With all the craziness going on in the world, which hot topic is believed to cause the most young people to leave the Catholic Church? Although it is true that more Millennials and Homelanders (Gen Z) report political or ideological discomfort with Church teaching compared with older generations, the top answers may surprise you.
Earlier this year, Christianity Today published the results of a 2017 LifeWay Research survey that found the top reason young adults reported lack of church involvement was “I moved to college and stopped attending church” (34%). The No. 3 reason in the survey was similar: “I didn’t feel connected to the people in my church” (29%). In contrast, the number who reported political or social disagreements accounted for only 25% of respondents.
Put differently, keeping college students connected to their faith in a committed community could prove 250% more effective for the lifetime practice of faith than debating ideological issues. Many national surveys of young people have resulted in similar findings: Most young adults do not leave the Church in protest; they simply float away.
Although one study reported a sensationalized median age of 13 for those who stop calling themselves Catholic, most credible studies agree with the LifeWay research that shows dramatic decreases in religious practice later in life (between the ages of 18 and 20). In fact, the previously mentioned LifeWay study saw numbers of youth who attended religious services decline from 69% at age 17 down to only 40% by age 20. It is no coincidence that these are the same years that find young adults leaving home and embarking upon the first steps of a journey toward independence.
As a Church, we have to do something. And we are.
As I write, Chris Hoehn, Diocesan Coordinator for Campus Ministry, and I have begun meeting with folks who are laying the foundation that will find four trained Catholic missionaries on the USI campus beginning in the fall of 2020. These missionaries will be supervised by one of our diocesan priests, and they will work alongside Chris and her student leaders at USI to connect young adults to a vibrant faith community that will sustain them at a time when many would have slipped away.
Bishop Siegel’s invitation to welcome the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to our diocese is exciting; and this initiative will, no doubt, produce great fruit for the Church in Southwest Indiana. Nearly 70% of USI alumni live and work in the 12 counties that comprise the Diocese of Evansville. Naturally, an effort to strengthen the faith lives of USI students will have a ripple effect that will flow out from Bloomfield to Mt. Vernon, from Sullivan to Rockport and to all the communities in between.
Although a great and necessary program, the cost to bring FOCUS to the diocese is substantial. In order to get things running, the diocese will spend a little over $60,000 each year. But what is the price of a soul enflamed with love for Jesus Christ? The investment is worthwhile. In fact, it is crucial.
Evangelizing the young Church is a passion for many in our diocese, and several people will want to be a part of this effort. If you are interested in helping to get FOCUS established within the diocese, please contact me for details on how you can play a part. Above all, please support Chris, the FOCUS missionaries and the USI student leaders in prayer as they take concrete steps to connect young adults to their Catholic Faith at USI. Their efforts will enable their peers to engage in a committed faith community that will prepare them to walk with Jesus Christ throughout their lives.
Most young adults simply float away from a church in which they feel unimportant or unconnected. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have to do something. And we are.