When Bishop Carl Kemme announced that 52 percent of Catholics in the Diocese of Wichita attend Mass regularly, some of the diocese’s priests were shocked or disappointed.
One priest, Kemme said, responded by saying, “That’s terrible.” Some thought the number should be higher, perhaps around 80 percent.
Yet for Kemme, learning that 52 percent of Wichita’s Catholics attend Mass regularly was a surprise – and a good one.
“I felt very positive about it, but I also felt and consider that this is sort of a message that we’ve got work to do,” Kemme said. “The work is to stay strong and keep preaching the message of the Gospel and invite more and more people to the table.”
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Although some thought that 52 percent was too low, Wichita’s average Mass attendance is greater than the national average.
In 2016, average Mass attendance among U.S. Catholics was 22 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Regular Mass attendance has been decreasing since 1965, when the center reported it was at 55 percent nationwide.
Today, some dioceses, particularly on the East and West coasts, have attendance levels as low as 10 or 15 percent, Kemme said.
The Catholic Diocese of Wichita only began an annual Mass attendance count two years ago. The count also showed that Mass attendance is shrinking in rural areas, while increasing in more urban areas like Sedgwick County.
“All of us were very curious as to what our numbers would come out,” Kemme said. “I don’t think I was so nervous, but I was surprised.”