In my travels during my working life, I have had many occasions to visit various Catholic churches in various American cities, whether it be for Sunday Mass, or more likely a holy day of obligation. As every practicing Catholic adult knows who has been forced to travel on such a day, MassTimes.org is your one stop shop for this kind of thing. If that doesn't work, Google Maps will substitute in a pinch; failing that, every hotel I've even been to had some kind of card or printout directing you to the three nearest Catholic churches.
Open your local paper to the religion section and you'll see all kinds of ads for various Protestant or Bible Churches and a random religion or two; this is especially true around Easter. What you don't find is any ads for Catholic churches. Same thing goes for the Yellow Pages.
Strange? Curious? Why don't Catholic churches advertise? The answer is simple: they don't need to. Everybody knows, if you're Catholic you go to the local Catholic church -- there's no thought required. Oh, there are those Catholics who'll avoid St. Cecelia's because "Fr. Mike doesn't do it right" and go to St. Mary of the Valley because they like the folk mass, but that's a kind of intra-Catholic shopping.
Those other churches advertise because they need the membership, and that equals financial support. They need to advertise to get people to come to their particular church to stay in business. "Come to our church because we've got great preaching and fellowship".
Catholic churches don't need membership for the same reasons that independent churches do. Catholics are generally numerous enough (in cities) that they don't advertise to increase their numbers -- they have a built-in audience. Catholic churches are set up by the diocese to serve the faithful -- hey, we got Catholics here who need sacraments and stuff, we'd better send a priest. Yes, the faithful have to support the local church or it'll fold too, but the rationale is different and benefits from diocesan central planning.
Now, I may have to revise my theory in part. I was driving home from work when I heard Archbishop Wuerl on the radio inviting fallen away Catholics to "come home" this Lent. I nearly fell out of the car.
was the ad. Archbishop Wuerl has a soft spoken, sing-songy kind of voice. Maybe his voice is really just "pastoral", but the acoustic muzak that accompanied the ad made it sound sort of stereotypical "churchy". As soon as I got home, I looked it up on the Web -- sure enough, it's a real campaign put on by the Archdiocese of Washington.
"Longing for Something? Maybe It's God."
There is an accompanying YouTube video of Archbishop Wuerl inviting those who have drifted away to rediscover their faith and their church. I must say he carries it off much better on video than in the radio ad. What I do like about it is that it is a personal invitation, and that's what people will respond to -- not heurmeneutics, not a general plea, not the promise of better music.
ADW has a decent Web site: it has a personal instead of an official feel to it, including a blog. The Archdiocese and the Church in general are starting to really embrace technology to reach the people. There's still a ways to go, but you gotta give 'em props for trying.