Why are young people leaving the Church?

Attendees at Santa Clara Faith Formation Conference learn the reasons
pews in Catholic church

(photo: MNgreen/DeviantArt)

Take an average Sunday Mass in the Diocese and in Catholic parishes throughout the nation. You are likely to find continually fewer young people in attendance. The majority leave before age 21; with a median age of 13. They are “going, going, gone,” said Bob McCarty, D. Min., in a talk at the Santa Clara Faith Formation Conference 2017 held Nov. 3-4 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. A national study conducted by CARA and Saint Mary’s Press in 2015 can tell us why. It looked at the dynamics of disaffiliation among young Catholics.

About half of those leaving become unaffiliated “Nones” who are spiritual but not religious or who do not believe in God or religion at all. The other half identify with a Protestant denomination. Many of them lacked Catholic education and parish formation.

But beyond statistics, the study aimed to learn the nuance of their stories, and the youth were grateful to share. They had often made a thoughtful and deeply reflective choice to leave the faith; one that often left them crushed, confused and alone. “It was as if no one cared that I left,” expressed one participant. Therefore, McCarty noted, the important questions are whether we miss them and whether they know that we do.

One group is the “dissenters” who express active resistance to the Church. They have unanswered questions about Catholic teaching such as birth control or what they perceive as literal interpretation of the Bible. “Here we have an opportunity for better catechesis,” said McCarty.

And then there are the “injured and damaged.” They may have prayed for someone who died anyway or they may see the way the Church treats the LGBTQ community. They perceive this as an issue of human dignity and social justice rather than human sexuality. McCarty said it’s important to recognize that “they are sitting on these big theological questions of why does God allow suffering, does God love me, will God forgive me?” The faith community is challenged to create opportunities for young people to ask their questions, listen to peers, and explore faith responses.

Full story at The Valley Catholic.

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  1. I thought Bishop McGrath said just a month ago or so that the Church in San Jose is vibrant. Everyone knows that was a lie.

    So what is the Diocese of San Jose doing to keep “disaffected” youth in the Church? Based on my personal experience at the diocesan high school, Mitty, and my knowledge of other schools, the strategy is to have religion teachers claim that the Church is a spiritual arm of the Democrat Party: LGBT, welfare, diversity, global government, self-esteem, open borders, victim-thinking, socialism, all religions are equal, and hatred of conservatives. It’s all wrong and it’s all going to fail. Once kids no longer have to attend school, they lose all interest in even the phony Catholicism that was taught to them.

    • Anonymous 2 says:

      Well and eloquently said, Mike.

    • Linda Maria says:

      I agree, Mike! Excellent post! Things will not get any better– until we have a true, “practicing Catholic” Church, Pope, prelates, and priests!! Young people, as they mature, marry, and start families– change a great deal– and that issue was not addressed, in the above article. When you leave youth, grow up, get married, and have children– EVERYTHING CHANGES!! You want a good society, with good institutions, to settle down into, be a responsible part of, receive good services from– and raise your kids in! INCLUDING A GOOD, RESPOSIBLE CHURCH YOU CAN DEPEND ON!! Not some “hippie,” goofball, unreliable, “teen”-type, “rebellious,” disobedient, mixed-up, messed-up FAILURE– for a “church!”

      • Your Fellow Catholic says:

        So the Pope is not a practicing Catholic? What is it that he and the prelates and priests are practicing?

        • Linda Maria says:

          Your Fellow Catholic– You should know well, by now– that the Pope, and many of his prelates– sadly, PUBLICLY REJECT many important Catholic teachings! Such as– teachings on the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony, and reception of the Eucharist– and on Pro-Life issues!! Big scandal, in the Vatican, of today’s era!! They ALL need to be good, practicing Catholics!!

          • Your Fellow Catholic says:

            The Pope rejects no such important Catholic teachings Linda maria. Please stop listening to The Remnant. It’s just poison.

          • Linda Maria says:

            YFC– Everyone knows, worldwide– and the Pope himself, has made it very clear!– that he is NOT an orthodox, practicing Catholic — he feels differently, on some important Church teachings! Don’t waste your time, with foolish replies!

          • Linda Marie, there is a program against the Pope on the Internet. Please don’t fall for it.

        • YFC you are wrong as usual, the Remnant challenges and exposes the corruption in the Church, and supports the Traditional teachings of Church which has been rejected by people like you and many in the hierarchy. Stop listening to NC Reporter it packed with liberal dissenter and liars

    • Well said.

  2. This is the new “springtime” well done Spirit of Vatican 2 crowd…..

    • BOHEMOND, its easy to blame the decline on VII, and I won”t dispute that it could be one cause of the drift away from the Church. If we look at what is happening in other “main-line” Protestant denominations, the drift is mirror image. So, it is more than just VII. What changed, perhaps, is that we have a better educated population that doesn’t take everything said by the Pastor as Gospel, a lack of good education about faith and science, and, at our generation’s doorstep, a lousy education in the faith for our children. It’s hard for young people today to believe in God and even harder to believe in the teachings of a church that comes across as a hate group, compared to social norms of the day.

      • Anonymous 2 says:

        Except traditional Bible-based, family-centered Christian churches since 1960 per Pew Survey continue to grow and keep young people.

        Churches’ acceptance of LGBT is death to young families coming to church.

      • Linda Maria says:

        Bob One– From my own experience– I think that many in “Academia’s Ivory Tower” (including our Chuch!) are very, very young, inexperienced, and not mature!! A few may be mature, with age and wisdom– and have some good ideas, and the capability of helping God, to make the Church better. But many in modern academia, Catholic or Protestant– since the early 20th century– began to toss out the foundations of religious and moral teachings of Christ, favoring flaky, unstable, superficial, human, worldly ideas of “progress,” instead! This is the root of what has ruined our modern age, ruined all Christendom — and ruined our Church, and ruined Vatican II, too!

        • Linda Maria says:

          Bob One– many people today, have the mistaken notion, that they are somehow “better-educated,” and seek “modern science,” and so-called social “progress,” and personal comforts, in society– when in fact– these folks are actually very poorly educated, with superficial, liberal baloney, whatever the media also promotes, not the classics– and no solid foundations, for anything!! Just the passing fads and fancies of today’s era– and more inventions, more comforts! Before the 1960s, Americans could read, write, think, and discuss everyday matters– at a much higher level! And life was never based on “me,” and “my individual comforts and choices!” Far be it!!

      • Bob One, your response is so predictable I could have set my watch by it. ” It’s hard for young people today to believe in God and even harder to believe in the teachings of a church that comes across as a hate group,” the Church FAILED to challenge the culture to the point where sin is now the norm and accepted. Example : Contraception and Homosexuality.

        • bohemond, we agree. It is the fault of the Church for not teaching the faith surely enough and letting modern culture be more powerful. I thought my timing was off a bit!

          • The Real Ralph says:

            And the flex point for all of these failings is very centrally placed at Vatican II. So to say V2 didn’t cause these things is to count angels on the head of a pin. The European secret societies (including Freemasonry) of the early 18th century, who invented modern liberalism, including feminism, finally got their council, so that they could complete their infiltration /assault on the Church, and infuse the liberalism which is now threatening the Church with the gates of hell. Those gates will not prevail against the institution, but will against many of Her individual members. Read: Grand Orient Freemasonry As the Secret Power Behind Communism; omnicbc.com.

          • Anonymous says:

            The fallacy is that you don’t really know what would be going on in the Church if Vatican II had not occurred. It could be better or worse or the same.

  3. Michael McDermott says:

    And back we are driven – to the GILBERT Gaystapo Propaganda Wars – where those disliking Church treatment of the GILBERT Lobby Control the Narrative, and those who would provide clear and unambiguous explanations for such Wise Moral Positions, are Silenced as too ungood to participate in Indoctrination, as opposed to actual Education
    How about trying Facts as an antidote to the Propaganda, like:
    Dph Health Alert: Increase In Hepatitis A Among Men Who Have Sex With Men

  4. Michael McDermott says:

    Further – Catechism often is rote recitation by those themselves poorly catechized, and often fails to go beyond the superficial, while still becoming itself too obtuse for younger minds
    Good Teachers make for Good Students, and We Need to produce Both – at the appropriate level
    That or develop a really cool video game and compete on that level. Ahem

  5. The CATHOLIC church has left the young people (and every Catholic).

  6. The problem lies not with the youth or with church policies, it lies with their post VII who aren’t taking them to Mass. The exodus has been in progress for over 30 years. It is only now becoming because the old money from traditional Catholics is drying up

  7. Michael McDermott says:

    The writings of Blaise Pascal are precisely the type of Faith Formation material that is needed to help Young People move forward in the faith:

    “Pascal’s Wager posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not
    Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God
    If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell)

    What Blaise Pascal Saw In A November Night Of Fire

  8. The larger American culture is sending our young people many not-so-subtle messages that religion isn’t cool, Jesus doesn’t matter, the Church is corrupt, and it’s more important to have cool stuff (iPhone anyone?). Live life for now! We are going to have to work very hard to get these young people back in the pews!

  9. I can speak to what keeps youth in the church. Before my retirement, my next to last parish had 10 Masses on Sunday including TLM. Most were full. Catholic school, 1500 in CCD with teachers who were instructed by me the pastor, 450 baptims/year, 250 confirmations, 60 baptisms at RCIA, daily confessions, 80 weddings / year, 24 hour adoration, huge youth group, 4 bible studies, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul affiliation, ministry to poor. People were about their personal holiness, knowing the Bible, knowing Jesus, getting as close to him as possible. I know this formula works because it holds my interest as well.

    • Father, you tell us the results, but not the process. What did you and your parish do to achieve such fantastic results? What was your strategic plan, your objectives, etc.?

      • 1. Daily confessions, 2 priests before am and pm Mass, 3 priests on Saturday for 90 minutes. 2. Preach the gospel of holiness and transformation into Jesus, to know God’s love in Eucharist, the other Sacraments, 3. sound catechesis and homilies, 4. patient explanation with those whose faith was not strong or poorly formed, 5. Sunday evening faith talks, 6. permission for prayer groups, rosary groups, evangelization groups, 6. priest at youth groups, school Masses and classes and in catechetical classes to teach faith for example.

        • Bravo! So now we have to find a way to get these best practices into other parishes. Or, perhaps we need to find Pastors who aren’t against doing the best practices.

  10. Socialism and temporal emphases such as equality, minimum wage, abortion approval, sexuality, human trafficking, and other issues promoted by diocesan programs and some pastors may have a place, but they cannot replace the transformation of the person to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect by the Word, the Sacramental Life, and the good works that come from them. These parishes are languishing as their older parishioners pass to Jesus, the money flow stops, and their pastors promoting socialism are promoted to the diocesan positions and the episcopacy, deviating from the personal holiness which draws people to the Church.

    • Linda Maria says:

      I have felt the same way, since Vatican II, with all the wrongful worldly emphasis, in the Church–on worldly, secular “social progress!” Rectories and convents suddenly emptied– for worldly “social welfare”-type careers!! Christ calls us away from the world, to personal holiness– and that should be the calling, of all in the clergy, and convents!! Good priests, brothers, and nuns, should show you the way to personal holiness! With personal holiness, priests, brothers, nuns– (and laymen, too!) — can do miraculous things for God, in the world! And without personal holiness — their efforts are all a waste of time, because God is not in the picture– only superficial, secular, worldly “social progress!”

  11. Gentlemen, Good observations and analyses on your parts, except I don’t agree with Bob One in all that he says. I have found Georgetown Universities CARA organization as impartial (not blindly siding with the liberal V2 supporters). Except for growth in the Roman Catholic parishes worldwide, Christianity is on the decline, atheism and agnostticism is on the rise. It all boils down to

  12. Roman Catholic catechism went on the decline in the 1960s with the great loss of priests and nuns. Having a poor foundation, the next generation was taught very poorly, and the following generation had little of nothing passed on to them. I met a lady last week in her mid-40’s born again cradle V2 member who was all excited. She was just learning how to say the rosary.

  13. She was just learning about the miraculous powers of the rosary. She had never heard of Our Lady of Fatima and the events that transpired in 1917 and the fullfillment of Our Lady’s prophecies that occured. What a fine example of the aftermath of V2. Like our Lord said ‘You will know them by their fruits “,. No doubt she is not alone in her weak faith. Is it any wonder our children have lost the faith?

  14. Is it any wonder why our children are agnostic or atheists? The LGBTQr’s and communists have been more successful in indoctrinating our youth with their poisonous ideologies that counter Roman Catholic teachings.

    Only a great return to Roman Catholicism and inturn blessings from God can turn this V2 implosion around.

  15. Michael McDermott says:

    The Amish provide for an ‘assessment’ period the call “Rumspringa”, when their Young Adults are given the freedom to move in to the larger world, in order to be certain that a Return to Amish Life is what they truly want
    Some Catholic Parishes have a “Returning Catholics” program, but that usually involves those who ‘Left the Church’ and are seeking a possible way back’
    However – this is not a Freedom to Explore combined with the Open Welcome to Return, and an expectation that Maturity will guide the path back.
    Perhaps if We were to consider something similar, many more Young Adults would not feel that they had burned their bridges, and turn further away
    Just a Thought

  16. There is a way to save souls from being lost. We have to pray our Rosaries daily and ask for God’s graces to show us His Way. We can’t lose with God the Holy Ghost guiding us. He will win souls just as He started with the 12 Apostles and won the salvation of millions of souls over the centuries.

  17. Deacon Craig Anderson says:

    For not only good analysis of the situation, but for things that can be done to keep young people and others in the Church (as well as draw others to Her), I highly recommend “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Weddell.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The only one of our young people who stopped going to Mass was someone who divorced and remarried a person who is hostile to the Faith.
    Everyone else still goes.

  19. A lot of people leave the church because of some of the people who post comments on this article. If you people are going to be in Heaven then pretty much that would be Hell for me.

  20. So, as usual the traditionalists, restorationists and fundamentalists list the questionable things they think make countless people leave the church and their hope for a new church:

    1) Let’s become a branch of the GOP or equivalent far-right party at prayer;
    2) Let’s get rid of that awful Freemasonist, Modernist, Liberal/Heretical Vatican II and all its reforms and we will all go back to the mythical golden age where nothing went wrong in the church (anyone hear about clerical sex abuse? That was well and truly alive before Vatican II as the Ryan Report and other inquiries demonstrate).
    3) Let’s get away from ‘liberalism’ such as the right to a living wage, to unionise, to care for the environment and not destroy it, to…

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