A Catholic pastor that I know, a good man, makes the statement that he wants his parish to become the “megachurch” of Catholic Churches. This makes me sad in that it shows a complete misunderstanding of what it is to be Catholic.
Before I rail on him too much, there is some aspect to his desire that is laudable. He has a goal of bringing more souls onto the parish roles. He also has a deep desire to see what it is about other Churches that attract so many people. These people are going to other Churches for a reason – perhaps there is something there about which we need to pay attention and see if there is something we can make part of the Catholic experience in order to keep souls closer to the sacraments. This is all good.
There are a couple of points however that need some serious review. To begin with, a Catholic parish will almost never compete with a mega Church precisely because they are not the same thing. It would be like a city trying to compete with a state for numbers and recognition. They are two completely different categories of institutions. One is a Church, one is a parish. The local mega Church may have 10, 20, 30 Xs the amount of people than the local parish. It may have five campuses. But if we are going to compare oranges to oranges, the “local” Catholic Church is not a parish but the diocese. The parish is simply the particular worship space of the local Church. So in Akron, The Chapel is not to be compared to St. Bernard/St. Mary parish, but with the local Catholic Church which is the Diocese of Cleveland.
Another reason the parish/Church comparison does not make any sense is that the area of draw is much different. The parish is exceedingly limited. The megachurch draw is as far as people are willing to travel – or, about the size of your average diocese.
Lastly (at least for the purpose of this post) there is a huge difference in the idea of belonging. In the Catholic Church you are not just another name on the roles. One cannot just sign up and be a member. There is the expectation of discipleship, initiation, and expectation of becoming the Church itself, not simply being a member of an institution. You are Church and not a member of it the way you might be a member of the local YMCA.
You will find exceptions to every one of these. There will be the mammothly large Catholic parish some place. There are Catholic parishes that draw from far outside their parish limits. (This is the case even with St. Sebastian because of the extraordinary form of the Mass) and we all know individuals who use the Catholic Church as a service and treat it as something of which they are a member and not of which they are an essential part. But these are exceptions to the rule or at least not in the spirit of what it is to be Catholic.