Continuing the St. John Vianney (located in Belgrade, Montana) case study, SPES is happy to report the results of their recent Catholics Come Home program.  This parish evangelization initiative, headed by Paul Leininger, included three weeks of airing the Catholics Come Home Evangomercials (two weeks in Advent and one week in Christmas) as well as a billboard during the months of December and January.  The evangelization effort, which culminated with a multi-week headcount during the weekend Masses, led to an average attendance increase of ~5% between St. John Vianney and Holy Family parishes.  The total cost was ~$21,000.

Fr. Eric Gilbaugh, the pastor of both St. John Vianney and Holy Family parishes, generously answered our questions about the results.

Father, has this program led to any increase in the Sacraments of initiation? (e.g. RCIA, baptism, confirmation)

At this time, there is not any that I can directly correlate with the Catholics Come Home program.  However, this is not to say that the program hasn’t borne fruit; we’ve definitely noticed lots of new faces during and even after the campaign.  Now we have many people who are basically new to the parish that are still coming to Sunday Masses.

Did you receive any phone calls or emails specifically as a result?

No, not that I can recall.  I can’t remember anyone saying, “Hey, I saw your billboard or your ad on TV and I’d like to talk to you.”

Given that these ads covered a large geographical area, but your parishes were the only ones counting heads, did your brother priests notice any increase in their parishes?

I haven’t really spoken with them in detail, only anecdotally.  I don’t recall any of them specifically saying they noticed an increase in attendance, but they have mentioned that their parishioners had seen the ads and were very impressed.  The feedback I got was all positive from both fellow priests and my own parishioners.

What are your general thoughts on the program? Was it worth the expense and was it fruitful?

Yes.  It was both worth the expense and proved fruitful because a statistical 5% increase in Mass attendance is fairly significant.  Image, for example, if we had Mass attendance of 2500; that would have been an additional 125 souls coming to Mass!  For us, with about 450 people attending Mass any given weekend, the 5% is about 23 people, which is a lot.  And, remember, that is just the average!  There are not many things that I know of whereby you can get that many people to actually walk through the door and come to Mass.  I was really pleased with the results.

Has that increase in attendance persisted? Are you still seeing them at Mass?

Yes.  It is not as pronounced and noticeable as it was in the midst of the campaign.  During those weeks, we were like, “Holy-moly, who are these people!”  Now I am used to seeing some of the faces so I don’t associate them with that period of time the same as I did when they first started coming.  We definitely have new faces because of the campaign who are still attending Mass.

Was Catholics Come Home easy to work with?

Yes, they were very easy to work with.  I worked directly with the founder, Tom Peterson, and his assistant.  They are great people and they basically did all the work.

Given that Catholics Come Home usually only works with dioceses, is there any advice you might have for another parish in a similar situation?

I had to convince Catholics Come Home that our parishes were in a unique situation.  We are not only in a rural diocese – there are plenty of those – but we are broken up by these big valleys each of which has their own TV station and local news.  Because of the geography, it was appropriate to approach things this way rather than to wait for our bishop to say, “Alright, we are going to do this for the whole diocese.”  That is something that might work well for, say, the Diocese in South Bend, Indiana which is a flat area that isn’t even that big.  There, they could go to a few stations and be set.

Here, we really had to examine where each station broadcasts to and how far they reach; it was custom tailored.  We managed to cover our valley and then we also chose to pay a little bit extra to get over to Butte since some of their stations link up with some of ours.  It was only a few thousand dollars extra and we were able to reach a lot more people even though we might not be their local parish.

Thank you Father!