Next Steps #3: Missing Parishioners: Who Are They?
Last week I wrote about Greg Thompson who “New City Commons,” an education and consulting team that seeks to support the church in its work of reimagining the common good, reinvigorating cultural institutions and renewing civic life. Greg introduced the idea of a new type of “wandering” that our society is experiencing much like pilgrims and refugees experienced in the middle ages. Only today’s wanderings are more spiritual and emotional in nature. Our neighbors, many who are parishioners of St. Monica, are searching. Some are inactive. Some don’t trust God or the Church. Some are angry at God or the church. The problem is that they make up the overwhelming majority of our parish.
Who are they? If you met him at a party, he is a good guy. She is educated, well dressed, and successful at what she does. Both are married with children. They have a beautiful home, comfortable lifestyle and drive nice cars.
They work hard all week so they like to take weekends off. On Sunday she is on the tennis court, he is at the Eagles and both are driving their children to various activities. Wherever they are, they are definitely not in church. They’re never in church – except maybe for weddings, funerals, and perhaps Easter and Christmas. Both are products of a parish religious education program or a Catholic school. But they are definitely not believers.
Their faith background is actually more of a liability than an asset. It brings emotional baggage, theological misconceptions, and legitimate complaints. They might have formed an attitude of indifference, but more likely it’s cynicism or contempt. If he’s divorced, the situation is further complicated by laws he doesn’t understand that seem to judge him unfairly. Her God, faith, church, religion, and The Da Vinci Code are all mixed up together in her imagination. The mix would seem to be an evangelizer’s nightmare.
This is actually an opportunity however. He is a good guy, but he’s doing life on his own terms, and, increasingly, it isn’t working. She has stress at work and tension and conflict at home. They both have financial obligations that are oppressive and credit card debt that is getting out of control. And there are other issues too: anger, depression, addiction to alcohol, gambling, or pornography. She needs purpose. He needs direction. Both need a savior!
We absolutely have to reach out to these parishioners. If we don’t – we close. It’s that simple. Maybe not in a year or two but it will happen. And the archdiocese won’t do it. We will. As I look around the national Catholic landscape, I see two trends. Christ is closing down what is not involved in His mission. Christ is also blessing parishes, ministries, dioceses, college campus ministries, initiatives, schools and parishioners who are taking the Lord at His word and fulfilling the “Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission.”
Leadership counts. I certainly will do my part but I don’t want to lead a “beige church.” I need your help and I want to support you – regardless of where they are in your faith journey – in growing as a disciple. This will take place primarily in our neighborhood but can occur elsewhere in the world as well. Where do we start? What do we do next as a parish? Next week we will examine the first two fundamental steps.