Over a week ago I sat in the opening session at the annual Religious Education Congress and was eagerly awaiting the keynote from Bishop Robert Barron. It was titled "Giving a Reason for the Hope That is Within Us" and for so many of the people gathered we were super excited to hear something hopeful in a growing climate of disbelief.
Instead of throwing out the usual suggestions of being more welcoming, adding programs or making kids stay off their phones! He talked about real objective data that supports real reasons why so many new and old members of the church are leaving.
"For every one person joining the church 6 are leaving"
He cited stats from Pew research surveys, groundbreaking work from the authors of iGen Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared
for Adulthood, by Dr. Jean Twenge, Analysis of Young Former Catholics, by Christian Smith and the works of Stephen Bullivant.
The leading reasons for so many leaving is they question the religious teachings and or put more faith in the sciences than the history of Christianity.
"The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging young people" - Brandon Vogt
So now that we know why - how can we stop the bleeding? Bishop Barron loves Pope Francis' analogy of our church being a field hospital for the wounded.
“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle." - Pope Francis
There are nine things that your parish can do to tend to the wounded that will aid in the healing of our Holy Catholic Church:
Listen to the young people in your parish. Provide opportunities for young people to get involved with works of social justice. Share the stories of modern day role models like Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Gerrard Manley Hopkins and great saints like St. Peter Claver or Martin De Porres.
Celebrate the beauty of our church! Share it's art, literature and rituals that flow through the liturgy.
Stop underestimating our young people's ability to absorb the faith without watering it down in such a way that it lacks substance, reality or probability to highly educated people.
Our churches should be communities not clubs!
Promote the importance of mass in ways that draw our members every Sunday with anticipation.
Turn our parishes into a missionary society.
Present extreme demand and extreme mercy.
Be digital missionaries. That means use social media or technological tools that allow for comments, questions, share seeds of the word, regularly updated content and great websites.
Add to your prayers of the faithful - Pray for those fallen away!
As someone who has been advocating the use of technology as a means for digital evangelization for over a decade now having the so-called "Bishop of Social Media" list it as a priority was so awesome!
Hopefully, the hearers of his words will soon become doers too! Start with assessing the needs of your unique parish and evaluate how technology can be used to inform, inspire and educate your community. This could be in the form of an electronic survey or simple show of hands at mass to discern which social media platforms, technological tools or digital assets would be best for sparking engagement.
Looking forward to hearing how your parishes will implement digital strategies for drawing the fallen away back home.