Church Attendance & SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
1. Willow Creek surveys based on 11,000 responses found little or no relationship between church activities and spiritual growth. Another study using different tools arrived at the same conclusion.
To put it in Catholic terms, there seems to be little relationship between church attendance and spiritual development. What develops over the years is a comfortable form of stagnation. One could find many examples. After twenty years in ministry, a priest may have said 10,000 Masses but may have little development to show for. No change can usually be noticed among confirmands before and after confirmation; the same is probably true for priests before and after ordination, and also among the faithful after five as opposed to twenty years of Mass attendance.
Canon law defines the minimum requirements for sacraments. Thus according to canon 1248 “Participation in the Mass in satisfied by assistance at a Mass.” If attendance suffices to fulfill the “Sunday obligation,” why sing? Why not stay in the last pew and drop out as soon as possible? Moreover, sacraments have a near automatic effect, which is “to give grace.” In this perspective the emphasis is on quantity, like frequent Mass attendance, not fruitfulness. Many Catholics have internalized this minimalist conception of sacraments.
2. Vibrant parishes have many activities and ministries that stimulate spiritual development. They may have lectures, various small groups for discussion or prayer, various forms of devotion, adult education, bible studies, various forms of outreach and social action, etc. All these activities foster engagement in the parish and personal reflection. Parishes that only offer sacramental practices decline over time. The young are the first to drop out.
These vibrant parishes don't foster routines, always the same, over the years. These parishes invite to more than mere Sunday attendance.