Catholic Parishes "Supersizing," According to Report
July 25, 2011 – Bigger parishes and more Masses are becoming the norm in Catholic parishes in the United States, according to a July 18 report by a Georgetown-affiliated research center.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) study detailed what it called the “supersizing” of U.S. Catholic parish life, thanks in part to the downsizing of the number of parishes in recent years.
“The study documents the earlier size pressures we see emerging in parishes that will grow in the coming decade,” says Mark Gray, research associate professor at CARA.
Decline and Uptick
CARA is a national, non-profit research center affiliated with Georgetown that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.
According to the study, the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project was founded to address issues facing U.S. Catholic parish leadership in the changing socioeconomic climate.
The Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership’s first report, “The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes,” is based on a 2010 survey of pastors and parish leaders at 846 randomly selected churches.
The number of parishes in the United States declined by 7.1 percent over the last decade from 19,000 churches to fewer than 17,800, which equals the number of churches in 1965.
Gray says the reduction in the number of parishes and consequential increased numbers of parishioners at existing churches will eventually reach a critical point.
“There is a physical limit to existing churches and there are only so many hours in the day one can say Mass on a weekend,” Gray explains.
The study says half of U.S. Catholic priests now celebrate four or more Sunday or Saturday Vigil Masses each week, while one in 10 celebrated one weekend Mass.
Gray adds that the study’s implication for Catholics is based on where they live in the country.
“If you live in the Northeast or Midwest – especially in urban or rural areas, you likely think the Church is wasting away and each year there may be fewer people in the pews,” he says. “However, if you are a Catholic in the suburbs – especially in the Sun Belt – you likely are driving further than Catholics in the North to get to a parish that celebrates five, six or seven Masses each weekend.”
According to Gray, Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., is an “emerging model” of what a large Catholic parish looks like in the U.S.
“The number of registered parishioners [at Holy Trinity] exceeds 10,000, and you have six or so weekend Masses,” he says. “More and more parishes will be dealing with similar size issues, often with small churches and fewer resources than what Holy Trinity has.”