Some news stories surfaced around Easter about the numbers of adults joining the Catholic Church, both catechumens and those completing initiation. Washington, DC, was particularly happy with 1,300 people joining; this is better than the 1,200 that joined in 2012. It would be a great trend if more dioceses reported higher numbers of people who wish to share in the fullness of our Catholic way of life.
Higher numbers may begin to reverse an embarrassing and scandalous decline in adults joining the Church, from over 180,000 in 2001 to less than 115,000 in 2013. Numbers are never the whole story, but they are part of the story. Why a Church with almost 70,000,000 Catholics in the United States brings in so few adults should have us all scratching our heads, and searching our consciences.
Part of the explanation, apart from demographics and drastic news stories over the past two decades, has to lie in our approach to inviting people to consider Catholicism. We passively wait for people to seek us out. If they happen to inquire, if they happen to know someone and ask, then we address their situation. But we hardly pursue active strategies to identify, engage, and invite the growing number of seekers that contemporary culture seems to endlessly produce.
Among the various reasons for this passivity, the one that I find most frightening is this: perhaps we do not believe that we have the most-important and powerful message for people today. Perhaps we just take the Good News for granted and, as a result, are ho-hum when it comes to sharing it.
We have Good News. We have news uniquely suited to modern people because we are a Church that does not spurn the modern world, but rather engages it—its culture, science, art, humanity. We have a tradition that bores through twenty centuries, right into the original apostolic experience of Jesus Christ. We can speak powerfully to the head and to the heart. We can speak in every language, to every cohort, on every continent.
But when it comes to inviting people to the catechumenal process, we virtually keep this a secret. Other congregations get the message out; their members are not shy about inviting people to experience faith, or a renewed experience of faith. But we just passively wait for folks to come to us.
What might help this situation is our realizing what we are doing—our putting the inviting process into a broader vision. We are not asking people to simply join a congregation, or switch from “A” to “B”. We are inviting people—especially those who have no family of faith—to be part of the Kingdom of God, to be inserted into God’s transformation of humankind, a process in which our Church is at the core. We are offering them a gift, a grace, an experience in the Holy Spirit. Come on! Let’s realize what we have—to offer and give away in love. And let’s not be shy in offering it to those looking for faith today.