Some news from an evangelisation survey (undertaken by Home Mission at the Bishops’ Conference) is interesting. To summarise, the following are some reasons that non-practising Catholic parents (with children at Catholic primary schools) gave for not going regularly to church:
1. Mass times were off-putting (some indicated they thought they were set to suit an older generation)
2. Other members of the congregation didn’t appreciate having noisy children in attendance
3. The respondents suggested that parish life “was run by, and for, an older generation who were regular Mass goers”
What factors encouraged them to go to Mass?
1. They recognised its “spiritual benefits” (the survey found that many had “a latent Catholic identity based on a belief in God and a resonance with Gospel values”)
2. A good Children’s Liturgy
3. A personal invitation
4. A sense of belonging in the community
5. Pope Francis
How can we analyse this data? Of course, there are many ways. One way is to reflect on what this means in terms of discipleship. In the language of Forming Intentional Disciples, it seems to suggest to me that there is certainly a “bridge of trust” in place – between themselves and God, the Church, other Catholics – for many of these parents. Weddell defines the “bridge of trust” as the first threshold of conversion. I think the phrase “latent Catholic identity” describes this threshold pretty well. It is the foundation that needs to be in place for further conversion to take place.
Other information hints to the second threshold – curiosity. This is the beginning of an awareness that a personal relationship with Christ might be possible. A “sense of belonging” can trigger this, evidently; so can what is often called the “Pope Francis effect”.
What is interesting to me is that, in evangelisation, we have to think about the whole person. Not just their spiritual needs, but first of all, their physical and emotional wellbeing. That is why approaches such as Alpha work so well, because they use food and drink (physical) and friendship (emotional) as a foundation before proclaiming the Gospel.
This seems to be evident in this survey too. When children are cared for (i.e. they experience welcome in the community, they enjoy a well-prepared Children’s Liturgy), the parents can begin to relax and even open themselves to the possibility of something more. A “personal invitation” and a “sense of belonging” also suggest that friendship is an effective beginning.
This backs up 100% my experience in the parish in London:
- When children were happy, parents were happy and enjoyed coming.
- When parents knew there were likely to be lots of others (of their own generation) at an event, and that it would have a good social element, they were far more likely to come.
At the end of the day, I suspect that Mass times are actually neither here nor there. Rather, if our parishes (our Masses but also our other events) are extremely family-friendly, attractive environments for parents in their thirties and forties and their children, this is the first step of forming disciples.
Once they’re coming to Mass, that’s when the exciting part happens We need to trigger their curiosity to find out more