It’s no surprise that Protestants outnumber Catholics here in the Deep South. But I suspect that this is due in part to some tactical errors in Catholic evangelistic strategy. As a native Georgian and a former Protestant, I think I have a unique perspective and can offer some fresh thinking on Catholic evangelistic outreach in these parts.
Not to offend any of my fellow Southerners, but one must admit that many stereotypes are at least in part rooted in reality. Let’s take the prototypical Southern male, who for the sake of this example we will name Billy Bob.
If Billy Bob starts to feel drawn by the Lord into a deeper spiritual life, he might briefly survey the various congregations in his town. And of all the prospects, the last on his list will be some church with a traditionally Catholic name, like, oh let’s say Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. No disrespect toward the founder of the Franciscan Order is intended either by me or our imaginary friend, but Billy Bob’s initial reaction upon seeing a painting or statue might be something like, “A guy named Francis? Well, he sure looks like a-sissy to me in that dress!”
My point is that the name of the local parish can have an influence on whether or not Billy Bob ever sets foot there.
Based on a quick Google search, I found that two Southern parishes have done a fine job in selecting their names, whether intentionally or not. I’m talking about Saint Cletus Catholic Church in Gretna, Louisiana and Saint Clement parish in Calhoun, Georgia. Cletus and Clem sound like good ol’ boys. The kinda fellas you might want to go fishin’ with. Name the parish after either of these men, or even both – Saints Cletus and Clem Catholic Church, for example – and we Southern boys will feel right at home, or at least feel much more welcomed. (If you don’t know, Sts. Cletus and Clement were the third and fourth Bishops of Rome, respectively – early Popes that sound like they’d fit right in here in the South.)
It would also be quite easy to further serve the needs of your local community by making mass times a bit flexible – check the local fishing forecast to make sure mass doesn’t overlap prime fishin’ times. These times will vary each day, of course (see the following):
This makes sure the avid fisherman will have time to fulfill his Sunday obligation without conflict. Employing this variable-schedule technique can improve mass attendance significantly.
If you have a hunting-and-fishing apostolate affiliated with your parish – call it something like “Fishin’ at Cletus and Clem’s” and maybe hold it in conjunction with the Lenten fish fries – you can probably anticipate an annual membership recruitment rate well into the double digits.