The Catholic Church prides itself on being universal. There is one area, however, where the church lives up to its name in an unfortunate way. Young adults are universally, i.e., throughout the world, leaving the Catholic faith.
According to a Georgetown University study, in 1995, there were 16.25 million baptisms of infants and young children. Twenty years later, those kids have become young adults. Yet, in 2014, there were only 8.6 million confirmations; between birth and the traditional age for confirmation, we lost half the kids. Many Catholics don’t stay Catholic as they grow up, and the church will not be viable if it cannot retain its members.
Many young adults are turned away not because of Jesus, the Gospels, or church teachings, but because too often the Mass is dry and lifeless and doesn’t do justice to the energy and passion of Jesus.
Are you glad we’re here?
Churches must let young adults know they are welcome. Sometimes we can feel like we don’t belong at a parish if there are few other young people. When adult parishioners greet us with open arms, we feel included.
My parish, St. Francis of Assisi, Milwaukee, uses the Sign of Peace as a chance for the congregation to walk around and catch up with the other parishioners. Even though there aren’t a lot of teenagers at my parish, adult parishioners are not afraid to start a conversation with us, asking us about our school, sports or future plans.
Churches that offer a Sunday evening Mass demonstrate their interest in appealing to young adults – anyone who understands our changing circadian rhythms is our friend.
Music is key
(no pun intended)
A fun, engaging Mass does wonders to help further the faith of teens and young adults. One important way for churches to open up to young adults is through music. We love music. We go to concerts, blast it in our cars and are constantly listening to music on our phones.
Music during Mass is a time to become energized, hear a good message and get excited about faith.
Right now, most church music tends to have the opposite effect – it drones forever and puts exhausted young adults to sleep. Even the most pious of Catholics don’t listen to traditional church music in their free time. If churches want to make us excited about our faith, they should utilize popular Christian rock songs which emphasize the same positive messages present in most church music, but in a much more exciting and energizing manner.
Parishes need to put time and effort into music preparation. Well-rehearsed songs help engage young adults and we might even leave with positive lyrics echoing through our heads.
We want great homilies
Priests can help young adults be more interested in the liturgy by challenging us. The Bible offers radical messages and asks followers of Christ to do some difficult things. Speaking in general terms about improving your life is not the message Jesus preached, and it is not the message young adults need to hear.
Problems such as sickness, poverty and violence are present in almost every reading in the Bible, and they are present in every country in the world. Young adults want to make changes in our world. Tell us what to do. Give us real examples of people you know who are living their faith. Tell us stories of people who have struggled and who have changed for the better.
Young adults often feel the church is outdated in its beliefs and it needs to get with the times. We are interested in hearing what Jesus has to say about complicated issues. Parishes have to make sure that message focuses on the love and forgiveness Jesus taught, rather than a mean-spirited condemnation of those in the margins, such as those in the LGBT community. The Catholic Church’s message of the transformative love of Christ is radical and amazing, and parishes need to convey that.
Young adults have the time and energy to be active members of the church, but many churches fail to engage them, and this potential is lost. Last year there were 13.71 million babies baptized in the Catholic Church. Let’s work together so that, when these children are teenagers in 2031, we have 13.71 million confirmed Catholics.
(Liam is the second oldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children. He is a senior at Dominican High School, Whitefish Bay.)