Northeast Calgary church gets attention for rising attendance

St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church is defying the ongoing trend toward declining church attendance through one simple strategy – engagement.

“I always like to keep a light-hearted [sermon],” Father Malcolm D’Souza said in a Feb. 1 interview.

“I try to have interactive [sermons] where people get to raise their hands, and I try to use everyday examples for people to relate to.”

D’Souza, who has been pastor at St. Mark’s for five years, emphasizes the importance of connection between himself and the congregation.

“When the priest talks about everyday struggles or everyday situations, it’s not just something that happened 2,000 years ago, but it’s something that happens today in their lives,” he said. “When you find a connection, then you begin to want a little more.”

The declining attendance in churches across Canada, evident from the continuing rise in the number of empty pews, has been cause for concern for years. Statistics Canada reported in 2010 that only three in 10 Canadians attended a service at least once a month.

In November 2013, former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey issued a warning during a speech in Britain, saying Christianity was a “generation away from extinction” in Britain unless something was done to attract young people back to churches.

The decline in attendance at religious services reflects the increasing number of people who have removed themselves from faith, but the church can do more to change that, D’Souza said.

“It has become a sort of supply and demand with today’s society. If the music is boring and the [sermon] is boring, then people will not come,” he said.

“People are always willing to give the church an opportunity, but the more disconnected the church is, the less they are willing to come.”

The Catholic Church continues to have the largest congregations in Canada and in some countries around the world. That is mostly thanks to the immigration of Catholics from countries like the Philippines, D’Souza said.

“Eighty per cent of the congregants at St. Mark’s are Filipinos,” he said. “The rising attendance started in August of 2010, when the church started [offering] one evening mass per month, held especially for foreign workers who cannot attend the church at 8 a.m. or noon.”

In 2010, St. Mark’s had an average of 1,500 parishioners at six masses per weekend. However, they saw a rise after the implementation of 6 p.m. masses.

“We noticed that 50-70 people attended the 6 p.m. mass, so we decided to do evening masses every Sunday instead of just once a month.”

The word spread, and soon the masses started to take on a life of their own.

People are always willing to give the church an opportunity, but the more disconnected the church is, the less they are willing to come. – Father Malcolm D’Souza

By 2014, St. Mark’s was looking to accommodate 2,900 parishioners per weekend.

“We were so amazed,” D’Souza said.

Along with the evening mass, his church has also implemented a few programs to attract the young and old, such as Couples for Christ Foundation and Life, Ultimate Faith Challenge (UFC) and Singles for Christ.

“I tell everyone to make Sunday [communion] a priority in their life,” D’Souza said.

“If you’re disconnected with your faith, then it is a struggle.”

To know more about St. Mark’s Catholic church, visit their website.

About Tracy Tapang 6 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Tracy Tapang worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2015-16 academic year.