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In the Heart of the Parish: Discovering the Why Behind a Rise in Mass Attendance in Green Bay

catholic mass attendance

In 2022, as part of a strategic mission planning initiative, the Diocese of Green Bay thoroughly examined Mass attendance trends across its parishes and uncovered an anomaly they were surprised to find. Twenty-one of the 157 parishes showed a notable increase in Mass attendance compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. 

Prior to the pandemic, the Diocese of Green Bay began using MissionInsite from ACST Catholic to gain a comprehensive understanding of their communities in order to shape their strategic mission plan, grasp the evolving dynamics within their neighborhoods, and help parishes tailor their outreach efforts. One outcome of this process was an analysis of the reasons for the increase in Mass attendance.

A deeper understanding of the reasons for the surge emerged through a subsequent survey and follow-up interviews with priests from 17 of the 21 parishes. The resulting qualitative insights and personal anecdotes shared by the parish leaders offer valuable perspectives on the factors influencing the rise in Mass attendance despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. 

Four consistent themes emerged. 

  • Leadership – in each of the parishes experiencing surges in Mass attendance, the priest and parish leaders were highly visible and engaged with parishioners; they consistently shared their vision for the parish and enabled their staff and leaders.
  • Culture – the overall culture of the parish was set by clergy, parish staff, leaders, and volunteers, and it was positive, energetic, friendly, and welcoming. 
  • Relationship – in the growing parishes, parishioners felt they were known and that they belonged.
  • Communication – across the board, there was intentional and consistent communication across multiple channels prior to, during, and post-pandemic. There was no gap in communication.

These became actionable and repeatable steps that any parish can take to begin to shape an engaged and growing parish community. Barry Metzentine, Director of Parish Operations and Mission Planning, offered insights to all parishes in the diocese to help them implement changes that could move them in the same direction. 


“Priests and parish leaders should approach every situation with a ‘yes,'” explained Metzentine. As with any parish, there are always irregular situations, and successful parishes strive to accommodate those in a way that meets people where they are. This ” yes ” attitude helps foster a deepening relationship with Christ and the Church.

Another aspect of leadership that emerged was the accountability for an active mission plan. Parishes should ensure that there is at least one priority and one goal for the parish mission plan and that staff, council members, and active ministry volunteers each have a role to play.

Finally, leadership in the growing parishes ensures that there is an active care ministry, with formed and trained individuals assisting with the sick and hospitalized, the homebound, and nursing home residents, as well as follow-up connections with family members.


“We encourage priests and parish leaders to invest time in people with energy and a positive attitude,” Metzentine says. High energy, friendly, welcoming staff, volunteers, and ushers are visible and palpable signs of a blossoming parish culture. 

Priests, staff, council members, and active ministry leaders who spend time together on retreats or other events help shape an engaging and thriving parish culture. This is a step that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Making the culture of the parish visible outside the parish walls is another key to shaping the culture within. Parishes can advertise Mass times and other pastoral and community events, increasing visibility within the community. Parishes can also offer the use of their facilities for community services like food or clothing banks, donation or recycling dropoff points, or other community impactful causes.


The availability of the priest and parish leaders to parishioners was a key aspect of the surge in Mass attendance in those 21 parishes. After Masses, set times during the week in the office and at-home visits with parishioners were key to developing strong relationships. 

Other ideas gleaned from these successful parishes included “time with Father” community gatherings, cultural and topical faith formation, and online videos. Active ministry leaders and members of the council can also call and connect with parishioners, offering thanks, prayers, and simple invitations. 


“Consistently promote fellowship, formation, outreach services, and the status of the parish,” stated  Metzentine, “And use every channel available to you.” This is not limited to just the church bulletin but includes the parish website, social media, email, newsletters, and quarterly or bi-annual mailings. 


In the same study, five high-impact contact points were identified. These also provide a template that parish leaders and priests can use to increase engagement.

  • Homily – homilies that are personable, relevant to real-life situations, and deeply touching ignite a passion to fall in love with Jesus
  • Welcome and invitation–friendly greeters, routine gatherings, and personal connections and follow-ups help everyone feel they belong
  • Authentic liturgy and well-presented music keep the focus on the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith
  • Family-centric faith formation–the direct involvement of the priest and parish leaders, as well as parents,  in children’s religious education and sacrament preparation, keep families connected to the parish and to the faith
  • Pastoral care–connection and follow-up with parishioners in life and death moments are compassionate signs of God’s mercy

In the follow-up to the increased Mass study, the diocese encouraged all parishes to increase opportunities for spiritual experiences for families, look for new volunteers among those participating in prayer or Adoration, increase pastoral outreach, get to know active parishioners and develop a plan to connect with and invite inactive parishioners back to Mass.

There is always more to do, but by following the example of these 21 parishes–as well as those many more across the country that are seeing rising Mass attendance–parishes everywhere can bring people together and create meaningful encounters with Christ. 

About Polly King

Polly King has over 30 years in the marketing and communications field, the last 12 in Catholic publishing. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she has a deep passion for helping parishes engage and evangelize their communities. This led her to join ACS Technologies as part of their mission to serve the Church with technology and solutions that support their ministries. Polly currently resides in Indiana with her husband Bob and their 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Riley. Her commitment to her faith and dedication to her profession make her an inspiring figure for those looking to make a positive impact in their communities.