Bringing ‘drop-outs’ back: Everyone in the Church can make a difference Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

We hear these days that more people — especially young adults — are “dropping out” of organized religion. They say they are still “spiritual,” but they don’t want to belong to a particular church.

In the past, young people sometimes took time off from regular church attendance. There were those who shopped around at different churches to see what they were all about, but many of them ended up returning to the denomination of their youth.

Personally I never had that experience, because I had a strong commitment to my Catholic faith from early in my life. Perhaps I was fortunate to remain committed to my faith and to practice it, even when I was on my own as a young adult.

However, I’ve known many people — including my peers from school days — who did drop out of organized religion. Some returned, some didn’t.

Drop-out issue is real and urgent

I heard a report on National Public Radio (NPR) this year focusing on interviews conducted by David Kinnaman and his staff at the research company, The Barna Group. They interviewed more than 5,000 Christians. Kinnaman said that the drop-out issue is real and urgent. Host Michel Martin on NPR spoke with Kinnaman about his book, You Lost Me.

Kinnaman admitted that every generation goes through its own spiritual formation process, but what’s different now is that this generation is living in a much more complicated time, and because of that, he said, “I think this drop-out problem is all the more urgent and we have to pay attention to it and its new nuances.”

Wisdom of older generation

He urged churches to answer young people’s questions about complex issues. It was also encouraging to hear that Kinnaman believes young people are open to receiving the input and wisdom of today’s older generation.

Kinnaman said on NPR, “What’s so beautiful about this next generation is they actually really want the wisdom of today’s grandparents and elders and they’re facing huge questions, as every generation does, but they’re very open to the input of older adults and the wisdom that they could offer.”

So instead of leaving everything to church ministers and staffs (who certainly play an important role in passing on knowledge of the faith), it seems that parents and grandparents also have a vital role in encouraging and supporting young adults as they deal with faith challenges.

All members of the Church play a part

Pope Benedict XVI would seem to agree with that observation. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI told a diocesan conference in Rome, as reported by Catholic News Service, that it is the duty of all Christians to evangelize and to pass on the word of God “with courage, with conviction, with joy.”

Speaking from Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope called for renewed efforts for evangelization, which he said, “is not the duty of a few, but of all the members of the Church.” Special attention should be given to the education of children, adults who have not been baptized, and those who have left the Church, he said. It is the duty of Catholics today, he said, “to demonstrate the beauty and reason of faith.”

As we prepare for the Year of Faith in the Church starting in October of this year, we should be aware that there are many people — especially young adults — who have dropped out of practice of the faith. While there are no easy answers, as members of the Catholic Church we should all pray, discuss, and consider ways to reach out gently and positively to those who have left active practice of the faith and try to bring them back into the Church we love.