By Mitchell Narvasa
We are in a crisis. There are three statistics, all related, that I’d like to share with you about our church in America that should rock your world. If you’ve heard them before, here they are again.
Statistic #1: Half of young Americans who were raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic today. Is the problem really only with the young? Mostly.
Statistic #2: 79%, almost 8 in 10 who do leave the faith, are under the age of 23. Well, maybe they’re just exploring their options in college, but they and others convert back to the faith, right?
Statistic #3: For every one convert to the Catholic faith, more than six people leave.
This isn’t a small nosebleed. This is a hemorrhaging wound.
Many parents and grandparents experience this exodus first-hand and I know of the heartbreak they experience. I know that they will do anything and everything to draw their children back or keep them in the faith. But like John Mayer’s new song, many of our best efforts, especially in light of these statistics, feel like “just another shot in the dark.” (John Mayer, if you’re reading this, compensation is appreciated.)
It doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Those same people who have left the faith are shedding a little bit of light in the darkness. They’re talking. They’re telling us why they’ve left. They’re opening up like we want them to.
Some have made up their minds while some are indifferent to the faith of their childhood. Some found a new home that’s welcoming and where they’re being “spiritually fed,” while others have qualms with doctrines that are “intolerant” and “judgmental.” Regardless of their answers and questions, let’s just take a moment to be grateful that they haven’t completely shut us out.
The most common reason they’ve shared is that they’ve “slowly drifted away.” Coming from California, I remember my experience of “drifting away” in the ocean. It was not fun. I thought I could boogie board where others were surfing. I ended up going too far for my feet to touch the sand; I couldn’t control my board, and honestly thought I was going to die. Through the sheer will to survive, I found myself like a starfish on the sand. Whether on a boat or on a boogie board, or away from the church, to drift means a lack of firm foundation. Many have become slaves to the waves.
Some determined that they’re not being “spiritually fed.” Most of these responses come from those who have since affiliated with another non-Catholic Christian faith. If Catholicism is the faith that has fed the great saints, what seems to be the problem? We’re keeping the good food locked away and feeding them food void of nutrition. It’s like a child who doesn’t want to eat broccoli and we give in and just feed them Fruit Loops (my kids’ favorite…). Bishop Robert Barron has said that for many years we have dumbed down our faith intellectually and have lessened the moral demands. We’ve stripped it of all its beauty and wonder.
No matter the reasons for young people leaving, there will always be hope, not only because parents and grandparents are willing to do what it takes, but also because this is the desire of their ever-merciful Father in heaven. He is their victory. He is their strength. But he also desires our cooperation in his work of sanctifying the world and drawing all of humankind to himself. So, whether you’re a parent, grandparent, ministry leader or someone who feels called to help, I invite you to continue this conversation with me on Oct. 10 and 17 (see details below). Together we’ll be learning more about the exodus happening from our Catholic faith, the reasons why young people are leaving, and what we can do to keep them and/or draw them back home.
“The Lord says, Stop your crying and wipe away your tears. All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded … There is hope for your future; your children will come back home. I, the Lord, have spoken.” (Jeremiah 31: 16 – 17)
Continuing the conversation:
Sunday, Oct. 10 — Why our Young are Leaving the Church
Sunday, Oct. 17 – What We can Do about It
6-7:30 p.m. both evenings at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. Open to everyone.
(Mitchell Narvasa is Pastoral Associate for Evangelization and Discipleship at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. He received his BA in Theology and MA in Catechetics and Evangelization from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.)