‘Mass Mob’ aims to evangelize, bring people to church

“Mass Mobs” are popping up around the diocese and they may be coming to a parish near you.

No, it’s not a group of people who spontaneously burst into song and dance in the middle of Mass — that’s a flash mob — but like flash mobs, the concept of Mass Mobs is definitely getting some attention locally.

What’s a Mass Mob? According to Ryan Parsons, who started an informal Mass Mob in the St. Cloud area, it’s a way to bring people who have been away from the church — especially young adults — to Mass each weekend.

On the first Saturday of the month, participants show up for Mass at a designated parish, attend Mass together and then head out to share a meal or fun activity like bowling or boot hockey.

“Essentially, it’s an evangelization tool,” said the 31-year-old Parsons. “I thought [of trying] to get young adults together to go to Mass. That might build some momentum and draw in others who might not be attending Mass for whatever reason. If we can get them connected to a group of people and to a parish, that might be a way to get them involved in the church and to help them feel more at home there.”

Since attending St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul where he is working toward a master’s degree in theology, Parsons said it has been “on his heart” to teach, speak and write about evangelization. Parsons also teaches history at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School in Sauk Rapids, where he lives with his wife Mattie.

Ryan Parsons takes a selfie after Mass Feb. 4 with Father Tim Baltes, pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell, and Mass Mob participants (left to right) Troy Thompson, Jacob Ferguson, Melissa Palm, Mattie Parsons and Sally Traut. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt for The Visitor)

He said he discovered that many of his friends were attending Mass alone, some less frequently and some not at all, especially those who were out of college and not yet starting families.

“We are consistently seeing young people leaving the church,” Parsons said. “We know that when people feel part of a community, they are more likely to continue to go to Mass. One of the reasons people fall away from church is because there is no community, especially those years after college before marriage. Those people are feeling neglected and I believe they are looking for some sort of connection. How cool would it be to give people a place to go and channel that energy?”

Though new to this area, the concept of Mass Mobs has been used elsewhere. Parsons said he heard about groups on the East Coast that were coming together at the same service when parishes were closing as a show of support in hopes the parish wouldn’t close. “But we have to do something now,” Parsons said. “We can’t wait until churches are closing. We’ve got to show that there is energy and excitement now, that there are things happening and ways to get connected. If we can bring everyone together to do this once a month and rotate parishes in the diocese, we hope we can kind of ‘scoop up’ people as we go.”

Though in its early stages, Parsons doesn’t necessarily want this to become a “big thing.” He started slowly by scheduling four dates and locations, which he posted on his website — stcloudcatholic.com — and spread by word-of-mouth. He also is hoping to build up his site with local resources for young adults.

“This should not be something abnormal, it should just be something people do — go to Mass together with friends, celebrate the church and Jesus, and then why not go out to eat or partake in activities together?” he said. “This is something that people could do anywhere. It’s just as simple as once a month … really [putting] emphasis on bringing people together for Mass and then afterward creating some sort of community.”

Although targeting young adults, Parsons said Mass Mobs can also be a powerful witness to the rest of the congregation.

“It’s good for others to see us there, to see that there is energy, excitement in the church, especially from this younger generation that is moving up,” he said.

Parsons also hopes to promote the events and resources of each parish they visit to encourage involvement and participation.

“Whether that’s a Bible study or book club, whatever it might be, it’s good to put something in people’s hands as they leave, especially if they feel a connection to the parish,” he said.

Father Doug Liebsch, parochial vicar for St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine Church in St. Cloud, heard about the Mass Mob. As a young adult himself, he attended the December and January events.

“There are a lot of young Catholics out there seeking a place to grow in faith and to form good relationships,” Father Liebsch said. “It’s all about relationships, and I think the Mass Mob can facilitate that.”

The next Mass Mob is scheduled for the 5 p.m. Mass, Saturday, March 4 at Sacred Heart Church in Sauk Rapids. A potluck game night is planned following Mass. More information is available at stcloudcatholic.com.

“I just want people to go to Mass,” Parsons said, “and if you see someone sitting alone, or if you know someone who hasn’t been for awhile, there is a place for them. Invite them to come to Mass with a group of people next time.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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