3. God has no Grandchildren

The problem?

In the Lakes Parish, evidence suggests that there is a major “generation gap” in Mass attendances. “Missing in action” are both the teenage generation and the young to medium adult (25 – 50) generation.

Since the 16th and early 17th centuries, the catholic retention strategy has been (a) childhood catechesis and (b) sacramental initiation. The assumption was that carefully nurtured religious identity acquired in childhood would endure throughout life. But the evidence suggests that what worked in the 17th century does not work in the 21st!

Childhood Catechesis

Experience shows that the best predictor of continued adult attendance at religious services is STRONG ADULT faith. It is the adult’s spiritual journey – building upon his or her experience as a child and teenager – that is most likely to translate into lifelong faith and consistent religious practice.

Experience suggests that in our country the majority of Catholics are sacramentalised but not evangelised. (Separately I have written on the meaning of “evangelised”).

Sacramental Initiation--Won’t the Sacraments Bring Them Back?

Parish statistics 2014 – 2015: 205 confirmations; 190 first communion.

Our country’s pastoral practice still operates on the presumption that although most Catholic teens vanish after Confirmation, they will find their way back when they are ready to get married and especially when they have children. However, evidence suggests that Catholic marriage rates are, in fact, falling dramatically. In the United States for example, 40% of married Generation X and Y Catholics are not married in the Catholic Church.

Statistics from the 2011 Australian Census indicates that 25% of younger Australians reported to have no religion, with the biggest increase from 2001-2011. During this decade, the percentage of non religious young adult swells to a sevenfold in comparison to the previous decade.

The Census also reveals that the strong presence of catholic education does not prevent young people from leaving the Church.  Catholic marriage has declined to around 30%.

Whilst the large number of baptisms each year in our parish is encouraging (160 during 2014 – 2015), the evidence is that this “inflow” of new Catholics into the church is more than offset with a regular “outflow” of those who choose to forego the regular practice of this faith. Sadly, in many cases, these are the parents of the newly-baptised.

If the sacramental program has not influenced younger Catholics to attend Mass regularly or be married in the church, why would they bother to raise their children in the faith? We can no longer depend on the rights of passage or cultural, peer, or familial pressure to bring the majority back. If this trend does not change, then the existing norm in most parishes where there is an ageing and declining regular attendance at Mass on weekends, will continue.

Many of our long-term parishioners have children and grandchildren in this “generation gap”.  Why is this so? Why did the seamless transition of the continuity of the practice of our faith from child to adult in one generation not carry into Generation X and Generation Y?  The simple answer appears to be that these latter generations are “de-traditionalised” and this not only appears to relate to their childhood faith but also many other social areas that the older generation held sacred – respect, dress, manners, money, values, morals etc.

In the 21st century, cultural Catholicism is not working as a retention strategy, because God has no grandchildren. In the 21st century, we need for to foster ‘intentional’ Catholicism (continually focusing on the growth of our faith into and throughout adulthood) rather than ‘cultural’ Catholicism (maintaining the status quo from childhood into adulthood). And I believe we need to start with ourselves before we can influence others.  How?

It’s All about Relationships

Adult faith is built upon an adult relationship with God – a personal relationship. Someone with whom you can sit down and converse; through these continued conversations, a personal relationship is formed; and from that continued process, a loving relationship develops – belief in a personal God who loves us. We begin to realise that we are in God’s eyes the Beloved!  How then, do we react as the Beloved?