Getting young people to Mass and keeping them coming

Hi all, my diocese will be holding a workshop on the topic in the title (where “young people” would be high-school and college age, up to say 30). I thought I’d ask here what things may have worked for you, or that you have seen be successful. Likewise, what things did not work for you, or that you have seen tried without success. I know it’s a big topic, but any feedback most appreciated.

Hi SnarfleMike.:slight_smile:

In highschool, what kept me coming to church was … my parents. Skipping Mass to go play was never an option as long as I lived at home. Their modeling and my belief in the real presence and my need for communion with my Lord brought me back once I was outside of their immediate sphere of influence.
As a young adult, I did skip Mass off and on, but the Eucharist always called me back.
Nowadays, i’m a regular.

Based on my experience, catechesis about the Real Presence, orientation to the sacraments as a child, and good parental modelling make a difference.
As an aside, I did not receive confirmation until I was well into adulthood, having opted not to be confirmed until I decided I was ready. By hindsight, I wish I had received the graces that come with confirmation much earlier.

This may be an idea to discuss as i know that various archdiocese are discussing moving confirmation to an earlier age and our Eastern Catholic brethren offer chrismation (confirmation) with baptism and first Eucharist at infancy.
Also, given the strong pull by Christ through Holy Communion, I would advocate for Eucharistic devotion, adoration and holy hours so that your young people may experience His presence and the peace which comes when one sits with Him.
Nowadays, I spend a bit of time helping young people with simple apologetics so that they might understand some of the things which make Catholicism so unique and special. There is a tremendous need for catechesis, including especially reverent Masses and the reception of Communion.

May God bless you and your efforts to support our faith family.


I’m going to second this! I have been working with kids from second grade through college and the number one indication of continued church attendance has been the role of the parent. The parents who are faithful in attending Mass every Sunday ( even in the summer and when there is a soccer game) have children who follow. I would put my resources in the parents. And tell them that it is a sin to miss Mass even for a soccer game! Lots of the parents don’t know (or believe) this and many priests are reluctant to inform them.

It’s not music, its not “hip” homilies. Its not hot dogs and cookies after Mass.

It’s parents…

The answer is really letting them decide if the faith is worth keeping or not. They need to have an internal desire to go. Pushing a person at anything who is of an age where they can make their own choices only grows resentment. External pressure is not a good answer.

If you can establish that someone has the desire, but only lacks the discipline then you have something to work with and develop. I suggest developing these sorts of aids and be frank that we are saying that a good Christian must go, but it’s up to you to want to be a good Christian and then we can help guide you along that path, but they have to walk it.

For parents it makes sense that the children of their household would have to abide by the house rules, but all this obedience must be nurtured into them from and early age; so , the love of the family is understood as part of the bond of doing things as a household.

I’d say that parents play a huge role in nurturing the Faith in children so that they carry it with them into adulthood. Also, I think that the Faith should be presented in a way that makes it seem like something that is actually important and worth their time.

Having “teen Masses” or catechesis solely on the love of Christ and having a relationship with Him is not very conducive to bringing them into the Faith. But teaching them the Faith in its entirety, especially stuff like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass & the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, would certainly be a good idea. I have gone to a parish that utilizes the “teen Mass” method and another parish that has the full-on catechism & Traditional English/Latin Masses and the difference is astounding with a plethora of pious youth in the latter.

I teach CCD alongside my wife and we’ve found that adults who show how to live faith filled lives in a consistent and loving manner tends to draw the youth to Mass. We have children whose parents don’t attend Mass as regularly as they should but we don’t make an issue of their parents. We let the kids know that we participate in Mass sometimes twice a day because it’s a blessing to be that close to God. We also send and answer their texts on a pretty constant basis. For youth, they are sometimes more comfortable using their phones to express their emotions rather than face to face communication or emails.

My biggest piece of advice is sincerely be interested in what they have to say instead of telling them what you think all the time. They spend all day in school being told what to learn, then hear their friends tell them what they should think, then come home to hear their parents tell the about their day. The youth sometimes feel isolated despite living in a world dominated by instant communications.

I had a youth openly challenge a well-known church teaching. As the other youth clammed up waiting for the expected outburst from me, I asked what she thought was the church teaching. She clearly didn’t know what the teaching was and so was filling in (erroneous) details given to her by her well meaning but non-Catholic school mates. When I informed her of the correct church teaching, why we believe what we believe, and showed her the references she could use to verify what I just told her, she seemed more relieved. The youth want to believe but they are exposed to so many people who are not helping them.

This is a good question and one often asked. I think it is sincere, but I’m not sure it is properly directed. The question should be: “how does the church re-learn to make disciples?”.

Mass attendance is really just a reflection of a persons’ faith. Once you answer that, you will solve the Mass attendance issue.

Thanks again for the topic, and good luck with your endeavour!

I’ve never taught kids in religion (not that I haven’t been asked) but I have been asked to tutor some in reading of all things. Some mothers felt that they had tried everything to no avail so they asked me to see what I could do for them. I started with the books they had been given and took it from there. What I found was that they could indeed read but it was in areas where they were curious they were most enthusiastic. One liked science and another liked cartoon stories and so that’s what they were ultimately reading and reading well. This interest I’m afraid isn’t something that is taught but comes from prior exposure to some pleasant experiences among other things.

I too see youths attending the Traditional Mass, many by themselves, and have to wonder why they keep coming back. Maybe they enjoy the quiet and the mystery. Maybe they just like the challenge of trying to figure out the Latin. But somewhere along the line they saw it as a pleasurable event and made it a point to learn as much as they could about it. I don’t think they would drive some distance to an event just to fulfill an obligation that many are taught to do. Because I just don’t think that’s sustainable these days. There’s got to be more.

Amen to that, but for a number of young people their parents don’t go or they’re not living with their parents. I think the same can be said for mass as for anything - if it’s done well it sends the message that it’s important and people will respect it. This applies to the manner of the readings, the music, the homily and the way in which the mass is celebrated and the people participate. Of course the opposite is equally true. This applies as much to the people in the pews as it does to the priest but above all, I’d say that our churches need to be welcoming places. I’m not talking about balloons out front and neon sings but simply about attentive greeters being friendly (but not pushy). This is something which pentecostal churches do very well and which we could definitely learn from them

However, it is not the form of the Mass; it is the parents.

And why do I say that? The generation called the “baby boomers” grew up with the EF because that was the only form. They were from college age to high school age when the OF was introduced; but it is a serious mistake to presume that the form of the Mass was what caused the continuation of the exodus. Mass attendance reached its peak in the 1950s and was already on a downhill slope of fewer attending regularly, well before Vatican 2, and the subsequent Form promulgated after Vatican 2.

Parenting has changed in general. And that, too, started decades ago; Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote his famous (or infamous, if you don’t believe in permissiveness) book in 1948, and permissiveness became more and more prevalent in parenting - or non parenting, if you will.

I have watched 2 and a half generations of parenting, and I have been a parent, and from my observations both from a distance and from the middle of the chaos, I can say that there have been and continue to be way, way too many parents who don’t seem to have the courage and moral fortitude to parent.

Too much in parenting discussions gets into an “all or nothing” routine, as if there was absolutely no middle ground. The discussion either gets into “You are repressing the child and they won’t learn how to make decisions”, or the laissez faire of not being able to tell the teenager anything. There is a middle ground, and a parent needs to still be a parent.

Further indication that it is not the Mass, but rather societal changes (particularly in parenting), is the fact that the age group with the highest attendance rate of weekly Mass is the over 55 crowd. Attendance rates fall off dramatically after that.

Hi otjm,
I think you might be a bit off with the timing here as I am part of the tag end of the boomer generation and a cradle Catholic and I only experienced the EF once in my youth. (The boom ran from 1946 to 1964.)

I definately agree with your point about parenting.
I think teen Mass has sometimes become a code phrase for liturgy which focusses more on the teen than on Christ and this may be where some point to other Mass examples (both O.F. and E.F.) as offering greater reverence or catechesis.
I know that both OF and EF Masses bring us the same Christ in the Word and the Eucharist and appreciate the ways that reverence in either form can help catechise our children to the wonder of our God and His presence in the Word and in the Eucharist.
May God bless you and all who visit our thread.

Yeah, I keep forgetting that us old fogeys were at the start of the boomers, and it stretched a looooong ways.

I was about graduating from high school when you were born…

I won’t bore you with long stories, but when one of my twin daughters was graduating from college, she introduced me to one of her professors: “And this is my dad. And he is vey demanding!”

And I looked at her and said “Aaannnd?”

She is also the one, several years before, out of the blue thanked me profusely for having held her to the high standard she was capable of reaching (and reached, admirably) when starting high school. Long story, but I was the parent and they did not write the rules.

Hi, from the perspective of a young person (im 23) I can tell you what worked for me and what didn’t work for my peers. Getting involved in the Mass helps. I sang in the choir for a short time, until I realized I couldn’t sing well. But then I became an altar server at age 10 and didn’t stop until I was 17. I truly believe altar serving brought me close to God and to my faith. Even as child and teen I felt a draw to being in a church. I loved it, plus I learned all the prayers and responses. Now as I watch the altar servers in my church there is a sense of importance that they feel that I did as well. A knowing that they are doing something very important and sacred and that they are needed ( not in a prideful way but the opposite as altar serving is very humbling). It also fosters vocations and not just for boys. As a female that draw to being in church is something I’ve been discerning as a call to religious life.

As for what doesn’t work, forcing children to go to church may breed resentment. I was never forced, honestly my mother never went to church and now I do my best to get her to come to Mass occasionally. If my grandmother didn’t come I would go to church alone sometimes when I served the Mass. Im not saying leave your kids at home but don’t make it a chore or punishment. Let them have friends at church or bring friends. Show them that it is a loving and all embracing environment. Suggest, not force, that they get involved maybe in youth group. My younger cousin resented church, ccd class and now religion. When he was living with me a year ago I asked him if he’d like to come help out at youth group since he wouldn’t come to Mass. He came and had a great time and helped out a lot because he felt needed and wanted. I haven’t been able to get him to come to Mass yet but I know it made an impression on him because he was embraced.

My mother insisted from a young age that both me and my sister attend Mass & religious education. I had no issues with it, and liked both but my sister did not like either that much then it got to the point that she stopped going to Mass sometime after high school (and as far as I know has not been back since). I admit at times growing up Mass and religious education was a bit boring as I grew up in the post Vatican II era compared to my mother who came of age during the council times then the implementation of the reforms.

I had my times away from the church but have found my way back. I think being involved in a few things as my work schedule permits helps too. I also say if priests and parish staff do things to encourage young people’s & young adults participation in various things (mass ministries, Vacation bible school, etc) that helps too. As my work schedule permits, I do from time to time go to daily Mass, devotions, bible study classes, attending Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy and the EF Mass among other things.

What didn’t work for me was the watered down joy joy happy happy joy joy feel good Mass and homilies that are typical around where I lived.

What got me back was coming to the realization that Hell is real and people do go there, and if I continued living in sin, I would also go there.

Through circumstances of trying to find a priest willing to hearing my confession, I stumbled upon the Extraordinary Form and despite not knowing Latin, and being lost and confused at first, I fell in love with the Mass through the reverence and the externals that touched my senses. I tried to go back to the OF which was all my city had, but it was just too painful to sit through after experiencing the EF, so I drove the four hours every Sunday for Mass in the EF throughout college until I could move there. The more I attended the EF and our priest taught is the faith and taught is the need to become saints, and the more I went to confession, the more drawn in I became to attending Mass. I eventually began attending Mass every day and started discerning a religious vocation.

We have a very young congregation and have so many young adults who all day the same thing.

I’m 23.

The following short booklet on the Mass helped me greatly (First read it about 2 years ago) -

The Holy Mass -
(Roman Catholic Imprimatur)

I hope this has helped

God Bless

Thank you for reading

I agree somewhat.

And if they have any questions at all, I think one should feel lucky. After all, curiosity is a very powerful motivator.

A friend of mine, she’s younger. She goes to a parish where they regularly have social events. For example they had a camping retreat and they had a tent set up for confessions and they had Mass ever morning while out in the woods. The camping aspect appealed to many and the Mass and confession setup helped to give everyone a whole other added prospective to God, nature, and the Mass.

Also, one Church here in town, the priest regularly gets together with the college aged Catholics at a local tavern. I’ve seen a flyer before and it’s called Theology On Tap I believe. They actually have a beer :rolleyes: and just sit and talk with the priest about theology and anything that comes to mind. I’ve not attended one, but from what I know it’s actually very informative. Younger people aren’t afraid to ask questions about the Church and talk things out as a group. It’s quite popular and seems really effective.

I want to chime in here, because, despite being “young in the faith” (just shy of 1 year since receiving the Sacraments).

My town is relatively small, and the population does fluctuate depending on the time of year. We have three Churches; AoG, Anglican and the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church has, by far, the worst youth attendance, despite something like 30-50% of our town being “culturally Catholic.”

My Sponsor, from RCIA, has suggested several times in casual discussions that there are 3 things needed for children to embrace the faith, and not wander off:

  • Parenting. It starts from birth in demonstrating the faith to the kids, and impressing it upon their minds, in the everyday ways and movements of Catholic life
  • Teaching. From a young age, kids need progression onto stuff that can’t just be demonstrated, like morality, sins, the Sacraments and so on.
  • A Personal Encounter with God. This is the big one, in my opinion. If the kids are well-educated and instructed, then it is now up to them to lead themselves in prayer life and have personal revelation. If this doesn’t happen, the kids drift away gradually or quickly.

Another big problem is families who want their kids “to be Catholic,” by enrolling them in the Sacraments, but never actually showing up to Church and giving them that experience in the faith.
What happens here is like in Norway, where events such as Confirmation are trivialized into “something that is ‘just done’ because we always have,” and not because there is any underlying meaning in the Ceremony and Mass. This breeds families full of ‘Cultural-Catholics,’ those ‘in name only,’ which are harmful (Scandalous to the Church?) for the rest of us practicing Catholics.

Unfortunately, we are also faced with a Priest shortage. The problem here is that in some parts of the globe, like rural Australia, Mass is only available as the Priest visits, anywhere up to 2-3 times monthly (perhaps less), depending on what the nearest Priest can work out (as he does have responsibility to say, 2 or three Parishes).
Priests themselves have told me that once there is no longer a permanent Priest in the Parish, those with a weaker faith tend to drift away, and only visit for the Masses, before drifting further and only attending at Christmas and Easter.
Some might say that those with weaker faith are better off not coming; I say otherwise. If you can get a Mass more often, then these people are attracted and it should certainly strengthen their faith in God. The fact is, having a Priest VISIBLY present in the community makes the Church seem more approachable, and far less alien.
The big thing here is the Priest, whether permanent or not, NEEDS to go door-knocking, and make themselves more accessible to the public. This can help people have their questions and doubts answered, among other things.

Personally, I would disagree with “Youth Masses,” mainly because kids need a realistic representation of reality for when they grow older. Tailoring it to their needs teaches them that the Church will go to them, not the other way around, as it had traditionally meant to be!
If you teach kids “The Church will come to them,” then you end up with silly ideas that we have in society today: That the Church “needs” to abandon Z, Y and/or Z teaching before I will go, and in that you loose the teachings of the Bible and have people thinking the Church is whatever they want it to be…

Last year, at the Sacramental Mass (led by our Diocesan Bishop), I requested many of my friends (about 10) to come. They all did. Several are “culturally” Greek-Orthodox, some are undecided and one is a practicing Anglican and two belonged to the AoG Church.
Aside from the Anglican, and two other friends (principle in my formation) none of them are remotely concerned with religion. Unfortunately, liberalism in the media and from parents and friends have taught them that “religion is a hoax, and is used to control people and get their money. An all-superior and reigning God would never permit all the suffering in the world.”
While I appreciated their support, friendship and understanding in my conversion, I know I could never get them to come back. I have prayed that this one occasion will be enough to get them started in some sort of belief in God - but I haven’t a clue where to take it from there.

I apologize for the long post. Brevity is NOT something I can do well. But to summarize:

  • Children need parents with a firm belief and faith in God, who are willing to share this with others. This will better prepare them to personally experience God in some way, shape or form
  • Parents need to give children the faith with full intention of them growing into “Good Catholics.” Not giving them “a faith,” because “its a family tradition” or whatever.
  • Particularly in regional areas, Priests need to be more visible in the community to remove this “smokescreen” that surrounds the Church. People who don’t understand or know are afraid!
  • Church needs to be The Truth, the Whole Truth, and nothing but The Truth. No “children’s Mass,” and no Choirs/Bands/Praise Singers that merely entertain the crowd, instead of drawing people to contemplate God
  • Lastly, for Youth who didn’t have a religious upbringing (such as myself), the rest of us MUST demonstrate our Faith and pray for those without the Faith. We MUST plant seeds, ask questions and be the One, Holy, Catholic Church we claim to be!