Why Youth Leave the Church and How to Stop It

Nearly 80% of Catholics who leave the church do so by the age of 23, and only 30% of Americans raised Catholic still practice the faith. These are alarming statistics, but not so surprising when we consider today’s secular culture and how it emphasizes personal fulfillment and satisfaction over sacrifice and universal moral truth.

Reasons people give for leaving the church are many but often revolve around the fact that church teachings don’t fit their view of what is right and wrong. Here, again, they are victims of a culture that espouses individual opinions and feelings as the bedrock of morality. In other words, “If it doesn’t feel good or right to me, I don’t have to believe in it.”

The result is rampant moral confusion. If everyone is right, then what is the truth? New churches and spirituality groups pop up all the time because people are seeking the “right” religion to fit their needs. In the end, though, there cannot be multiple universal truths. Logically, there is either one truth or no truth. If there’s no truth, then nothing matters. As Catholics, however, we believe there is one truth, passed down to us through scripture and tradition.

That truth exists whether we choose to accept it or not; whether we personally think it’s fair or not. That’s the whole point–to replace trust in yourself with trust in God and His plan.

Why do many Catholics, especially young ones, lose that trust? Again, secular society, with its worship of humanism, is a primary driver. Unfortunately, another reason is that catechism or their local Catholic community has failed them.

People are social creatures, and whomever they spend their time with will impact their beliefs and values. If students attending a public university have little to no connection to the faith for four years and are instead bombarded with rhetoric from secular clubs and professors, they might graduate thinking that Catholicism is something childish to be outgrown.

This problem is compounded if their catechism presented Catholicism in a childish way and ill-prepared them to defend their beliefs against serious secular arguments at the university. Check out this video by Brian Holdsworth to learn more about this phenomenon. In essence, it’s important for religious education programs to present the Catholic faith in a rich, intellectual way. If it is presented as a storybook with only “feel good” messaging, that’s how children might treat it when they grow up.

Furthermore, if a Catholic does graduate with his or her faith intact, they might feel alone in the world because they cannot find friends or acquaintances who share their values. No, they shouldn’t base their faith on what their friends do, but Catholicism has been a communal faith since the beginning. Sharing that faith with other like-minded people can only strengthen it.

This is where parish youth ministry and young adult groups can play a crucial role. Providing a place for young Catholics to build confidence in their beliefs among friends will better prepare them to defend those beliefs when they are challenged in the wider world. Often, the mere reinforcement that they are not alone will suffice to keep young Catholics active in their faith. Given the extent to which Catholic values are discouraged in today’s culture, it’s no wonder many young Catholics leave. Youth and young adult Catholic groups have the unique ability to offset secular influences by encouraging the faith.

Many parishes lack resources for such fellowship. Fortunately, youth and young adult parishioners at Saint Mary Mokena have access to a wealth of Catholic-friendly groups and organizations.

Here are a few local youth/young adult groups:

  • IGNITE Youth Ministry, organized by St. Mary, is a group for high school students that fosters faith, fellowship and lively discussions. Teens can hang out at weekly meetings, go on retreats and participate in other faith-forming activities while making new friends. Contact Craig Mazur at teens@stmarymokena.org for more information.
  • L’Alto Young Adult Network is a St. Mary-hosted group that provides opportunities for local Catholics between the ages of 18 and 35 to meet and grow in their faith through a mix of spiritual, social and service activities including Adoration, talks, picnics and more. For more information, contact Danielle Kuboushek at dkuboushek@stmarymokena.org. You can also request to join the group’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/LAlto/.
  • Another local organization built on a Catholic foundation is Danse Integro dance studio, located in Frankfort, IL. Although not affiliated with St. Mary Mokena, Danse Integro was founded by Simonetta L. Pacek, mother of the parish’s music directors. According to Simonetta-Marie Pacek, Associate Director of Sacred Music at Saint Mary, the studio “fosters a Catholic atmosphere by restoring beauty, discipline, virtue, quality, elegance and joy.” Youth can take dance and music lessons and watch “Hope’s Cafe” the studio’s own Catholic sitcom. Contact Simonetta at danseintegro@gmail.com or visit https://www.danseintegro.com/ for more information.

Ultimately, the Catholic faith’s future rests on the charisma of its youth. Joining and supporting Catholic youth organizations can go a long way in increasing the number of life-long believers.

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