The Diocese of Pittsburgh has done something similar to a census over the years. Every year, every parish has kept a running tab on the number of people attending Sunday Masses during the month of October. Every Sunday during this month, ushers in every parish count the number of people at every Mass, and the number is turned in to the diocese. These numbers helped point out the trends that every parish has faced over the years of declining attendance. Furthermore, the data has helped the diocese know how many priests are needed to serve each parish, although now priests are stretched thin throughout the diocese.
Much of the data collected over the years has gone into the planning process, On Mission for the Church Alive. The information helped frame the issue that had become apparent over the years, at first highlighting the need for such a process. Those figures have also helped the diocese to formulate the original “models,” and after those numbers were available for us when we were invited to give feedback, they were part of the “groupings” that we are currently working with.
Given how much those numbers have meant to this process, the diocese is keeping the count going up through April. Once we begin the transition next year, this data will be one of the factors used in determining Mass schedules. Of course that leaves us with an issue of nomenclature. Since we count people during the weekends of October, we have always called it – simply enough – the “October Count.” It would seem rather odd to call it an October Count in February (though I will probably continue to do so out of habit). So now we are calling it the Mass Attendance Count. So if you see ushers looking at you in your pew during the readings, don’t get paranoid. They are only counting you to include you in our data.
Finally, I will add a somewhat trivial note. Some time ago I read an interesting article that claimed that 100 years ago the census bureau was afraid that it would not be able to keep up with its duty because the population had grown to such an extent that a census would eventually take more than ten years to complete. Then the advent of the computer enabled the census bureau to do its job. Similarly, in the past we mailed a paper to the diocese with the numbers at the end of each October. Now we are logging in each weekend to send the numbers in online. Who says we don’t keep up?