Timing the Drop-Out

The Post-Confirmation Summit in Rhode Island last month addressed inactive Catholics after the “graduation” sacrament.

According to research conducted by The Dynamic Catholic Institute, 85 percent of young Catholics stop actively engaging in their faith after receiving the sacrament of confirmation. For many in the diocese, this number is alarming, as it not only shows low engagement among young people, but indicates a smaller number of future Catholic adults.

The handful of parishes I’ve served, with and without schools, leads me to a conclusion that would indicate we might better focus efforts at another “graduation” sacrament. First Communion.

My estimate is that two-thirds of Catholics families are marginally involved at best. They come to Church for the sacramental moments. Some might drop their kids off for one to thirty-five weekly hours of education or child-sitting (however that might be viewed by adults and offspring). If kids aren’t coming to Sunday Mass with their parents, I don’t think we can count parochial school or faith formation nights as “actively engaging” for young people. Not for more than a slim slice of the whole.

I don’t have reason to discount DC’s 85% figure of inactive baptized Catholics. That seems to fit with the numbers I remember from Iowa State. Out of 30,000-plus students, about 6,000 (give or take) identified as baptized Catholics. About 700 signed up as parishioners, and some hundreds more came for Family Weekend and Ash Wednesday, the main two days of “obligation.”

If the parish schools in the Ocean State are finding high percentages of Sunday-active families, then maybe the post-Confirmation effort there is sound. I noticed they surveyed kids as young as 12. I suspect that church disengagement is already complete by then for most young Catholics.

For the rest of US Catholics, I don’t intend to denigrate their schools. But the reality is that the lion’s share of their effort is made in the realm of secular education, not faith formation. The system works great for families in which the parents are disciples, more or less, and the focus for girls and boys is less education and more training for discipleship. For this conference, or any similar effort to be successful, it has to be about formation and apprenticeship as disciples. Until we get committed disciples in the seats–and that probably means parents on Sundays–I suspect religious education is useless.

And if we’re going to focus on post-Confirmation, I’m afraid we’re about six to ten years late to the fork in the road for most young people. And if Providence and other places are misreading the expiration date, then I would worry that practical steps won’t help much.

What do you think?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, evangelization, Parish Life. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Timing the Drop-Out

  1. Joe McMahon says:

    I presume other readers of this blog have heard of Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island. The article Todd references is in the Rhode Island Catholic, the bishop’s house organ and that several of the people quoted are his employees, people who might get sacked if they speak out of line. His credentials include demanding in 2010 that a Catholic hospital drop its membership in the Catholic Health Association.

    Another link evaluating Bishop Thomas Tobin:

    Rhode Island is almost sixty percent Catholic, and it may have had previous experience with autocratic Irish-descent bishops of the Paul Cullen mold.

    • Todd says:

      I suspect the key has to be evangelizing parents. If parents don’t bring kids to Mass (for starters) there’s little hope. I hope the bishop listens to such ideas–it’s hardly original to me. If not, his diocese might be taking the wrong medicine for what ails them.

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