It is not an overstatement to say that we are in a war for souls, and in America there is serious concern that Catholic Christianity is losing the recent battles. In our lifetime we have seen participation in the Sacraments, Catholic Schools, Religious Ed, and Mass attendance plummet. Fewer priests and fewer participating Catholics have resulted in thousands of parish closings and consolidations. Study after survey (and survey after study) has shown the largest religious group in America are the “Nones.” They have no current affiliation with any Church, and many of them were baptized Catholic. Their ranks are growing quickly.
I recently read a fascinating article by the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), which conducts research at the intersection of religion and culture. The number one reason people are fleeing is not the priest scandal, not a conflict with trending social issues, and not disagreement over any particular teaching or doctrine. The number one reason people leave is simply because they don’t believe.
This PRRI survey divides the Nones into three groups: Rejectionists (almost 60%) who reject religion as a whole, many believing it does more harm than good; Apatheists (over 20%) who say religion is not their thing and they are generally apathetic; and Unattached Believers (just under 20%) who believe religion is impo
rtant, but have not found where they fit in. Most of these Nones were raised Catholic.
It is simply unacceptable that people might leave our Church, and the local parish, because they do not believe. That means they may have never been impacted by the Truth. Maybe they were never moved by the reality of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They probably never accepted an understanding of the Sacraments. This hits our work with Faith Formation and Education right between the eyes!
We are determined to do something about it. Our staff and team have been reading, researching, learning best practices, scanning other parish websites, attending workshops and conferences, talking with cutting edge staff in other Churches, and praying. A lot of praying.
We hold firm that if someone has a true encounter with the Living God and is impacted by Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a personal way, they are far more likely to stay. If someone forms relationships with others who are strong believers and have a positive support system, they will stay. If they learn the beauty and logic of what we confess in our Creed and doctrines, they will stay. If they frequent the Sacraments and receive supernatural grace from God, they will stay. In other words, when people become true disciples of Jesus Christ, they typically do not separate themselves from the body of Christ.
Our team, Youth Minister Clare Kolenda, Sacramental Coordinator Angel Koerkel, Shayne Slough Coordinator of Parish Life, our terrific priests, the rest of the staff and I are determined to offer consistent, excellent opportunities from pre-school to senior adult. We are praying and working hard to make our ministries attractive, winsome, and rich in authentic Catholicism.
One of the things we’ve discovered that is revolutionizing other parishes is the integration of more and more parental opportunities along with the kids, making sure moms and dads have the same exposures as their children! Formation should be lifelong and occasional, instead we typically have made it constant until 8th or 12th grade, and then it terminates.
The times of Sacramental preparation are golden moments. We do not want to pile on difficult requirements;
creating more hoops to jump through does not form disciples. We are intentionally invigorating our prep for Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation, First Reconciliation and First Holy Eucharist with what we pray to be contagious zeal.
Regular Mass attendance is imperative. We will stress this over and over with all of our touching points.
There is hope and evidence that we are seeing fruit in what we’ve already implemented. In the last year, weekly Mass attendance at St. John and St. Joseph has increased about 14%! We have seen strong participation with our newer events as well as long time services and ministries that have been alive in the parish for many years. The priests are noticing a leap in the number of people asking for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. New members register in a steady stream. But there is still much to do.
The reality is, this is all a work of the Holy Spirit. God does the heavy-lifting. He does the converting, the seed scattering, and the calling. Pray with us that our people respond in ways that revolutionize this combat for souls and we keep the Nones as active Catholics!