By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The “nones” are on the rise, but who are they? The unchurched and “the people who were once in our system who took what we offered and decided it wasn’t for them,” said Kevin Feyen during a Vision 20/20 Convocation workshop at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Feyen, director of adolescent and young adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, spoke June 7 on “Reaching Out to the Nones — Those Who Have Left the Church.”
He said every generation is seeing a rise in the “nones,” not just teenagers and young adults, and for multiple reasons. The passing on of the faith may not be as strong as it was for the younger generation’s parents and grandparents. Society’s lack of faith in institutions also leaves people feeling skeptical. For many people, “there are 1,000 right answers” as opposed to one. A greater competition exists for the places people go to find authentic peace and happiness. He also referred to a disconnection with faith among people of white, European ethnicity. “For this group, the “we can figure things out for ourselves” mentality is becoming more common.
Becoming disassociated with the church generally doesn’t happen all at once, Feyen said. It happens slowly for someone until all that is left is the grace of their baptism. However, many people who have “fallen away” may still carry around something that Feyen calls “Catholic lint.” They still hold on to some piece of Catholic identity, even if they have rejected the faith.
To slow this trend in their parishes, Catholics can take a two-pronged approach: work to keep people in the church, and work to steer those who have fallen away back to the church. Doing this requires tapping into people’s need to be accepted, welcomed, accompanied and understood. Creating more programming isn’t enough. Reaching the nones and those who may become the nones requires Catholics to see themselves as the “silver bullet” solution.
Wherever you go, “There is someone in front of you that needs Jesus,” Feyen said. “They need you! Don’t worry about programs. This is not something where you can look at the institution and say ‘fix this’ when YOU have been baptized and sent on this mission (of evangelization).”
If someone has already left the church and offers a criticism of the faith, don’t hastily respond with rebuttals or facts. Be like Jesus on the road to Emmaus and accompany them. “Jesus doesn’t get in front of them and scold them… he first connects with them and joins them and walks with them. He asks questions and listens and tries to process their experience. He brings forth the faith in their hearts and lets them make a choice on where to go next.”
For example, if someone asks a tough question such as, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people,” don’t respond by saying, “He doesn’t” or try to correct the person. That approach may further alienate the person or make them think that what they feel doesn’t matter. Instead, listen to what the person has to say about why he or she feels that way. Try to find some common ground and share your personal experience on the topic. “Say, ‘In my experience, this is how God has spoken to me.’ By doing this, you are side to side with someone.” When a conversation is at an end, try to offer suggestions or opportunities for further discussion.
Reaching the nones is important work, Feyen said. “Go, make a difference! Go bring people back to the church through your love and example.”