To go or not to go to Mass – parish school survey

A family survey in Palmerston North has found that people are more inclined to go to Mass if there are children’s liturgies and sacramental programmes, or if they feel a sense of belonging.
The survey was a joint initiative between St Patrick’s Paris

A family survey in Palmerston North has found that people are more inclined to go to Mass if there are children’s liturgies and sacramental programmes, or if they feel a sense of belonging.

The survey was a joint initiative between St Patrick’s Parish and St James’ School designed to investigate factors affecting family attendance at Sunday Mass.

The survey was sent to 164 families; 70 families returned completed forms resulting in a 43 percent response rate which is deemed to be satisfactory for a survey of this nature.

Responses were collated and analysed according to whether people attended Mass weekly, monthly, occasionally, only at Christmas or Easter, or never.

The majority of respondents were either weekly (28) or occasional (22) attendees. Ten respondents go to Mass monthly, five only at Christmas or Easter and five, never. Two of the five, who said they never go to Mass, attend another denominational church weekly.

Survey designer, Jenny Poskitt, warns that results need to be interpreted with care given the weighting towards weekly or occasional attendees and the response rate.

A sense of belonging was the most important of factors encouraging attendance among weekly attendees drawing 12 responses while children’s liturgies (11) and sacramental programmes (10) were encouraging factors for occasional attendees.

Dr Poskitt says the ‘other’ comment section drew remarks about the critical nature of the attendee’s relationship with God and faith commitment, which was assumed in the construction of the survey. She says it could be useful to research this aspect in a future survey, ‘to investigate if relationship with God and faith commitment is the primary motivator or whether fear or other factors are the motivators for attending’.

On the question of lifestyle factors which discourage attendance, 31 respondents across all categories said travel away from home, while busy lifestyle (26) and having a non-Catholic in the family (25) were other important discouraging factors.

Dr Poskitt suggests that ‘helping a non-Catholic family member to feel included or to develop a sense of belonging in the parish may be a factor worthy of attention by a parish’.

Having Mass books that children could read was the factor that attracted the greatest number of responses across all categories in a question about modifying factors. The participation of children in ministries like reading, music, welcome and drama drew the next largest number of responses to this question.

Dr Poskitt says providing easy-to-follow Mass books may address a number of issues the survey highlighted including the behaviour of children ‘who may not fully appreciate the significance of various dimensions of the Mass’ and the inclusion of non-Catholics.

A question about church-related discouraging factors drew the highest response across all five categories from those who attend weekly regardless. The next highest response was for boring services, followed by old-fashioned music and the behaviour of own children at Mass.

Dr Poskitt suggests future research into the meaning of ‘boring’ and what constitutes ‘old-fashioned music’ looking at particular songs, tempo and the instruments used.

The fifth question asked respondents to identify church-related aspects that, if modified, would encourage them to attend.

The provision of Mass books drew 42 responses from across all categories followed by participation of children in ministries (31). Dr Poskitt suggests that ‘pertinent books may also highlight particular aspects of the Mass and thus teach the significance of particular rituals and symbols.’

A number of respondents to this question said having homilies on Catholic teaching (16), and an explanation of the Mass (15) would encourage them to go to Mass.

A final question asked about the school’s role in family faith development and drew the highest number of responses for the idea of having buddy (paired junior and senior) classes take periodic responsibility for leading Sunday Mass. There was also a call for recommended reference material to help with RE homework.

Dr Poskitt said acknowledgement needed to be given to the fact that contact with the Catholic school can be a prime source of spiritual and Catholic faith development for many families who do not attend Mass regularly.

A further question designed to investigate respondents’ thoughts on taking responsibility for their family’s faith development and participation in the partnership between school and home, respondents most often replied that regular Mass attendance, school liturgies and feast day celebrations were important factors. Regular prayer was important for some.

Catholic teaching and values reinforcement at home, as well as modelling of such Christian virtues as respect for others, hospitality and tolerance were also seen as key.

A desire for a greater proportion of Catholic teachers at school and in the parish was also expressed.

‘In contrast, there were comments about the need for support for non-Catholic family members and some suggestions for priestly activity!’

Dr Poskitt concluded that, while results need to be treated carefully because of the response rate, several trends emerged which, if addressed, may increase Mass attendance.

As well as those mentioned earlier – Mass books and children’s Masses – consideration could be given to parish or diocesan workshops on basic Catholic teaching, and to encouraging families with non-Catholic members. Music programmes needed periodic review; the school could encourage children to attend Sunday Mass and invite parental help with school liturgies and RE programmes.