Welcome back: the return of the “reverts”

It’s happening more and more, and not just among Catholics.  From USA TODAY:

Bruce Boling will celebrate Easter Sunday this weekend among Southern Baptists, just as he did when he prayed at a tiny Kentucky church where his family filled half the pews.

After decades away from faith, “I slowly began to see what I was missing was the relationship with God that I could find in my church,” said Boling, 45, who has settled in with a little Baptist congregation in Hendersonville, Tenn.

Lydia Scrafano’s heart will again thrill to hear Catholic hymns sounding on a great pipe organ, just as she did as a child in Detroit.

“I missed it all. I missed taking Communion with a priest. I missed the stained glass. I missed the Virgin Mary,” says Scrafano, 55, who has reconnected with her faith through a Catholic church in Williamsburg, Va.

Like many Christians and Jews, Boling and Scrafano drifted — or marched — away from the religion of their childhood. Then, unlike most, they came back.

And they came back to stay, not just to parachute in for the Easter service this Sunday or a Passover seder on Friday night.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, more than half of Americans say they’ve switched religions at least once, but just 9 percent of U.S. adults say they’ve returned to the pews, practices and prayers that shaped them.

They’re not converts; they’re reverts. And religious denominations are stepping up efforts to reclaim, re-energize — and sometimes re-educate — these fallen-away faithful.

Catholic churches are adding adult programs to focus on returnees who often fear their actions or choices will keep them from the sacraments, the essential rites of Catholicism. Evangelical churches steer reverts to Bible study groups to help them establish stronger religious roots.

Rabbis reach out to young adults through a program called “Next Dor” (dor is Hebrew for generation). It’s promoted by Synagogue 3000, a consortium of leaders from Reform and Conservative movements, the two largest branches of Judaism in the U.S.

Several Catholic dioceses have reported post-Christmas or post-Easter attendance bumps after major advertising efforts, such as a “Catholics Come Home” media campaign launched in Phoenix in 2008.

The Archdiocese of Washington pushed to increase confessions during Lent (the 40 days preceding Easter) by opening church and chapel doors on Wednesday evenings. Their advertising slogan: “The Light is ON for You.” Within five years, the campaign spread across the country as more bishops adapted the idea for their dioceses.

But are they staying?

It’s not clear if these coaxed-back Catholics stick around, said Mark Gray, a political scientist with Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which collects and studies statistics related to the Catholic Church.

Gray said some must be back for the long haul because the Catholic share of the U.S. population has held steady at about 25 percent for several years.

“There is not enough immigration to keep it at that if our’leavers’ estimates are correct. Some must be’coming home.’ The match just does not work otherwise,” Gray said.

At St. Bede’s, a Catholic megachurch of 3,700 families in Williamsburg, Va., Deacon Dominic Cerrato leads a seven-week “Welcome Home” class designed to answer the questions and calm the concerns that kept lapsed believers from church. More than that, the course seeks to draw them into parish life, not just “punching your ticket at Mass,” as he put it.

Read the rest.


  1. As a revert myself (and one who intends, with God’s help, to be in it for the long haul) I want to second the notion that parishes must make some effort to follow up on invitations like the Catholics Come Home program, or returnees will find it difficult to sustain the reconnection once the initial emotions of nostalgia wear off. The Church I returned to after 30 years bears very little resemblance to the Church I wandered away from, and that continues to present some difficulty–even though I did not leave out of grievance or many of the other reasons the recent Trenton exit interviews cited, and so don’t have the same obstacles to overcome. I have a special concern for folks who do have negative baggage with the Church, because Catholics Come Home does not, as a rule, get anywhere near that; its website and materials seem geared more to reaching converts from other Christian denominations, and stress as attractions some of the very things (authoritarianism, conservative family and political values) that turn some Catholics away. Reverts need broad-spectrum, long-term mystagogia as much as neophytes do, I believe. Even when one wants to be back home as much as I do, revertigo is dizzying!

  2. Is a 3,700 family member church really considered a “Mega-church”? If that’s the case, there must be a Catholic “mega-church” every 5 miles in the densely populated areas of the Northeastern US!

  3. Deacon Norb says:


    “Is a 3,700 family member church really considered a “Mega-church”? If that’s the case, there must be a Catholic “mega-church” every 5 miles in the densely populated areas of the Northeastern US!”

    The general consensus about the size of a “Mega-Church” (whether Catholic or not) is 10,000 “head-count.” In Roman Catholic parishes, we usually do not count “heads” so much as “Family-units” — partly because each “Family Unit” gets printed envelopes and these are easy to keep track.

    Does 3,700 family-units represent 10,000 “head-count”? Pretty close!

    Now, I cannot respond to the density of Catholicism in the Northeast so your guess of there being one “mega-church” every five miles or so is totally outside my experience. I do have family who live in Northern Virginia — suburban Washington DC — and my experiences there is that a surprising number of those densely-packed Catholic parishes are easily “mega-churches” by any definition.

  4. The term “mega-church” is a term imported from non-denominational Evangelicalism.

    That being the case, I advise folks not to use the term “mega-church” for a Catholic parish unless that parish matches the corresponding size and trappings of nearby Evangelical churches that are generally recognized to be “mega-churches.”

    For example, in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta, an Evangelical church doesn’t typically get the label “mega-church” unless there are 5,000 persons in the pews/chairs in a single service (whichever is the largest service that weekend). Moreover, such churches can generally be expected to have well-maintained and up-to-date facilities, a booming middle-high and high-school youth group, top-notch quality with respect to technology (e.g. sound reproduction in the services, church website), ongoing support for overseas missionaries, programs for sending laypersons on short-term missions trips, and to be heavy contributors to local ministries for the needy.

    If all that sounds expensive, it’s because it is, but they can do it because their members actually tithe.

    More importantly, the size doesn’t come first and the excellence come later. Instead, the church starts doing things right for the glory of God, and families are drawn towards that excellence, and are drawn into serving God in that community of believers. Church membership grows as a result.

    Now my local Catholic parish has an old building needing work; lousy sound-reproduction during Mass, what was until recently a miserable excuse for a website, and various other ministries and programs which, despite being run by devout and sincere folks, are typically delivered with mediocre quality, in an apologetic and sheepish way.

    So imagine my shock, on leaving the Evangelical world and coming into the Catholic church, to hear that in Catholic circles, my local parish is considered a “mega-church.” (Over 3,500 registered families.)

    I had assumed the parish was a bit old and behind-the-times by comparison to other Catholic parishes; that was what such a half-hearted weak-tea way of doing things would have signified in the Evangelical world of my upbringing.

    I didn’t pull out of RCIA over it — I was on a quest for the Truth, with a capital-T, and in the end found there was no way around the conclusion that for better or worse, the Catholic Church is what she claims to be — and, yes, I fully acknowledge the shallowness of some of my observations about how things were done in my parish.

    Still, giving our best is important. Excellence — quality — is honoring to God, or else why have gold paten and chalice? Why such detailed instructions to the Israelites for constructing the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle? Why bother building all those Middle Ages cathedrals, when meeting in a local barn might have cost less? The answer is obvious: That which is Holy To The Lord ought to be Done Right.

    So looking around my local parish, I found myself thinking, “Mega-church typically means excellence. If this mediocrity is what passes for excellence in the Catholic world, what does that mean? Isn’t the Holy Spirit doing anything among Catholics? Shouldn’t the Spirit be driving them towards wholehearted service of Christ? …the kind of service that would produce visible results? By their fruits you shall know them, says the Lord; so, what does it mean when the fruit looks kinda lame?”

    As it turns out, a lot of the relevant fruit is invisible. Receiving the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation from the hands of a Catholic priest has already made a difference in my walk towards holiness. I imagine the same is true among my fellow parishoners.

    Still, the term “mega-church,” as I previously understood that term, really doesn’t seem to match what I see around me in Catholic parishes (not just my local one) that adopt that label.

    So I advise against using this Evangelical terminology unless the parish so described is up to the challenge of being compared to the Evangelical churches similarly described. One doesn’t want to claim a title that undermines one’s gospel witness!

  5. richard kuebbing says:

    I also live in NW ATL area. There are megachurches in the ATL diocese but they don’t always look like Protestant mc’s. St Thomas the Apostle has 6k famiilies – that’s more than 12k people, not counting youth. 2/3 are Spanish speaking. There are over 150 small Xtian communities. The church seats under 1k so there are 5 English and 4 Spanish Masses. For the Guadalupana and other parish wide celebrations, a local park is used. They plan for 20k.

    Poor megachurches look and act differently.


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