that there are about 45 million Catholics who are at least mildly inactive. And half of those 45 million “rarely or never” attend Mass. That means that the non-Catholic is far more likely to encounter an inactive Catholic than an active one in their day-to-day life. That’s not good.
When was the last time you invited somebody to Mass or to something at your parish? When was the last time your pastor encouraged you to invite somebody to come? When was the last time you even had an event at your parish that was ideal for inviting people to come?
Inviting inactive Catholics back to Mass and to active parish life should be second nature for us. There are good and bad ways to do it. But we don’t seem to be doing it much at all.
A few years ago the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, called on the faithful to reach out to fallen away Catholics saying, “We can’t sit and wait in the parishes, we should go out ourselves to bring the baptized back.”
I think most parishes tend to take the “sit and wait in the parish” approach. Maybe we aren’t confident enough to reach out. Maybe we have a hard enough time managing the parishioners who do show up already. But I hope we can change that and do a bit better.
Here are a few ideas that might help:
- Empower parishioners. Parishes must provide events welcoming and suitable enough for inviting inactive Catholics. Catholics who have been away for awhile often feel uncomfortable or estranged in the routine setting.
- Mass is obviously one such, if not the most important, event to invite an inactive Catholic. Parishes need to remember to welcome such people before each Mass (even if only in a general announcement beforehand). Make them feel comfortable and welcome.
- Provide basic classes or one-day events explaining the Mass and fundamentals of the faith.
- Encourage parishioners to invite family members or friends they know who have fallen away. This personal approach is the most powerful way to evangelize.
- Equip parishioners with the tools they need. Teach them how to reach out - by instruction and example. Teach them the knowledge of the faith they will need to answer the common questions they will face when doing so.
- Reach out in your community. Put up a giant billboard inviting people to your parish. Make one specifically geared towards inactive Catholics.
- Offer a re-orientation course for revert Catholics. A condensed kind of RCIA that would probably serve even most of your active Catholics well. But the fact that it is specifically for inactive Catholics lets inactive Catholics know you specifically care about them and want to make an effort.
- Set up a table at your local mall. Pass out flyers and answer questions. You’ll be surprised how many people will curiously stop by and let you know “I used to be Catholic. [Is there something here for me?]”
- Is it too much to consider going door-to-door with a smile and a flyer letting each person in your community know that they are welcome at your parish? And perhaps inviting them to attend an upcoming welcome event? I don’t think so. It’s not a time to preach or convert anyone. It’s just a gesture to let them know they are always welcome. And if they have specific questions, complaints or comments - give them an upcoming event or resource where they can safely do that. Easy. Loving.
Organizations like Catholics Come Home do an amazing job at helping people back to the faith. And they have some great resources that can help your parish.
But they can’t do it alone. It’s rarely enough to just invite people back to the Church in general. It will probably take a specific person inviting them back to a specific parish. That’s where you and your parish come in. This interview with Fr. McKee has some good insights, too.
These people are already Catholic. Many of them have a comfort with the Catholic Church because they grew up with it. But they’ve become estranged for one reason or another and they just need a nudge or a helping hand. What a testament our faith would be to non-Catholics if we had a much more vibrant, active and connected Catholic population - each one of them representatives to the world of the treasures in our Church.
Do you have any other ideas to help us reach inactive Catholics more effectively?