10-Year-Olds Leaving the Church?

bored boy - intermediate grades

Recently, my good friend Julianne Stanz, Director of New Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, WI, wrote an excellent article in their diocesan newspaper, The Compass, in which she addressed the findings of a recent CARA study that reveals that young people around the age of 13 but as young as 10 are deciding to leave the Church. The reasons cited include:

  • “Catholic beliefs aren’t based on fact. Everything is hearsay from back before anything could be documented, so nothing can be disproved, but it certainly shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
  • “Because I grew up and realized it was a story like Santa or the Easter Bunny.”
  • “I realized that religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world, and to continue to subscribe to a religion would be hypocritical.”

It seems to me that there are some serious catechetical issues that need to be addressed here in order to remedy this situation. Obviously, we are not doing enough to help young people truly encounter Christ and understand revelation. In particular, I recommend four ways we can and must strengthen our catechesis in response to this reality.

  1. We need to continually emphasize the Incarnation as an historical event. Jesus of Nazareth was born into this world at a specific time and in a specific place. The historicity of Jesus must be more emphatically taught and the historicity of the Gospels must be emphasized while also explaining that they are not written as historical accounts per se, but as faith proclamations inspired by historical events.
  2. We need to invite young people to truly encounter Jesus, especially through reflective prayer and the Eucharist. If children are thinking that Jesus is just like Santa or the Easter Bunny, it is because they have not been invited to truly encounter him in prayer and the Eucharist. Catechesis must not only invite young people to learn about Jesus (information) but must facilitate an encounter with Jesus (transformation). For more on this, see my book Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechesis That Not Only Informs But Also Transforms. In particular, the Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts program integrates reflective prayer throughout every grade.
  3. We need to do a better job of teaching young people how to interpret Scripture. As they learn about a scientific/rational explanation of how the world came to be, they conclude that the stories of Scripture are simply fairy tales. It is crucial that we teach young people to understand that Scripture, while containing much that is historical, also uses figurative language to reveal God’s truth. There is no reason for people of any age to feel that they have to decide between what science says and what Scripture says when BOTH are teaching truth: science teaches scientific truth and Scripture teaches religious truth. For more on this, see my book The Bible Blueprint: A Catholic’s Guide to Understanding and Embracing God’s Word.
  4. We need to do a better job of teaching about the Church’s history of embracing science. Here is a post in which I talk about helping young people understand evolution and the Catholic faith. As Julianne Stanz points out:

    Historically, Catholics are numbered amongst the most important scientists of all time: Augustinian Fr. Gregor Mendel is considered to be the founder of modern genetics and George Lemaitre, priest and physicist, was the originator of the “Big Bang” theory. Rather than waiting until high school, elementary or middle school is time to introduce young Catholics to the rich patrimony of Catholic learning in the area of science.

    Children should be introduced to Bro. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, the Director of the Vatican Observatory—a scientist with a brilliant mind and an engaging personality as evidenced by this interview.

Jesus said that we are called to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). Young people are getting the false impression that to be a faithful Catholic is to check our brains at the door, when in reality, the Catholic faith calls us to a holistic approach to God—using the heart and the head to find God in all things.

About Joe Paprocki 2750 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

8 Comments on 10-Year-Olds Leaving the Church?

  1. Great points, Joe. But I think we also need to recognize that most adults — including many catechists — don’t know how to read or interpret Sacred Scripture. If young people are getting these impressions, it’s largely from the adults in their lives who are unable to give an explanation regarding the nature of faith and its relationship to history, science, etc. I think we can do a lot more to help catechists with these issues.

    Of some interest may be this section from a talk Dr. Timothy O’Malley of Notre Dame gave last week: https://youtu.be/XGKLXE2TQNw?t=23m52s. He takes preachers to task for approaching the Sunday texts from an ahistorical, decontextualized perspective that fails to emphasize that the GOSPELS ARE REAL and are situated within the larger framework of history and salvation. He’s given me a lot to think about.

  2. Excellent articles, Joe and Julianne – I agree that Catechists and DREs, in fact the whole Parish/Church must always be looking at new opportunities and methods for Evangelization; the status quo is not acceptable.

    A few thoughts that come to mind: The importance of Catechists listening, really listening to the questions being raised by their students and being flexible to expand the discussion to allow for an “encounter” with Jesus. Affirming the youth’s interest in understanding our Faith, even if initially they are expressing doubts is so important!

    Julianne’s article makes mention of, in my opinion, the most critical link here – the Evangelization and spiritual formation of parents. At the time when young people are raising doubts and questions about the Catholic Faith, I think how the parents respond is the determining factor in whether or not the youth actually “leave the Church”. If the parents engage their son/daughter in further discussion, demonstrate their own commitment to continue to participate (e.g., attending Mass), and seek new pathways for the family to encounter Jesus, then I believe the youth can be re-engaged and their path altered. To that end, Catechists and the Parish must work collaboratively to continually engage and Evangelize parents.

    Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with your point about fostering a prayer life in the youth. One of the most “transforming” experiences that I have observed is bringing our youth for brief Eucharistic Adoration. Our Parish is blessed to have expanded Eucharistic Adoration every weekday, so we bring our CCD students up to the chapel on a regular basis throughout the year. At first, many of them are uneasy with the silence, and don’t fully comprehend the mystery of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, but through the year we see their awareness that Jesus is there – to love them, to listen to their prayers, and all He wants is that the youth let Him love them!

    Thanks Joe and Julianne, for sharing these insights!

  3. Thank you for this article. Most of the volunteers that are involved in the religious ed. program speak Spanish. I’ll like provide this important information to them. If is possible to made it in Spanish? I’ll appreciate it.

  4. This article makes me very sad. It seem as if somewhere along the way we lost our young adults . Now they are raising children and they are not able to share their faith or answer questions their children asked. As a Catechist myself DRE we are trying very hard to get the parents involved in their children ‘s faith formation. I don ‘t feel a 10 year old could even come up with the thought of leaving the church if his faith was being nourished at home. We most likely have to go back to basics with the parents . We have a lot of work to do and it is going to take the Whole Church to make a change. But with God all things are possible.
    God bless

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