According to Brandon Vogt, author of the book Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church, for every one person who enters the Catholic Church approximately 6.5 people leave.
Why are they leaving?
Vogt quotes research which indicates the majority (68%) left because their spiritual needs were not met.. However, Vogt offers hope. He goes on to claim almost 70% of those currently unaffiliated with the Church still believe in “God or a universal spirit.”
So with all these people likely to leave the Church this year, why are we still here? Is there something we have found or experienced that they haven’t?
Is there a way to help the unaffiliated find what we have found?
This is the question I posit we should all be asking each and every day of our journey as disciples. For we have all been given the call to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) as we await the second coming of Christ.
This blessed season of Advent can therefore be seen as a wonderful time to reflect on how we are “paving the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:1-6) for others to experience Him.
How might we pave the way of the Lord by helping others discover how the richness of our faith and the hope we have applies to their life? How do we do this in a way that helps the 68% who feel their spiritual needs weren’t met discover what they originally came looking for in the Church? How do we help them discover that Christ brings hope to the darkness they feel; how Christ brings peace to their own anxieties and fears; how Christ loves and has compassion on them?
There are a lot of ways the Church universal can respond to this invitation (e.g., better preaching), but there is another way we can all, as individual disciples, respond. We can seek opportunities to witness how Christ has acted in our own dark times; how Christ has brought peace to our own fears and anxieties; how we may have felt at one point or another lost but got found in the Sacraments.
After all, is that not why we are are still here?
Do we not remain because in the Church we find the good news of all that Jesus Christ has promised us? The gift of His very self in His Word and in the Eucharist?
I think the story of The Healing of a Paralytic (Luke 5:17-26) is a wonderful illustration of just this. It is a story of how some believers went out of their way to “pave the way of the Lord” for a paralyzed man to encounter Jesus. Their faith in the power of Jesus was so strong they were even willing to go to great risk to ensure this man was brought to him. They weren’t going to allow even a little distraction such as a crowd stop them.
Many people are paralyzed today by fear, anxiety, addiction, depression, anger, illness, and grief to name a few. Who is going to go out of their way to bring them to Christ? Are we willing to reach out and bring them with the same sense of urgency and creativity that these men did?
When we follow their example, others may doubt our claims, just as the Scribes and Pharisees doubted Jesus. However, when we tell the story of how God has acted in our own lives, who can refute that? Who can be anything other than amazed when we talk about all the ways God has blessed us and freed us from our own paralysis to fear, anxiety, anger, and sin?
Thankfully, God doesn’t send us into the mission field alone. He gave us the gift of the Spirit to inspire our souls, to help us tell our story, and to act creatively and courageously to ensure it is told.
There are at least 6.5 people in each of our lives on the brink of leaving the church or who have already left; not to mention the countless other people who haven’t even discovered the hope we have yet.
How are we going to respond?
Do we see only hurdles or do we see potential solutions as did the men who brought the paralytic to Jesus?
“What you procure for yourself you must also obtain for your neighbor, so that he may also love God with a perfect love. You do not love your neighbor as yourself unless you try to lead him to the same good towards which you are striving. It is a question of a good which does not grow smaller because everybody is searching for it with you.” – Saint Augustine (On the Customs of the Catholic Church, 49)
 Brandon Vogt, Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire, 2021), 20.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 31.