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5 Things Parishes Can Do To Stop Losing Young Families

July 6, AD2013 73 Comments


Matthew Warner recently discontinued his blog at the National Catholic Register. In his second-to-last blog post, Why the World Doesn’t Take Catholicism Seriously, he charged that the Church has gotten bad at making saints. “We Catholics don\’t look or act any different than non-Catholics. It\’s that simple.” How many of us really lead lives so compelling in holiness and joy that, by our very witness, others want to know what we have that they don’t?

This change won’t happen overnight. It requires widespread conversion of heart, and the solution, as Matthew rightly asserts, will not come solely from the institutional Church. It has been said that all politics is local, and the same might be said of conversion. To effect such conversion requires local influence, real in-the-flesh, person-to-person evangelization. It needs to be a grassroots effort that bubbles up from our local parish communities.

Fortunately, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, knows something about going for the heart. Inspired by his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), we suggest five tangible things parishes can do to stop losing young families and start raising up the next generation of saints.

1. Get the Sacrament of Baptism right.

A former parish Director of Religious Education once remarked to us how much he enjoyed facilitating baptism classes. Why? It’s the parish’s best opportunity to catechize young adults who have drifted away, perhaps not even stepped foot in a church since their wedding day. Shouldn’t all baptism preparation be characterized by such zeal? Sure, this ministry often relies on volunteer facilitators, but they can’t just be willing. They must be able, too. The bar has to be set well above pushing the play button to start a 30-year-old videotape.

Similarly, many parishes, often for the sake of convenience, celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism outside of Mass. Why? Theologically, this makes no sense. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states, “The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism” (CCC 1255). Baptism is a communal sacrament; the whole assembly actually participates in the rite by renewing their baptismal promises. Plus, baptisms are one the most joyful occasions in parish life.

Children are not capable of accepting the faith by a free act, nor are they yet able to profess that faith on their own; therefore the faith is professed by their parents and godparents in their name. Since faith is a reality lived within the community of the Church, part of a common “We”, children can be supported by others …. The structure of baptism, then, demonstrates the critical importance of cooperation between Church and family in passing on the faith (LF 43).

2. Stop offering childcare during Mass.

Yes, you read that correctly: S-T-O-P. Send us your hate mail if you must, but we really need to begin thinking differently about this whole dynamic. What kind of message are we sending if, after welcoming babies into the community of faith in baptism, we relegate them to another room until they are old enough to be quiet and sit still? We can’t allow the baby-hating mentality, so pervasive in the culture, into our parishes.

Parents, you need enough backbone to not be intimidated by the unfortunate dirty looks you may receive when your toddler inevitably acts up. Offer up your suffering for your child’s sanctification or, better yet, for the conversion of Mr. or Ms. Stink Eye. Walk your child out if necessary, and then come back when ready. Your witness of suffering for your children and for the Mass is more inspiring to most people than you realize. “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14). Children belong in Mass. Period.

In the family, faith accompanies every age of life, beginning with childhood: children learn to trust in the love of their parents. This is why it is so important that within their families parents encourage shared expressions of faith which can help children gradually to mature in their own faith (LF 54).

3. Provide childcare at adult events.

Have you ever planned an adult-oriented parish event or program and wondered why so few people participated? Did it ever occur to anyone involved to arrange to provide childcare, so parents of young families could attend?

Case in point. Lisa recently contacted an existing parish ministry, proposing to partner with them in an initiative to help the parents of young children attend Eucharistic Adoration together. The ministry would have been responsible for helping coordinate just one hour of childcare per month. Rather than seizing the potential opportunity to serve, the resistance was immediate, without even investigating the possibility. The initial response had something to do with the parish getting sued. If a parish’s primary concern is lawsuits rather than service, the parish might be getting things backward.

Parishes are only as strong as the families that comprise them, and families are only as strong as the marriages upon which they are built. Parents become stronger when they are able to actively engage in the life of the parish. It’s fine for husbands and wives to have their individual parish activities, but how much better could it be if they were able to participate together, not just building their individual spirituality but also their marriage in the process? The domestic church is the cornerstone of the parish church.

Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. (LF 53)

4. Actively promote Natural Family Planning.

The contraceptive mentality permeates the culture at large, and even more unfortunately, it permeates the Church. However, in so many cases, it seems not to be a matter of obstinacy as much one of ignorance. So many Catholics have genuinely not been taught what the Church believes about human sexuality. They haven’t been properly exposed to the beauty of these teachings, so they haven’t experienced the joy and freedom that comes from living them.

Putting the Church’s teachings into practice in marriage in the form of Natural Family Planning, however, can be scary for many couples. Getting started requires a significant investment of faith, knowledge, and communication. Unless a couple is connected to good resources, including a community of “practicing” couples, the initial investment can be intimidating. It feels so much easier to just keep contracepting, because it’s familiar and widely accepted by so many presumably “good” Catholics.

Rather than starting an informational class, a “social group” approach just might be the best one to convert couples to Natural Family Planning. Knowledge is good, but it’s not nearly as powerful as witness, which communicates heart-to-heart. Without question, accurate information is important, but it doesn’t bring about conversion by itself. That has to happen in the heart, not just the head.

This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan (LF 52).

5. Proclaim a Year of Marriage and the Family.

Does this sound rather \”institutional Church\”, like some diocesan initiative? It is where we live, but why wait for the rest of your diocese? Do it now right in your parish. This doesn’t have to constitute a new, large-scale program, with lots of overhead to get it started. Instead, commit every parish ministry, from social justice to catechesis, to attracting and serving families in some new way.

Does your parish have an Art and Environment Committee? Get families involved in decorating the Church for the various major feasts and liturgical seasons. Does your parish serve a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food pantry? Such ministries provide excellent service opportunities for whole families, especially around holidays. What about your homebound/hospice ministries? Few things make the ill and elderly feel more alive than the presence of children. Does your parish have a ministry dedicated to providing meals to families with new babies? If not, organize one.

The possibilities are literally only limited by your creativity. And if you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and start something completely new.

Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood (LF 54).

Do you see any of these working in your local parish? Do you have other suggestions or stories of initiatives that have been successful? What about ones that tanked, despite the best efforts of those involved? Join the discussion below!

© 2013. Joel and Lisa Schmidt. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Joel and Lisa Schmidt co-founded The Practicing Catholic, an antidote to the perception that piety is boring or that the Church is filled with “sour-faced saints”. In their writings, the Schmidts provide witness to the adventure of living an integrated Catholic life ... not just on Sundays. For more about the Schmidts, please see their individual bios (Joel's bio; Lisa's bio).

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  • Angie

    I disagree with you on not having childcare during mass. As a mother, who takes her four young children to church alone, finding a church that had childcare was something I needed. When I decided to come back to the Catholic church, with children ages 6, 5, 4, and 2 – the thought of having all four kids in the pew overwhelmed me. Childcare during mass was a lifesaver for me. Now, five years later (still attending mass without my spouse) I have all four children in the pew with me. Not every family has two parents who attend mass – a lack of childcare could be what keeps them away from church.

  • Kip Cheshire

    I’m sorry, but I whole heartily disagree with you. While our children need to attend mass and know who Jesus is, as well as develop an intimate relationship with hHim. Our adults also need to be filled with the Gospel, and God-willing a decent homily (and not always cheerios and complaints to go potty). You may be accurate about all the others but when it comes to no day care, you’ve missed the mark. My wife and I have no day care, no cry room, and nothing for families with 3 year olds acting their age. So we either get starred at and judged or, we wait outside like Zacchaeus trying to peer in but not being able to join in.

  • SisterMom

    THANK YOU for #2!!! We DO NOT have a nursery in our church and never will, thanks be to God! I am the DRE at my church and I have noticed the children who behave the best are the children who regularly attend and learn how to sit for the Mass. If they get restless, the parents can take them out to our vestibule, where you can hear the entire service and see (the back wall is all windows and there are speakers in the ceiling). They are not relegated to the vestibule and are welcome back in anytime! We LOVE hearing the little voices saying AMEN and participating. Parents are always so pleasantly surprised to find out our policy of welcoming ALL of God’s children. I believe this is why our church as almost doubled in size the past ten years. I might add, I also worked, part-time at two local protestant churches, which both have struggled keeping their nurseries staffed, the attitude toward little ones is appalling, which I regularly tell them. Their numbers have decreased significantly. They complain, sadly, but typically the older population (who seemed to forget what it was like being a parent, or to hear them tell it their children were almost as perfect as our Lord Himself!), about the kids with almost venomous distaste. Quite frankly, sometimes I would like a “nursery” for ADULTS who feel the need to come when they are sick as a dog, for the ADULTS who constantly check their phones, for ADULTS who have to say the prayers 10x faster than everyone else, for the ADULTS who think they can sing superbly so they sing louder than the musician can play, for the ADULTS who dress like they are going to work at Hooters afterward or going clubbing, I could go on. IN short, THANKS for #2!

  • Cindy

    My son was baptized during Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. What a blessing! In that parish, not all children were baptized within Mass, but it was an option. Same true at my parish in NJ. Though some complained about the added length to the Mass, most found it a joy to truly welcome new members to the communities and feel the joy. In my parish in VA, where my son was baptized, any children present were invited to come forward and gather near the font–how much catechesis was that about the sacrament!

    I will respectfully disagree with you about the babysitting–though of all the many parishes I have visited over the years I only know 1 that had babysitting and it was the parish we belonged to during the ‘toddler time’ when he just naturally needed to move around. I didn’t use it for long, but it was a welcome respite to get some peace at Mass. I used it for a few months and gradually ceased. I don’t see much babysitting sitting but more so ‘cry rooms’ where the young children are segregated, no one in those roooms can have a hope of hearing what is going on during Mass and which in our parish is just a melee. Get rid of those! Other than those few months of babysitting, my son (now 18) attended Mass every week with us and when he was 3-4 yo until kindergarten I would often even take him to daily Mass.

    Thanks for the idea on Adoration babysitting–I will suggest it to our Adoration coordinator (while volunteering to do it).

    To me, as a parish religious education teacher for many years the problem is getting young families to Mass (instead of soccer games, cheerleading competitions and COSTCO shopping trips). Year of Marriage and Family!!!!! Send that idea right along to Papa Francis 🙂

  • Gary Adrian

    Michele, I agree with what you say. The priests in my FSSP run parish (Latin Mass), try to meet everyone as the leave, then go down to the luncheon or brunch after the masses to meet those there. If it is someone new, they try to make them feel at home. It is wonderful to have priests like this. The priest will have far more effect than anyone else. By the way, yes, the tone of a parish is set by the priests. Our parish has tripled in size in the seven years since our current priest has been there. He has truly been a blessing. This despite his very poor health. Sadly, he has a life threatening heart problem that continues to get worse, as well as, debilitating migraine headaches. We all pray for him daily.

  • Joel and Lisa,

    I agree with most your points but I don’t know if it’s realistic. I think instead of focusing on losing young families we have to look at ways of attracting young families. As someone who has many friends and sibilings who have walked away from the faith, the reason they won’t come back is because:

    1. They are afraid of being judged, and telling them not worry about the judgmental stares won’t help.

    2. There is nothing for their kids. I agree with providing childcare at adult events; however, also make venues in your church more family friendly. Make sure their is quality site and sound in the “cry area”, invest in your children’s liturgy of the word and if you do have a nursery program make it an opportunity to teach kids about Mass, not just watch them.

    3. We don’t make our environments welcoming. Have people opening doors, welcoming families and helping people get acclimated. So many times we leave seekers and the unchurched fend for themselves.

    If you focus on the insiders you’ll never please them. Focusing on the outsiders and you are making your church an evangelistic tool. Thanks.

  • KathleenBasi

    We just had to hire a sitter last night for an event at church. I often think that more young parents would participate if it wasn’t so darned expensive to get their kids taken care of! We lead a choir at our church, and thank God we have a wonderful family member who loves the choir babies and will keep them all in the nursery for minimal compensation when she’s available. I always say I don’t mind volunteering, but I mind very much paying good money for the privilege of volunteering!

  • RM

    Just a note about NFP. I had fertility problems related to undiagnosed health issues. Our NFP practitioner helped us realize that I needed to follow up with my doctor. The situation would have been more serious if we had waited longer.

    If we had not been using NFP after our first child was born I would not have 4 more. Using NFP helped me keep my marginal fertility intact AND allowed us to space our children when we needed to. It also gave us help with certain emotional and spiritual problems that we brought into our marriage.

  • Doctormom4

    Anyway, sorry to be so emotional in the previous post, it just really hit a nerve. It was the first time I had faced the attitude of children being unwelcome. I grew up in a large family and I never had anyone treat us that way, at least my mother never let on. I was very naive in thinking, “Well, of course children belong in Church.” It never occurred to me that someone, in the Church AND involved in faith formation would have thought different. I did mention it to the pastor, he was apologetic, but I don’t think he had the backbone to ever tell the man he was out of line.

  • Doctormom4

    You really struck a cord with number 2. I have never had a church with childcare, but one day I took my 5 year old to the bathroom during Mass and when I came back out I found my husband holding the new baby and my 3 year old outside. I asked him what he was doing he told me that the HEAD of the youth group had told him to leave because my children were too distracting for his teenagers. His teenagers texting, wearing flip-flops on the altar while “altar serving”. Oh, I won’t even get started on the wearing of bikinis instead of real clothes to Mass. What was worse is that we were actually having a phenomenal day in terms of my son behaving. He had only been fidgeting, he actually hadn’t said anything all Mass. Who does that?– tells a family to leave Mass? I told him to march back in and leave the jerk to me. He didn’t dare say anything after we came back in, I think he knew what was best for him.

    • Aquinas5

      I think you just touched on another problem within the Church, engaging our youth. There have been many articles and books written about how youth ministry is failing. One of the reasons cited is the lack of multigenerational contact that teens get within the Church. Instead of those teens benefiting from seeing your selfless example with young children, then witnessed an exclusionary example of a ‘lay minister’ overstepping his bounds. If we want young families to be there, we also need to help teens understand the faith.

  • Jennifer Fitz

    Overall I agree, but I’m going to join the group quibbling about childcare. As the Catholic parent in a disparity-of-cult marriage, and with significant health problems during the years my kids were babies and preschoolers, the parish nursery was the only thing that made it possible for my kids to even show up on parish grounds. I put the littlest ones in the nursery, and brought the big guys in with me. Eventually the littles joined us because it was the big-kid thing to do. Without the nursery, my choices would have been to

    a) leave the kids home

    b) spend Mass sitting out on the lawn = nobody gets to actually attend Mass.

    Instead, I’ve got four catholic kids, and a spouse who eventually reverted. I say my parish does it right on this count — one small nursery at the most heavily-attended-by-new-families Mass, a bunch of other options (ample front rows, small cry room, vestibule), and welcoming grandma-types to smile at the babies in the pews.

    Also we have a playground next to the church, and donuts after the 10AM. Frown all you like, I’m pretty sure the donuts were what kept my preschoolers sitting in mass so happily every week.

    • DJ Hesselius

      Sounds like a great parish!

      Oh! and I take that back what I said up there–one parish we went to for awhile did have nursery during the winter months. It was the one with the most “orthodox” priest in the area. Lots of homeschooling families went there at that time. (Baptisms were done outside of Mass.) Eventually due to age, he had to retire. He passed away shortly thereafter. The parish changed radically after that.

    • Joel Schmidt

      Jennifer, thanks so much for you comment. First thing, major
      kudos on the revert spouse and four Catholic kids. Second, we don’t claim that
      no good ever comes from childcare during Mass. There are exceptional cases in
      which some form of it makes sense. It sounds like your parish deploys this sensibly,
      in an environment of overall family-friendliness. Great! Our point is that
      routine childcare during Mass, which usually begins with the best intentions,
      can quickly become like a coat check, where parents genuinely feel compelled
      leave their young children. Third, donuts = motivation + fellowship. What’s not
      to like?

  • Br. Joseph

    I love your article. Thank you very much

  • DJ Hesselius

    Had to chuckle: no childcare during Mass (because its a “family faith” matter), but childcare needed during “adult events” like Adoration. Frankly, I think it would be much easier to have the children for 10 or 15 minutes at Adoration than 60 minutes at Mass. I recently attended my old United Methodist Church (the one in which I was baptised). My 10 year old was with me. The children are there at the beginning of services, then about 15 minutes or so in, are sent to their own Children’s Service. My 10 year old (who does have some learning issues) would much rather go to that type of service than Divine Liturgy (and especially Novus Ordo or Tridentine Mass) any day of the week. Not allowing child care (or cry rooms) at Mass but then encouraging it for other activities doesn’t make sense.

    • I chucked at your comment, too. Glad we are providing humorous moments for one another. The “adult event” example in the post was regarding strengthening marital spirituality through activities like couples’ Adoration. This is not at all the same thing as family/children’s Adoration, which we also greatly favor. It’s like the difference between date night and a family outing.

      Regarding children at Mass, I disagree that we should be taking our cues from the Methodists. We have the Eucharist, which makes all the difference. Other comments have addressed this, too.

    • DJ Hesselius

      I am not totally into taking cues from the Methodists either: let’s see–women “Reverends”, contraception, abortion, homosexual/gay marriage blessing. But perhaps taking our cue from our children instead and respond to what they need? My oldest son is the senior altar boy at our parish–the fellow in charge of the incense and holding the Lectionary whilst Father proclaims the Gospel. He actually probably missed more Church (due to the availability of Grandpa to babysit, etc) during his little guy days than my current not quite so little guy ever has (as Grandpa was too ill to babysit by that point.) He had no choice not to attend. Two different people: one feels a sense of accomplishment and worth at Liturgy. The other (who has, as noted, learning issues) lost and bored.

      Incidentally, I don’t think any of the Parishes I’ve attended (either Roman or Byz Rite) has ever offered childcare. If it had been available, I’d’ve used it and never once considered it part of the baby-hating mentality.

  • Aquinas5

    Great article and totally agree. I’ll be sharing with our pastoral associate. There tends to be a blind spot with Catholics within the Church concerning those of us with young children. We as a Church need to be more welcoming and especially accepting of children and your suggestions are definitely geared to that end.

    Just as a personal example, my husband and I are due any day with our sixth child. I’m 45 which means that I’ve been in and out of baby mode for over 21 years! I shouldn’t be the exception nor should it be difficult for me to participate in various aspects of parish life every time that another baby comes along. In some ways, I guess my own experience serves as an example to the parish since my husband is a deacon (something that you’ll be experiencing yourselves next year).

  • Cassandra Ho

    Oh, the childcare at events and the NFP! My mom friends and I have been saying these things for so LONG! All the heads of hte various ministries wonder why it’s always the same old people who come to any of the events, but point out that none of the young families have babysitters and they act like it’s not their problem. When did older people forget what it’s like to raise a family and stop caring? I thought it’s supposed to take a village, but it usually feels like the village doesn’t really want us hanging around outside of Mass.

    Don’t even get me started on NFP. Mention that to our priest, who thinks it’s great but is not comfortable talking about it, and we just get blank stares. No one wants to let us talk to anyone about it.

  • Rakhi @ Pitter Patter Diaries

    What a great way to incorporate the latest from the Holy Father(s)! Great article, and so relevant to our ministry and state of life. I so completely agree with you about the Sacrament of Baptism belonging in the liturgy. Having had both experiences (the one outside of Mass due to scheduling conflicts), I am even more convinced that Baptisms should be part of the communal liturgy. The child is baptized into a community and to remove that felt like an essential part of the rite was missing, especially with a smaller family.

    Also, couldn’t agree more about keeping children, even noisy ones, in the Mass. I recently was writing about how to reduce stress with toddlers, and my first point, and one I have learned slowly and reluctantly, is that we simply have to change our mindset as to what we expect from Mass. It isn’t a place of quiet solitude and reflection, but rather a communal gathering where we encounter Jesus in the Word and the Eucharist together, learning as a community which includes small children. How will they ever learn what the community is about if they are not welcomed even at a young age? Not that they can’t pick it up, but I do believe it is a dangerous mindset to get into, and one that is not at all welcoming to young families with children. Mass in the adult expectation in my experience is not designed for young children, so pastors who encourage families to keep their children there despite outbursts can be a great witness and encouragement. We are very lucky in that our pastor is quite outspoken about his expectation that our parish be a life-affirming parish which means children are always, always welcome…and that the cry room isn’t an alternate sanctuary.

    A few things that would also help from our experience are intentional events, activities, ministries that target newlyweds within the community. We found, that although we know our pastor and are active, we don’t know that many couples who were married around the same time and in the same state of family life. I think too many pastors and parishes continue to stay in the frame of mind that young people will come back after marriage and again, after babies. This just isn’t true anymore. When 40% of our young adults or more are in ecumenical/interfaith marriages, and getting married in spades outside the church, and the ones who are married aren’t necessarily connected, we just cannot assume that anymore. Kudos to the pastor who recognized that any point of contact is a point of welcoming and evangelization. In terms of welcoming, the other complaint I have often heard are about the hurdles one has to jump to do anything within the parish – sacraments included. While education and catechesis are important, I think it is also important not to include so much red tape that it becomes a hindrance to participation. Do you really need envelopes for a year from a couple before marriage or baptism? Couldn’t that be the point of outreach and welcome where they are invited to become committed members? Church isn’t a club, and sometimes it begins to feel that way.

    Along those lines, I think it is also important to honor the stage of life young families are in. Take into consideration timing of events. Something late in the evening, even with childcare, is not likely going to attract young families, nor something during the day for working families. While drawing families into the parish is important, why not also, to acknowledge that the home church being built will be the primary faith builder, offer take home activities or better yet, take advantage of social media and technology to offer home based studies and gatherings? Skype and video chat have been used quite well for this option. It should never be a substitute, but it offers an option for families that may otherwise not ever make it to events due to their family obligations or situations.

    Oh my! That was more than a mouth(hand) ful!! Sorry! Clearly I’ve thought about this a little bit. Thanks again for stirring this discussion, and for your important ministry. Blessings to you all!

  • TimRohr

    Teach NFP?? What about teaching people to keep their public marital promise to “accept children willingly and lovingly from God”? Most of us wouldn’t be here if our parents practiced NFP. So glad my didn’t.

    • TimRohr, NFP is not about not having kids. It is about “accepting children willingly and lovingly from God.” NFP is used to space pregnancy when necessary, or to achieve pregnancy when difficult. NFP is not contraception, it is knowledge. Using NFP is no more contraceptive than taking a pregnancy test. It simply allows a couple to know, within a reasonable margin of error, when fertility is occurring.

  • Peter Ascosi

    Just a simple couple comments-

    I think your article has a lot of good points, for sure.

    Personally I have 3 very young children… However, I’m not sure what to think about your argument about not offering childcare during mass – that it will “lose” young families. I don’t think it has a lot of teeth to it, or numbers.

    Our church doesn’t offer childcare during mass. However, I’ve spoken to a lapsed Catholic in my neighborhood (who I was personally inviting to a parish event) who has a number of small children – she said it just became too much to go – because of the kids (implying if there was childcare it may cause her to come back).

    Also, in the book of Nehemiah they recover the book of the Law. Then it says that Ezra read the book (while all the people stood – which is a precursor to us standing during the Gospel). Then it says 2 important things: Ezra read it in a manner that people could understand (down to earth). – and the only people present were older kids and adults. I think this was partly because it took him like 6 hours to read it all (most adults couldn’t handle this).

    Anyway, there’s biblical precedent for separating out little kids. Also the Church doesn’t impose a “flat uniformity” as Pope Francis recently said, but a robust unity. So until you offer more evidence – tied to your main thesis- I’m personally not going to be fully convinced.

    • Eileen

      You know, I don’t think saying it’s too much to go implies that she’d have gone if childcare were offered. She’d still have needed to get the kids up, dressed, fed, and out the door for a mere hour’s worth of time. Back when my husband and I only had two kids, we almost always went to two different Masses so one of us could stay home with the kids. Now that we’ve got six kids, it’s (believe it or not) easier to get the whole family out to Mass, but I don’t forget what it was like to only have two kids under 5.

  • LFk

    Disagree about the baptism outside of Mass suggestion. Did that one time with our second child. Yes, it was warm and fuzzy, and truncated. By that, I mean that the rite had all the required parts, but the optional parts were omitted. I believe the child receiving the full rite is more important than the number of witnesses, especially in these days when demonic activity is so prevalent.

    • dominic1955

      If you are really concerned with foiling demonic activity, compare the traditional rite of baptism in the old Rituale Romanum w/ the new rite as well as the blessing of holy water (among other things).

      All that is necessary for validity is the Trinitarian formula said w/ the proper use of natural water (matter and form). That said, the Rites that go along with the Baptism proper are very powerful. When we turn it into some sort of visceral communitarian thing as opposed to something properly communion building, we have problems, the greatest of which most people are blithely unaware of.

    • Joel Schmidt

      LFk, thanks for your comment. I don’t know why the Rite of Baptism would be “truncated” when celebrated within the Mass. This sounds like a problem of liturgical execution. Rather, when Rite of Baptism is integrated into Holy Mass on a Sunday, parts of the Rite are simply distributed over different parts of Mass.

      Please note that our preference for the celebration of Baptism during Mass has nothing to do with warmth or fuzziness and everything to do with nature of the sacrament, in which the baptized is incorporated in the Church (CCC 1253 – 1255, 1267 – 1270), and celebrating it in its most appropriate liturgical forum. First, the witness to the assembly is significant as a reminder of their own baptismal promises. Second, their participation in the rite has real spiritual power. For example, the priest prays the Prayer of Exorcism on behalf of the entire assembly, who assents with their “Amen.” I sincerely doubt Satan enjoys either of these.

  • magdalene

    We have MANY young and growing families in our parish. The parish is faithful is why. Not too slappy/clappy, etc. And although the pastor does not challenge much, he is a gifted homilist and gently brings home important points. And he is a manly man.

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  • Marsh Fightlin

    Excellent article. I’m forwarding it to my pastor. Our parish has a small group of men who meet regularly to discuss Sherry Weddell’s book on “intentional discipleship”. We are trying to increase the faith and life of the parish. Your article is a good addition.

    Regarding little children at Mass (full disclosure: I am a senior well beyond retirement age), I normally love to see them there, and to watch the parents struggling with restless boys. (Been there. Done that.) The same with cooing infants. But when an infant begins prolonged and loud screaming (usually at the beginning of the homily), the trained ear of an older parent can often detect that the child needs to be nursed. If would be charitable to the child (and the congregation) if the mother discretely took the child to the back of the church and did what mothers do best.

    Regarding NFP, my wife and I used to teach NFP back in the 70s and 80s. We always presented it as a way of monitoring the cycle, knowing when the best time is to try to conceive, discovering menstrual dysregulation, learning more about the woman’s body and, sometimes also, her moods. The basic approach to “planning” was this: You don’t need a reason to have a child. You need a reason not to.
    I think spreading the good news about the Theology of the Body and about NFP will require that pastors end the 40-year clerical conspiracy of silence and start preaching from the pulpit on these truths. There is a tactful way to do this in a mixed congregation. The priest should make his presentation at least as lengthy and his tone of voice at least as serious as the presentation and tone of the announcement of the addition of a second collection and the reason for it.
    Again, thanks for a great article.

  • Tim

    Stop treating the liturgy, especially the holy sacrifice of the mass, as entertainment instead of proper worship oriented towards God. Whether someone likes it or not, the EF does this and the OF could if implemented correctly. Unfortunately in the vast majority of parishes it is nothing more than self fulfilling, or at least a bad attempt, centered on the Protestant/Cartesian thought of experience centers faith instead of the objective reality of God

    • Gary Adrian

      Tim, I have to agree with you. Our parish is does the EF mass and the average age of the parishioners is about 30. We don’t have group classes because the priest teaches each couple getting ready for baptism separately. Our parish has tripled in size in the last seven years and continues to grow at about 5% per year in an older neighborhood.
      Firstly, we do have is deep reverence for the mass. Everyone comes early and prays and everyone stays after and prays. The Church continues to be full for about ten minutes after mass because we want to say our private prayers of thanksgiving for our receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
      Secondly we have coffee and donuts after the first mass and lunch after the second mass, all donated. When there we all look for unfamiliar faces or those who are sitting alone to make them feel at home.
      Thirdly, the priests are teaching priests. Their sermons are pointed and sometime hard hitting but they always end with love.
      I do recognize that we live in a different world than we used to. Most Catholics don’t know each other. I think today churches need large lobbies where people can visit outside the Nave so people can continue to pray. We need to build a sense of community. Our parish already has this and the fruits are wonderful.

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  • James

    As for #2: This needs to be properly explained that Catholics are WELCOMING children to mass.

    My wife grew up in a Protestant tradition. The way she grew up, the congregations all showed how much they cared about children by having children’s programs during adult worship. The sign that a congregation cared about children was that the children had something fun and educational to do while the adults were in boring, grown-up church.

    She was absolutely HORRIFIED that Catholics expected parents to care for their children during mass! Do they not care about the children enough to even provide a basic nursery for them???

    • Joel Schmidt

      James, excellent point. Anytime a parish seeks to implement an initiative that runs counter to the parish culture and could be construed as divisive or offensive by some, it is absolutely essential to get the communication right. We expect this would be one of those cases in many parishes..

    • Conservative Catholic

      Your response includes very telling phrases: “adult worship”, “boring, grown-up church”.
      These phrases make it sound as if you will only be “required” to worship when you are able to understand the Sacrifice of the Mass. This simply is not true and is rather telling of what we now teach our children. I continue, @ the age of 56, to find new and wonderful revelations in the Mass each time I attend!
      As for expecting “basic nursery” provisions for your children, you have them! You are in God’s house and there is no better place for children to be. You might feel, as most parents do at some point, that you did not “get anything” out of attending Mass. You are wrong! Just being in the presence of the Eucharist, you have gotten more than you will ever imagine, and by bringing your children to that Presence, you are being doubly blessed!
      I for one, want to thank you for bringing your children to Mass and for the pleasure of hearing their “disruptions”!

    • James

      As I mentioned earlier, my wife grew up in a PROTESTANT tradition. This is exactly how most PROTESTANTS view PROTESTANT worship and the role of children. (Quite frankly, Protestant “grown-up Church” IS boring.) The difference was never explained to either of us.

      Most Catholic parents who were born in the 1970s and 1980s were not well-educated either. Plenty cradle Catholics are leaving the church for evangelical megachurches because of the childrens programs.

      My point is that Catholics cannot discontinue nursery services without explaining WHY they are doing it. Otherwise they will unintentionally send the wrong message.

  • Kara Fried

    I think that perhaps this suggestion would only work as a communal effort between parishes or in large churches (at least in the Midwest where we Catholics are a minority), but another consideration is the encouragement of Catholic unions in the first place through singles events or activities. Maybe meet events/groups or something similar could help to bring Catholics together in the first place, avoiding the loss of members to other faiths or the sad compromise of “no faith.”

  • Jason

    In our area, the parishes who are attracting and keeping young families are the ones who are getting the liturgy right, tho catechize properly and effectively, and who are not afraid to preach the Truth. These are also the parishes building schools while the others are closing them, and the ones producing vocations. All of above are good ideas, and I encourage them, but they are secondary in my view. There needs to be something worth coming to, and staying with.

    • Joel Schmidt

      Jason, no argument here. We agree wholeheartedly that there is nothing more attractive than the Truth. We don’t intend the suggestions presented here to be a substitute for that.

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  • glynn

    I would also add that pastors have to stop over-controlling their parish territories, not so much as far as the sacraments are concerned, but in what each person is wishing to do at his/her home or elsewhere, especially if the parish itself has no room. Too much control stifles people, discourages them for doing the work they are capable of doing.

    • Conservative Catholic

      Could you give an example of what you mean by this comment? It’s a bit confusing.

    • Pastors forget-or don’t know- that registration does not have any canonical standing. Although a six-month (or year-long) registration period is nice for getting through pre-marital formation, it means zilch in terms of where one can have the liturgy. We attend a parish in an older neighborhood because the liturgy is trashed elsewhere; in some dioceses these parishes are formally elevated as personal parishes (for ethnic groups, for the Extraordinary Form, for the Anglican Use, or other reasons). But, if I wanted to, I still have the right to have my child baptized in my territorial parish, among other instances. Fr. Zuhlsdorf constantly gets question on registration, especially because people attend elsewhere (and some don’t register anywhere, or only in their home parish, or only at their parish with the TLM). These inane requirements were part of the calamity that hurt the FSSP mission in the Diocese of Little Rock (and that’s one way to drive away families with kids!)

  • Chris

    These are all good except number 4. There is a strange and erroneous trend going around now that portrays NFP as the default setting for married couples. The default setting is not to use any form of birth control and then only for grave reasons recourse to NFP can be had. When nfp is automatically presented especially to engaged couples as the default, the message can easily be, albeit unintentionally, that they are expected to be using some form of birth control, and limiting the number of children, etc., the exact things the contraceptive mentality has. NFP can then easily become the natural, safe alternative to contraception, but with similar attitudes behind it. Indeed almost every apologetic piece I have seen for nfp emphasizes how it is just as or more effective at preventing conception than the contraception they would otherwise use.
    I also don’t buy the argument that nfp is the only way to lure couples away from contraception, as such an approach seems to limit God’s grace and makes our own efforts the reason couples would change.

    • Heidi

      I would disagree. Without knowledge of NFP, my “default” would have been contraception when I was faced with a serious medical condition that threatened my life and needed to get under control. My doctor was insistent that I was too sick (and the medications I needed to take were severely dangerous for a baby) to get pregnant, and I needed to avoid pregnancy until we got through that treatment (it took about a year, total – had one set back). Because I had connections with NFP practitioners and had that training to fall back on, I was able to avoid contraception completely, and confidently.

      Good NFP teachers make sure to emphasize that NFP should only be used to avoid for grave reasons. NFP can also be used to treat infertility and help correct medical issues that are causing things like miscarriages and reproductive complications – NFP itself is only a means of observing reproductive cycles and knowing what they mean (and how to recognize medical issues, based on these signs). Good NFP teachers relay that information clearly, and explain that it is not to be used selfishly, like contraception.

    • Doctormom4

      As a medical professional, I agree with you. NFP needs to be taught and understood, because of situations like this. Many medical professionals are too quick to dismiss it and the alternatives actually do more harm then good. I actually have treated cancer pt’s who have higher risks of blood clots, DVTs and strokes due to their chemo treatments (a very common side effect). Along with everything else in their bodies being out of whack… Why would you also add birth control?!!

    • James

      I agree with you that too often NFP is sold as “Catholic contraception”, when it is really meant to be a discernment tool based on knowledge and self-awareness. (See Humanae Vitae 10.) Couples should be told that it’s perfectly OK (and good) for married couples to have babies and that a “what the heck baby” or a “we weren’t being very careful baby” is not an “NFP failure”.

      That being said, a big problem with “NFP support” is that too often it becomes “NFP judgment”. When your youngest starts walking around, some people take it upon themselves to start wondering when the next one is coming. This only serves to alienate the couples who are in most need of support and encouragement. When a struggling couple gets judgment instead of support, it’s going to be that much harder to stick with it.

      Faithful Catholic married couples are NOT pandas in captivity. The Church teaches that NFP “meets the objective criteria of morality.” When a married couple decides to or not to have sex—that’s what avoiding/achieving with NFP is—is between them and God. Unless you are their spiritual adviser, that’s none of your concern. (As for Heidi’s comment, I think some NFP teachers take on roles of spiritual guidance that are inappropriate for untrained laypersons.)

      Finally, when healthy couples have a healthy marriage, abstaining is HARD! Most couples need serious reasons to be able to abstain well enough to actually avoid pregnancy with NFP. 🙂

    • Per Archbishop Chaput: “Natural family planning (NFP) is in no way contraceptive. The choice to abstain from a fertile act of intercourse is completely different from the willful choice to sterilize a fertile act of intercourse. NFP simply accepts from God’s hand the natural cycle of infertility that He has built into the nature of woman.

      Regarding the issue of intention: Yes, both couples may have the same end in mind — to avoid pregnancy. But the means to achieve their common goal are not at all alike. Take, for example, two students, each of whom intends to excel in school. Obviously that’s a very good intention. With the same goal in mind, one studies diligently. The other cheats on every test. The point is, the end doesn’t justify the means — in getting an education, in regulating births, or in anything else.”

      Read more here:

    • Chris

      The point was not to equate NFP with contraceptives, as they are not the same, of course. The point is that nfp is not the default position for couples, which is the Magisterial teaching of the Church. NFP can be used with the same intention as contraception, however, and thus become a moral evil. One of the errors is the idea that NFP is good in itself and so for anyone to use it is an automatic good; whereas it is, in fact, neutral, and it depends on how we use it. (One can also note that contraception is not evil beause it is artificial.) One of the components of a moral act is the intention, and if it is misdirected then the complete act is sinful; if someone deliberately uses nfp as an effective means to ensure that conception is excluded it can thereby become sinful.

    • Joel Schmidt

      Chris, I sincerely appreciate your point about intentions regarding the use of NFP, because it certainly can be misused. I would suggest, however, that getting contracepting couples to move from an inherently corrupt method to a morally neutral one is a critically positive first step toward eventually reclaiming authentic marital chastity, which is the ultimate goal.

    • Rakhi @ Pitter Patter Diaries

      I think it is also important to remember that NFP teaches us to be aware of how God designed our bodies to work. While we can stray and use that in a contraceptive manner, we can also use that to HAVE babies, as is the case for our family. Family planning isn’t family limiting. Just my 2 cents.

    • WSquared

      Agreed. I should also point out that NFP allows God the “in” that He would not have with contraception.

      Also, why do some people think that families with fewer children are necessarily more selfish and less “open to life” than families with more children– that only families with a larger number of children are “truly” Catholic? As a blogger who goes by the handle of “priest’s wife” once pointed out,
      she knows a couple with six children who spaced them all while on the pill.

  • Mary

    Great article, Joel and Lisa! …And I agree with Michelle, who commented that when the priests take the time to welcome parents and children individually, it changes the tone of the parish. Our priests do that and it brings a very diverse community together, so that fellowship supports faith.

  • Marie Meints

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I would love to slip this under every priest’s door for miles around!

  • Allison Grace

    DRE is heretical, so baptism classes are heretical and NFP nonexistent. We’re Catholic because we converted when we discovered the truth, but it ends there. Save driving an hour to attend a Latin Mass, which we’re not really sure we want to align ourselves with, we are STUCK. The other 2 churches within half an hour are the same as ours. In order to keep joy alive (like this marvelous article!), we have found a few likeminded families to visit, commiserate with, and laugh with. And pray with.

    I’m inspired by your sentence, “…go ahead and start something completely new.” Must think. Thank you for this!

    • Joel Schmidt

      Allison, thanks for commenting. I’m sorry your parish situation is so difficult but pleased to learn that you’ve connected with other faithful Catholics who nourish your spirit. Hopefully, they strengthen you to be a light to those around you who might otherwise be led astray. Timely that today’s gospel reading addressed this very point. Never underestimate the power of a faithful, joyful witness.

    • magdalene

      I have been where you are. What we did? We held a good bible study in our home. Oversaw Eucharistic Adoration since Father was indifferent there (but would not allow our bible study at the parish because he did not like the Catechism). Attended a prayer group.

      But eventually could no longer stand the heresy and liturgical abuse and we moved. We had to for the sake of our souls. Some friends went Orthodox, some protestant and some dropped out—because their hearts were broken.

      We paid a price to move, no doubt. But it was worth it to not be upset at every Mass. Earplugs did not help. Praying with a Latin/English missal did and made me familiar with the TLM which I now attend when I can.
      We are in the same state but new diocese. Our old one welcomed gay priests which was part of the problem–no true Gospel taught by them.

    • gordon

      I have run accross some of the same “heretical” issues in my diocese. Complain loudly to the Bishop if necessary and why not start with something new like a Bible Study. A study that is orthodox in it’s teaching from scripture. I take formation for ministry classes and have had loud arguments with “teachers” over teachings that are clearly false! I too am a convert and a Catholic by choice and in my years studying the faith I learned it through orthodox teachers of Catholocism, thank God!

  • Michele

    This is fantastic! Our current parish is too small and elderly for much of this to be feasible, but our previous parish put into practice ALOT of what you suggest and it made a big difference. Biggest gamechanger, though? Having priests that make a real effort to be welcoming to each individual family and child. That changes the whole tone of the parish, in our experience!

    • Good point, Michele. Thanks for weighing in!

    • Contra Mundo

      Indeed having a priest who is truly welcoming makes a world of difference. There are too many priests out there who make little effort and are very often insincere. As a military brat and then in the military I’ve been new to many parishes and its ironic/phony as you leave your first Mass at the new parish and the priest says to you, “Good to see you again!” How is it good to see me “again” if you’ve never met me? You rarely hear priests call people by name as they shake hands with those leaving.
      In the parable of the sheep and the rams one of the acts of charity is to welcome strangers. Its clear though that some priests care more about traffic flow than making a personal connection and/or greeting strangers.
      I am part of a Melkite parish and its always nice when you receive communion that the priest of deacon says your name every time.

    • Gary Adrian

      Hi Michele,
      I would agree that having priests that are friendly and welcoming would be optimal. The problem is that there are fewer and fewer priests available and their time is very limited. My sisters parish is one of four that the priest serves. Obviously, we need leaders in each parish that do the reaching out to parishioners. I try to do that at our parish but I can’t take care of their spiritual needs. Thankfully, we are now getting more deacons available to also help.

      We all need to volunteer more of our time to help out where we can. In our parish, everything is done by volunteers. Thankfully we have a lot of retired military that have time to help. But again, we all need to help were we can so the priest and leaders in the parish have the time to do the important interpersonal work that needs to be done.

    • Michele

      I think you’re totally right, Gary! We need both lay and ordained people showing families that they are welcome. But I definitely still think that the priest, even when he isn’t physically present a ton, can still have an impact and set the tone for the parish. Our previous pastor was the Vicar General for the diocese, and often wasn’t as available as a normal pastor would be…but when he was THERE, he was THERE…you know? He was present and welcoming, and his attitude definitely was an encouragement to all the lay members of the parish.

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  • Bonnie Engstrom

    Ahhhh! That 30 year old Baptism video – was it the one with “Godmother Gertie”? Frankly, it was embarrassing and did nothing to grow us in our understanding of Baptism.

    I love these points, Joel and Lisa, and I’m very proud of my parish, local young adult ministries, and priests for “getting” the importance of childcare, supporting young families, and NFP.

    You two are such a blessing to your diocese!

    • I wish I could remember if it was Godmother Gertie … I have completely blocked it out of my memory! 🙂 You know what I remember most about our class? The facilitator going on and on and on about the after-Baptism party and the casserole she made for it.

  • This is a must read article. I’ve shared it through all my networks. Good things to reflect upon! Thank you!

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  • Martina@CatholicSistas

    We see most of these at our parish – I was on the planning committee for our Adult Faith Formation program and kept being the bug in the ear on childcare, saying that if we weren’t able to provide it, people wouldn’t be able to attend.

    As for the others, we *do* have childcare during Mass, but with a parish of over 20K registered parishioners, I’d hardly say it qualifies as what is described in this post…luckily. It provides some amount of haven for parents who go through *that* phase, which is always short lived. We do also have cry rooms at the trancepts and people make use of the narthex and nursing mother’s room, so we do offer a lot of options for those of us with littles.

    I think the key to all of this is for pastoral councils to be working very closely with priests and to share that these things are important. Keeping lines of communication between the priests and parishioners is also key.

    I think suggestion/comment/feedback cards would also be hugely helpful. 🙂

    • Hi Martina! Thanks for your feedback. Joel and I went back and forth A LOT about #2. We had quite the discussion last night. It was a fun dialogue! 🙂 We are excited as our Bishop (Des Moines) has called a Year of Marriage and the Family to begin this fall, and we were asked to serve on the steering committee which gears up next week. I’m hopeful the Holy Spirit will bless this initiative and the parishes and lay faithful will reap the fruit.