Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Martin Marty on declining church attendance

In yesterday's edition of Sightings, Martin Marty discusses the decline, in America and elsewhere, in church-attendance.  He writes:

Some readers may wonder why in columns like this, which are to be about “public religion,” we talk about church and synagogue (etc.) attendance and participation--aren’t their institutions part of “private religion?” Emphatically no. They are the bearers of traditions, the living expositors of sacred texts, the tellers of stories, the troop-suppliers for voluntary activities, the shapers of values fought over in the political realms.


Why are they declining? Certainly not because a few atheists write best-sellers. I always look for the simplest causes, such as rejection of drab and conflicted congregations and denominations. Or changes in habits. I watch the ten thousands running past in Sunday marathons or heading to the kids’ soccer games and recall that their grandparents and parents kept the key weekend times and places open for sacred encounters. Oh, and “being spiritual” is not going to help keep the stories, the language of ethics, and the pool of volunteers thriving. Their disappearance has consequences. . . .




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I would single out this sentence: "Most commentators in religious and secular communications found almost nothing that he [Pope Benedict XVI] said or did which might help reverse the downward trends."

If declining church attendance is lamentable, what's to be done about it (besides lamenting)?

Here's a thought. What if emphasis were shifted from attendance at Sunday services and placed on other kinds of participation? What if, say, a diocese had an 800 number and you could call a priest 24/7 to answer questions or to receive spiritual guidance? What if churches had more social events? Sponsored more volunteers? Had streaming video on the Internet? Had something like Facebook? Maybe the idea of an hour of communal worship on Sundays is just dead? Will nothing else do? I know the great importance the Catholic Church places on Sunday Mass, but what good is it if people don't show up?

I did the following rough calculation on Vox Nova: "If 41,406 priests give homilies once a week, that amounts to 2,153,112 homilies a year. At 10 to 15 minutes each (average 12.5 minutes), that would be 26,913,900 minutes, or 448,565 hours, or 18,690 days, or 51 years of homilies. Hopefully in all of that there is something brilliant to be found, but of course the question would be how."

A relatively few priests post videos of their homilies online (as far as I know), and some others post them as text. Surely there's something really good and engaging that people would want to hear. Why should people be limited to their own parish priest?

Posted by: David Nickol | Sep 27, 2010 3:25:11 PM