Readers share what they search for when choosing a parish

In the Pews
More than 600 people took our April Reader Survey on shopping for a parish. Here’s more of their feedback on what they look for when searching for a spiritual home.

The reason I stay at my current parish is…

It has good involvement for young adults.

The community of people and what they stand for.

I would no more think of leaving my parish than I would of leaving my family.


I love it there. I feel spiritually nourished in a community of like-minded people and I’m happy when I go to Mass. I feel at home.

The ability to be involved in numerous liturgical roles.

It welcomes us as a gay couple. We are involved in parish activities. There is good preaching. We are committed to serving the poor. The liturgy is built on a Vatican II spirit.

It’s an intentional faith community.


I get spiritually charged by the sermons.

It is right around the corner, but it has always been blessed with excellent pastors, caring staff, beautiful liturgy, ample opportunity for lay involvement, and a genuine sense of community.

I felt welcome the moment I entered.

The parish offers quality liturgies, invites lay participation, and is not theologically polarizing.


I am active in the music ministry.

I am able to contribute to the life of the parish and I am fed by the parish, through liturgies, activities, and community.

They would truly miss us if we left!  And truth be told, we are in a symbiotic relationship–our parish depends on us and we depend upon our parish.

A reason I decided against continuing to attend a certain parish was…


Getting a sense that only persons with a particular mindset are welcome.

I witnessed so much mistreatment of parishioners: the elderly, handicapped young and old, young parents of infants and small children, and those who were financially challenged.


Pre-Vatican II liturgy.

Being rejected from every ministry I tried to join.


Increasing emphasis on right-wing politics.

The choir drove me nuts. Hymns were for the choir and not for the congregation.

There were few programs for youth or interest in engaging them.

The pastor put out a sign, with pictures, mind you, specifying the “dress code” for church attendance.  The sign stated that those in shorts, flip-flops or women in sleeveless tops, were “not permitted.”  Furthermore, the ushers were instructed to ask those violating the dress code to leave.


As shallow as it sounds, it usually comes down to Mass times.

The liturgy seemed to be uninspired and just going through the motions.

I moved to a different neighborhood.

The poor quality of preaching and a certain attitude of self-congratulation.

The pastor was controlling of everything and gave long winded, loud sermons that made no sense.

It was a Mass to satisfy obligation rather than to involve and uplift.

No one spoke to us. The priest didn’t engage with anyone in the pews. He sat through nearly the whole Mass and let the deacon do everything.

There was no joy in the church or the celebration and no relevancy in the sermon.


I know I’ve found the right parish for me when…

I feel I can talk to the pastor about anything and not be rejected.

I miss attending Mass there if I am out of town.

People actually look happy to be there.

I believe it has a commitment to the people of God and is a vital part of the local area.

I feel the Holy Spirit in the church—its people, not the building.

I’m energized when I leave.

I experience the presence of God through the music, readings, and homily.


The work of the priest and congregation makes a true spiritual experience and I am able to leave the building knowing that the church is still with me.

An experience I had that guaranteed I’d never return to that particular parish was…

Hearing bigoted remarks from the pulpit.

The priest stopped his sermon to lecture a family about keeping their baby quiet. The family did not use the crying room but left after the priest’s five minute harangue.

Being told that my musical gifts were no longer welcome.

The pastor started locking the church doors so that no one who was late for Mass could come in.

There are no reasons that make me never return.  It isnt the parish that makes the mass, it’s the Eucharist that matters.

The liturgy and sermon indicated negativity toward women.


All they ever did was talk about money.

The parish bulletin printed an article saying that abortion causes breast cancer. I wrote to the pastor and challenged that statement, and I never got the courtesy of a reply.

After signing up to be a member, the first three mailings I received were as follows : my weekly offering envelopes, a plea to give to the building fund, and a letter requesting a pledge for the diocesan archbishop’s fund.

A violent, historically inaccurate, divisive, and spiritually corrupting homily.

A sound system so terrible that you couldn’t understand a word that was said.

My wife and I volunteered to run a blanket drive and then a canned goods drive and both times the priest said it was too much trouble.

The bishop gave the Mass and was touting his own political views.

The problem with shopping around for the right parish is…


There are too few parishes in rural areas to choose from anymore.

Its easy to find something wrong with every parish and never settle down and grow spiritual roots.

It might drain several mediocre parishes of talented people who could potentially make the parish stronger.

Personal preferences don’t necessarily mean spiritual growth and maturity. Be the change you want to see.

It makes it too easy to replace God’s will for me with my own.

You do not give the parish the opportunity to reach out to you.

What’s the problem with shopping? One needs to be nourished.

I don’t think there are problems associated with shopping until you find the right fit for your spirit.


A parish is ever changing; it never stays the same. It may be the right parish today but maybe not a year from now. We grow through challenges.

You may end up following a particularly charismatic pastor.

You may never find it. No parish is perfect, and sometimes it is you who has to adapt to it.

During the process we feel rudderless and disconnected, so there is that imperative to settle as soon as possible.

There is a risk that you are using shopping as an excuse for avoiding your responsibilities to participate in parish life.

It takes a lot of effort and commitment.

It can be discouraging, especially if after trying all the local parishes there is not one that meets one’s needs.

If I could create my ideal parish, it would have…


Openness, diversity, and love.

A pastor who puts thought into a well-spoken homily.

Family events serving the needs of all ages.

People inspired to work feverishly on social justice issues.

Spirit-filled, participatory, prayerful liturgy!

Transparency from the pastor and staff in how they use funds.

A pastor chosen by the community.

Provides plenty of opportunities for outreach in the local community.


A healthy environment for discussion and debate.

Women as equals in ministry.

A community of faithful to support me in distress, but it would also challenge me to become the very best that I can be.

A priest who knows how to talk to the people and not at the people.

Wonderful programs for young children and continue educating and giving them spiritual opportunities and fun activities through the teen years and young adulthood.

As its primary goal the spiritual well being of its parishioners and an active participation of its members.

People who attend that want to be involved and be heard.

Welcoming staff and members, a variety of homilists, religious education for people at all stages of life, a commitment to improving the world outside the parish.


General comments:

For many people welcoming parishes are the only reason why they still go to Mass. Unless this attitude spreads from being (as it is now) a local exception “upwards” to the diocesan level, we will not have a Catholic church in the traditional sense in another 30 years.

I used to be against shopping for a the “right” parish, but given that the liturgy at so many Catholic churches is dreadful, I now believe we owe it to ourselves to find a parish that is spiritually nourishing.

Shopping around, if done in a prayerful manner seeking to grow closer to the Lord, is necessary but nothing is better than finding a parish that nourishes your soul and encourages you to become involved and make it your spiritual home.

For years now in my ministry I have said, “You have to go where your soul is fed.”  Thank God we now have the ability to do so.

I am very happy in my current parish and I feel that if someone is not happy where they are, they have every right to move on if they want to.  I think that the days of staying in a parish no matter what are over.

This very issue has been on my mind a lot lately.  I love the idea that we are supposed to bloom where we are planted, but I also think that we need to respect the individual needs of Catholics–however irrational and trivial they may seem.

I’ve often thought that a program of “Undercover Bishop” similar to the popular television show Undercover Boss could help guide a parish/diocese/church to minister to the needs of the people rather than the people administering to the needs of the priests.


When we bought our first and only home 40 years ago we considered the parish it was in before making our decision. From then on we have invested our time, talent, and treasure into creating a model of church where everyone is welcome, belongs, and has a voice.

When my parish closed its doors, I had to find another “home.”  I had a pretty good idea of which parish I would join, but I took the opportunity to attend Mass at other parishes.

It behooves us to find our own parish for our spiritual well being and psychological good health. We know that all parishes are not the same and we should not pretend otherwise.

As more parishes are merged or consolidated around our area and nationally, it will be very important to be able to respect, celebrate and maintain the diversity and uniqueness of each parish community. We need to guard against “dumping” parishes into an amorphous mass with no flavor, just to “get” Mass and sacraments to people.

While I can see why people shop around, they may be creating parishes that appeal to just certain perspectives. Then we aren’t Catholic anymore. There might be a social justice church, a fundamentalist church, a church that worshipped expensive liturgical trappings, etc.

I’ve heard it said that Catholics don’t really leave the Church, rather, they leave their parish.

Image by Angela Cox