Captain Hastings’ Question

In the combox James Hastings asks, “if the Catholic denomination is fulfilling the Gospel, why is attendance so low and conversions so few in America/Europe compared to the Evangelicals.”

It would be easy to say, “Gee whiz. Numbers are dropping for Catholics. Numbers are going up for Evangelicals. I guess Evangelicals have got it right and Catholics have got it wrong.”

Of course it isn’t as easy as that. First of all, let’s look at the numbers: I couldn’t find statistics for the UK, but last year in USA there were 157,439 adults who were either baptized or received into the church in the USA. Infant baptisms were another 953,688. That’s 1,111,127 new members. Pretty good going for one country in one year for a religion that doesn’t really evangelize aggressively enough, and according to the Captain, is dying out.

Let’s look globally at the number comparisons: The best statistician on global religious growth is David Barrett. George Weigel has written, David Barrett divides the Christian world into what he calls “ecclesiastical megablocs.” Of the world’s 2.1 billion Christians, 1.1 billion are Catholics, 375 million are Protestants, 219 million are Orthodox, and 79 million are Anglicans. 34 million are “marginal Christians” (who believe in a revelation in addition to the Bible or who have off-brand views on Christ or the Trinity — Jehovah’s Witnesses, Swedenborgians, Theosophists, Mormons, etc.).


The remaining 426 million — the second largest “megabloc” — are “Independents,” which Barrett defines as those Christians “separated from, uninterested in, and independent of historic denominational Christianity” (think of the explosive growth of house churches and new micro-denominations in Africa and Latin America). 


How do you compare numbers? Do you count Eastern Orthodox with the Catholics? Do Anglicans get counted with the Protestants or the Catholics? What about all the mainstream liberal Protestants? They’re not Evangelicals or Barrett’s ‘independents’. It’s a tough call and one which could be argued different ways. 
We can’t really count all the liberal Protestants as ‘Evangelicals’ because they would eschew that term themselves. However, there are plenty of Evangelicals within Barrett’s category of Protestant. So let’s err on the side of generosity and count all the Protestants as Evangelicals. Let’s add in all the ‘independents’ who represent Captain Hastings’ own sect. The total (by Barrett’s 2005 reckoning) is 801 million. Catholics (not counting Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans) weigh in at 1.1 billion.
So do we conclude the discussion and say, ‘Well, that settles it. Looks like the Catholics are the ones who are faithful to the gospel after all!”
Not quite. James’ question is still a good one, but how on earth do you answer it? Do we determine that a church is doing the job of the gospel based on ‘success’? How on earth do you define ‘success’ in ecclesial terms? Biggest numbers? Biggest budget? This is clearly not the way because anyone, with two minutes thought, can figure out how a pastor or a church who is very unfaithful to the gospel could, in worldly terms, be very successful. Besides, ‘success’ in spiritual terms means being faithful to the gospel, and that often brings unpopularity, persecution and martyrdom.
What if we look at the message being preached. What does the Evangelical preacher lay out on his stall? His religions seems pretty attractive. “Come to us. Are you worried that you will not go to heaven when you die? Just get saved. You’ve got a ticket to heaven which nothing can take away. Are you divorced and remarried? That doesn’t matter. Don’t want to be baptized? Doesn’t matter. You can still belong to our church. Do you use contraception? That’s okay. Don’t want to come to church every Sunday? Don’t worry. That’s fine. You want to join right now? That’s ok. You’re in. You wanna be healed? We’ll heal you. You didn’t get healed? That’s your fault. You didn’t have enough faith.  Embarrassed to confess your sins to a priest? Don’t worry. None of that here. Have trouble believing some stuff like transubstantiation, papal infallibility and all that about Mary? Don’t worry. We don’t believe any of that either. You want to be a pastor? Wife and kids is fine. You want a zippee religious experience every week? Come to us. We’ve got plasma screens, rock bands, coffee shops in the lobby, free donuts, workshops for personal growth, fantastic youth groups with groovy full time youth pastors, etc etc etc. Why is Evangelical religion successful? You could say because they’re darned good at marketing. They’ve figured out what the customer wants and they deliver. They know how to keep the customer happy.
Thinking about taking the Catholic faith seriously? What does Fr. Magee put out on the table? A long liturgy that takes some getting used to. A year long course called RCIA that you have to go through before you can even join. Remarried after divorce? Sorry you can’t belong fully. You have to go through a long process to see if your marriage was valid or not. You want to go water skiing or shopping on Sundays? Not allowed. If you’re married your not supposed to use contraception. Abortion’s not allowed. You’ve sinned? You have to go to confession. You wanna be a priest? Sorry you can’t be married. It’s celibacy for life. You want lively sermons, cool music and relevant worship? We don’t do that, and when we try it’s pretty awful. Women pastors? Forget it. 
Maybe Evangelical churches are popular because they’re so attractive. They’re easy and fun. It’s tough to be a Catholic. An analogy: why do more people go to Hollywood movies than Shakespeare? It it because Hollywood movies are better or because they’re just more fun?
Nevertheless, this answer is still too simplistic. While there’s some truth in it, the scene I’ve painted is a caricature on both sides. In fact the Evangelicals do many things well that Catholics should learn from. Catholics do many things poorly and we do not treasure our heritage as much as we should. 
One also has to weigh up cultural and historical factors. Maybe a church grows (any church) just because the population is growing in that area. Maybe people like a particular pastor or the music director. Things are always in a state of flux. Whether a particular religion is up or down numerically has little to do with its truth claims.
My verdict on this is pretty simple. You can’t really say why a particular religion’s numbers are up or down in a particular area of the world. There are simply too many variable factors to take into consideration. 
Most of all, what you cannot do is evaluate the truth claims of a religion according to their numerical success. Mormonism and Muslims and Moonies are fast growing. Does that make them right? What if a religion is persecuted and everyone is killed off or put into prison? That reduces numbers, but might increase faithfulness. Surely we have to count quality as well as quantity?
In fact, the truth claims of a religion are totally separate from their numerical ‘success’. The truth needs to be evaluated by another set of criteria entirely. This returns us therefore to the question of authority. Where do you turn for the truth, and how do you know your authority system is the right one?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17490367338505806906 Irenaeus

    Having been inside (American) evangelicalism all my life, from pentecostalism to relatively high church, I would say that we’re *not* growing all that much. We’ve kinda hit a ‘maturity point’ in terms of numbers, and we have as many people exiting, it seems, as we have coming in.Evangelicals have been good at making converts, but seldom good at really holding them, because enthusiasm and excitement and personal experience can’t sustain faith over the long run. Culture and liturgy do. I know so many people who were converted as evangelicals who moved into Lutheran, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, high Presbyterian churches for precisely that reason. They remain in some sense moderate evangelicals, but within these more historic and liturgical churches.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00447929797019147894 james hastings

    Dwight,Re my new title – may I please be called Captain, My Captain, in honour of that great American poet, Walt Whitman?Now, for the serious matter (I know you hope your lame humour will detract readers from the serious matter)You ridicule Evangelicals by writing: “Are you divorced and remarried? That doesn’t matter. Don’t want to be baptized? Doesn’t matter. You can still belong to our church. Do you use contraception? That’s okay. Don’t want to come to church every Sunday? Don’t worry. That’s fine. You want to join right now? That’s ok. You’re in.”This week I wrote a story on the well known UK singer, Charlotte Church who is a Catholic. When she was 12 she sang for Pope John Paul. She is now in her 20s and living with her boyfriend, has one child and is pregnant with a second.On her TV talk show over here, she dressed up as a nun and pretended to hallucinate while eating a Communion host with a giant ‘E’ for ecstasy (its a drug)She then smashed open a statue of Mary and out came a bottle of cider. Oh, nearly forgot, she also called Pope Benedict a ‘Nazi.’Well, last week, Charlotte turned up at her childhood Catholic parish in Wales with her nine month old daughter, seven security guards and her live in boyfriend and had her daughter baptised.I interviewed the priest who performed the baptism. I asked if Charlotte attended Mass, was still a Catholic and what did he think of her talk show appearance.He dismissed my questions, saying offering baptism was up to individual priests! I got the same verdict from the official diocesan press spokesman.Oh, I nearly forgot – there’s still Catholic Tony Blair who the late Cardinal Winning of Scotland labelled ‘fascist’ over his anti-life, anti-family, pro-gay legislation which he still supports; and his wife, Cherie Blair who, in her just published memoirs, jokes about being a good Catholic girl so she didn’t pack her contraceptives during a trip to stay with the Queen at Balmoral, so she and Tony had unprotected sex and the result was baby Leo!Pardon me! We Evangelicals have so much to learn from you Catholics!James

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10802160930990168405 Richard Ballard

    So, Captain Hastings, when ARE the deceased in body physically raised from the dead and reanimated at your church in Somerset, England? I would truly and really like to be in attendance to witness it when that happens. Let me know the date and time and I will immediately purchase a plane ticket in order to be there!Richard

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16751516602395247675 Randy

    James,You need to understand that we Catholics believe in grace. That is the church does not deserve to be the body of Christ by the works of her members but because of the grace of God. You seem to be in a works righteousness mindset. Not a very Catholic way of thinking.Beyond that, you need not just look at the worst examples. There is Fr Damien who the church has reportedly decided to cannonize. You could look at him. If you were to judge the game of football, would you focus on how a bunch of out of shape middle-aged men play it? No, you would go to the primier league. You would judge football based on the best footballers. Why not give the Catholic church the same treatment?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    O captain my captain! Let’s not get in the habit of slinging mud at each other. It’s such a cheap trick, and the problem with it is that it is game for both parties.Want to start slinging mud at Catholics, whew boy! could we have a hey day with the charismatics. Where shall we start? The Toronto blessing? The sect in USA where the kids die because they refuse medical treatment?But we won’t go there. It’s not charitable.About the baptism of Charlotte’s baby. You don’t seem to understand. We would baptize the baby for the babies’ sake, not due to the righteousness (or not) of the parent.Are Charlotte and Madonna bad Catholics? Sure. So am I. So are you.Now why don’t you go ahead and address the post in question if you want to make a comment?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05765959701992923298 Jeffrey Smith

    Oh, they’re at it again.Does anyone have actual hard figures for conversions to Evangelicalism? I don’t think I’ve ever seen any, so I wonder how much is smoke and mirrors. I HAVE seen the retention rates from youth to adulthood in Evangelical denominations, and they’re abysmal.For that matter, what’s the retention rate for adult converts?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04287681931799759902 Padre Steve

    Well said… keep up the good work!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110341406524333073 chimakuni

    I came, I studied, I learned, I got confirmed … 20 years and counting. I have no desire to leave Christ in the Eucharist – now or ever – Although I know there are plenty of folk who are sometimes Sunday Christians and go to different churches – house churches, the latest and greatest built church in the neighborhood and they are all great folk – they do not have the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist.They are missing out on God’s greatest gift – James, it is amazing to me how Christians churches pick and chose what they will believe and what they won’t – one church says abortion is okay, one church says remarriage is wrong, one church says if you have our bumper sticker from our ‘by invitation only church”, you had best better drive a nice looking, newer model car, one church says it is okay to have women deacons, one church says it is okay to have actively practicing homosexual males be bishops, ad nauseum.I see so many people leave a church because they don’t agree with what the pastor says – and they feel they know better. I see this in the Catholic Church, main line protestant churches and not so main line. It amazes me that people make up their own rules and then decide what church to attend based on their understanding of what should be in a church!The Catholic Church, in Her Wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit, will not waver from the truth. Plain and simple…Oh yes, we do have a rotten bunch of church goers – I am one of them – sinners, fornicators, adulterers but from what I understand, Christ came for US! He came for us in the Catholic Church – He did not tell Peter – “psst – I will build my church upon you and I will have many other churches – mega churches, and some house churches, and some…” No, Christ told Peter that he rocked and (yes, my lame sense of humor) and that upon the rock He would build His Church and He would guide it…period, full stop.So, either Christ was a liar, or someone got off track – me thinks it is the later – God Bless you, James – I know you are trying your best at finding the truth -

  • http://deansteinlage.livejournal.com/ deansteinlage

    I remember an evangelical pastor telling me once how sometimes folk would come up after the service and say it was so “Spirit-filled”.The next week its “Oh I just didn’t feel the Spirit”.The pastor found out that the louder the band played, the more people felt “the Spirit.Probably a lesson in there somewhere.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01379244511897838006 Marcus Aurelius

    I really wish the Church could evangelize on missions like the Mormons and have special services for each and every life stage of human being like the evangelicals. Why can’t we manage that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    We do have all this. Many religious orders run parish missions and the Legion of Mary do house to house evangelisation. We just don’t do enough of it.Also, what do you mean about not having services for each stage of life? Baptism-infancy. First Holy Communion-childhood. Confirmation-Adolescence. Marriage/Religious Vocation-Early Adulthood. Funerals-end of life. Anointing-sickness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00447929797019147894 james hastings

    Dear All,An enjoyable, if predictable, bag of responses.1. The pharisitical approach of Bernadette and Richard Ballard are easiest to dispatch. They snigger: ‘when we see miracles, then we’ll believe,’ but Jesus said when you believe you will see miracles. Poor Bernadette and Richard would still probably object, claiming the miracle was on the Sabbath and stay locked in their cosy religious world.2.Randy. I mentioned Charlotte Church and the Blairs because Dwight’s long rant (sorry Dwight) insisted it was only the Evangelical churches which allowed all sorts of scatty beliefs and dodgy lifestyles.For example, I ask priests why they don’t speak out, in a kind way, against couples living together or using artificial contraception. The priests just smile and say if they did that, half the congregation would walk out.3. Jeffrey. I stressed I wasn’t trying to play a numbers game. However, since moving from Catholicism to the Evangelical church, I can honestly say I know more young people who are commited to their church membership. As a Catholic, I’d look around my parish and it was a teenage-free zone.4. Chimakuni. I thank you for your motherly advice and blessings which I gratefully accept.There’s not enough room here to debate transubstantiation or Jesus’ words in Matt 16: 18, 19.All I can say is that my 40 years as a Catholic were like time spent in a waiting room. Now, as an Evangelical,I have come boldy, as Scripture tell us, to the Throne of God – and its awesome in here.5.Deinsteinlage. If you really believe the strength of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the loudness of music, then you need to go back to the beginning and find a good book on the Holy Spirit. May I recommend anything by Fr Bob deGrandis or the preacher to the papal household, FrRaniero Cantalamessa.Dwight: My old chum. I love my new title, Captain, my captain.Walt Whitman must have thought of you when he wrote:Here Captain! dear father! (Dwight)This arm beneath your head; It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead.May I add: (with apologies to Mr Whitman)”Wake up, dear captain The Spirit you do lackSo come home to the EvangelicalsWe’ll always take you back!Captain, your captain,James

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Uhh. Captain. You forgot to talk about the main post again…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05765959701992923298 Jeffrey Smith

    Smoke and mirrors?Must have been a while ago. Every parish I’ve been to has a fair number of teenagers, and they tend to stay Catholic. My Evangelical friends complain that, once young Evangelicals are off to college, they’re lost. The Church may leak, at times, but it’s never been a revolving door.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00447929797019147894 james hastings

    Dwight,You have developed a marvellous way of dealing with uncomfortable truths. When you receive an answer you don’t like, you simply pretend you haven’t received an answer. Its a problem that would tax even the little gray cells of Inspector Poirot.Jeffrey:I am not denying what you say. My own experience of Catholic UK churches, with a few exceptions such as St Patrick’s, Soho, London, is they are mainly empty of young people. That’s what Catholic priests, schools and parents tell me.Young UK Catholics do get involved with campaigns like Fair Trade and Make Poverty History, I know because I write stories about them. But when it comes to a week to week going-to-Mass basis, having a prayer life and personal relationship with Jesus, it’s largely not happening. In fact, a number of leading UK Catholics are concerned the denomination is becoming less spiritual and more like a giant social work agency.But I’m delighted your experience is different and I pray that it flourishes.Captain My Captain

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16287885673401261090 Obpoet

    I love reading comboxes. Personalities come in so distinctively and strong. This guy Hastings reads like a character from Sartre’s No Exit. Who would want to spend five minutes with him, much less eternity?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110341406524333073 chimakuni

    I would love to spend eternity with James Hastings…that Captain!James – I am not being motherly – I know what is truth – I do not have the gift to go into long dissertations of biblical this or that…I do know that I know that I know.I continue to pray for you, James, please pray for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11740482509910163332 Gail F

    Hastings:No one is demanding proof of miracles so they can believe in God. We are demanding proof of the miracles you have claimed so we can believe YOU.Just wanted to note the difference.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10372364893458254021 bernadette

    NO actually, Captain, I did not snigger. But I did catch you out. Miracles are real. I know that. I asked why you claimed the dead are raised to life bodily, in your church, when they are not.. I rang your church in Somerset (not Australia, the UK), and they told me simply that it didn`t happen. That post has, for some reason, now been removed.. but it is a reasonable question to ask. Why tell tall tales ? It evangelises no-one. It matters to clarify this, not because I am being a Pharisee, but because it is wrong to mislead. Yes ?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01379244511897838006 Marcus Aurelius

    Also, what do you mean about not having services for each stage of life? Baptism-infancy. First Holy Communion-childhood. Confirmation-Adolescence. Marriage/Religious Vocation-Early Adulthood. Funerals-end of life. Anointing-sickness.Of course you’re right and there is always a group ministering to x or y group out there in the wide world of catholicism. But it is always somewhere else. No vast array of services in the catholic mega church; only the bare essentials.There’re a lot of years in between the sacraments! I’d like to see a better catholic dating system rather than the secular sleaze and the eternal balancing act with celibate vocations, I’d like to see catholic early mom’s groups to help form play groups and foster a tighter knit catholic community. (in my town a jewish group provides this service non-denominationally and it has been a real blessing; but it could also be catholic). I’d like to see more and better catholic day-care and children’s services generally. I wish the schools were re-invigorated. I wish there were a coffee hour after mass for adults to actually get to know one another. I wish the Bishop would stop by for a visit and a sermon when he’s not asking for money. I could go on and on. In the end I am grateful for the daily mass, reconciliation,and the rest of the basics. But I wish there were more, and yes I am trying to get involved and create more. But I meet resistance sometimes. Everyone is so afraid of liability all the time. Why do I feel that Christ would really turn the tables over upon hearing clergy wimp out over perceived, possible liability? Sad.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110491371985845560 kentuckyliz

    Evangelical youth fornicate more than their heathen peers according to Barna research. True Love Waits campaigns and chastity rings notwithstanding.I live in the Bible Belt and the parents put their teen daughters on the Pill so they won’t shame them with their church friends by getting knocked up. (I could have a long rant here about the medical dangers they’re subjecting their daughter to…but I’ll skip it for now.)It’s in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, I forget which, in which the Law prescribes the death penalty for parents who whore out their daughters.Yeah, that’s Evangelicals for ya. Jesus is their Savior and sometimes their Lord except for the pelvic zone.I live in the apparent Bible Belt but cramped, narrow fundamentalism has chased people away from faith. It’s actually the most unchurched area in the whole country. So yeah, let’s talk success rates.Marcus, come to my parish. Over half converts, we have an agape feast EVERY SUNDAY after Mass, and the bonds of love and friendship are very apparent. We have good outreach to the poor a la Mt 25. But not only that…vivid faith, hearty singing, zeal. I’m liking these tiny mission parishes. It so looks like the early Church.


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