OK, I’m back from another trip and I’ll take that bait. Those of you who read Intentional Disciples have heard this all before but here it is again.
first of all, I love Creasy. I have her books and pass them on. She is a mainline Protestant who really gets it. And yes, all the numbers for young Catholics are at the bottom of the Christian heap. In practically every category. The ones on the top: Mormons, black Protestants, and evangelicals/Pentecostals.
Here’s the deal: roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend. So the next time you witness a baby’s baptism, think, in 20 years, 2/3 of those babies will either be gone or non-practicing. Only 1 in 6 of those babies will be attending Mass regularly.
Catholics leave the Church and the name Catholic by age 23. The majority by age 18.
And the Pew Forum showed that attending CCD, involvement in youth ministry, and going to a Catholic high school make little or no difference between those who stay Catholic, those who become “nothing” and those who become Protestant. Our primary strategies aren’t making any difference.
But there are two tracks: The Cathoiic becomes “nothing” track and the Catholic becomes Protestant track. Because there are two different basic reasons why people leave.
Track A is those who leave because of an unsatisfied spiritual hunger. This is the group that eventually becomes Protestant (15%) They leave a bit later (only 63% leave by age 23) and seem to spend a period of a few years searching or in a spiritual limbo before they discover a Protestant congregation that seems to meet that hunger. Many don’t take on a Protestant identity until their late 20’s or early 30’s. 71% of this group say their spiritual needs weren’t being met as a Catholic. The majority not only become Protestant, they become evangelicals/Pentecostal/independent Christians (by the way, about 7% of current Mormons are former Catholics)
At the very moment, I type this, about a quarter of US adults are either actively seeking or at least are passively open and scanning the horizon for spiritual options. This is true of Catholics in our pews, Catholics who no longer practice, and huge variety of other people of all religious traditions or none. If we were out there, proclaiming Christ in the midst of his Church in a joyful, intriguing manner, the interest of many would be peaked. But so many “orthodox” Catholics are holed up behind their barricades and inside their institutions.
This is a large group who, if we were reaching out evangelizing them during their “limbo” time, could easily become the Catholic saints and apostles of the 21st century. But so many of us distain their hunger and ignore their spiritual distress. They aren’t going to accept “no” or “just shut up and do your duty” as an answer. They will vote with their feet.
Track B is those who leave and become “nothing” because it just doesn’t mean anything or because they don’t believe in specific Church teaching or even in God anymore. (14%) 80% of this group are gone by age 23. They are really out there and we will have to GO OUT and find them with the imagination and zeal of a Francis Xavier setting foot on the soil of Japan for the first time.
There is no one size fits all answer. Track A folks are looking for personally meaningful, life-changing faith and evangelicals are all over that. Track B folks are just out there in the ether. And remember what I call the “Track C” folks who still call themselves Catholic but hardly ever show up.
What we are facing is the 15% factor. Only 15% of all American Catholics are at Mass on a given weekend. Only about 15% of Gen X age Catholics (30’s – early 40’s) and Millennial Catholics (teens and 20’s) attend Mass regularly. If regular Mass attendance is the goal, what we are currently doing is only “working” for roughly 15% of our people.
This goes so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.
In our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a right of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we’ll probably have to do it again when they are young adults.
I’ve written about this at enormous length over at Intentional Disciples (www.siena.org) and we cover all this in our seminar Making Disciples. We are still spending our time debating what happened nearly 50 years ago while our future walked right out the door and we didn’t notice.
In the future, people will be fervent Catholics because they are disciples of Jesus Christ first who know that this is his Body on earth which he has provided for them and where he desires them to be.
We’ve worked in 40% of American dioceses now and I can tell you: cultural Catholicism is DEAD, DEAD, DEAD as a retention strategy for the American Catholic church in the 21st century.
In the 21st century west, God has no Grandchildren.
You know the mantra: If we don’t evangelize our own, someone else will: evangelicals, Mormons, or a post-modern culture of vague agnosticism. If you want Catholics, MAKE DISCIPLES. If you want Mass attendance, MAKE DISCIPLES. If you want vocations, MAKE DISCIPLES. If you want people who will fill our Institutions and pay for them and care for them, MAKE DISCIPLES.
It is what our Lord has commanded us to do in every generation, but we thought that culture and institutions would do it for us. But those days are past.