This might be one of the central questions of our times: how can the Catholic Church reach the ‘unchurched’.
Right now, we have to painfully admit that we don’t do that. We talk about it a lot, we write blog posts about it, we hold committees about it, we get all of the theory and theology right (which is a start, for sure); but, for all our talk, we don’t actually reach the unchurched and secularly-minded in a substantial way. If we do, it is agonizingly seldom.
Our Evangelicals brethren sure do seem to win more converts from our secularized culture than we as Catholics do. In many of those churches, their whole entire framework – their reason for existing – is to go get people. For instance, we have learned from Holy Trinity Brompton (where Alpha originated) that their target audience– that means the group they design all of their church functions to reach – is the 24-year-old urban man, whom they imagine to represent the most nonreligious demographic. And, while no place is perfect to be sure, their average age for attendees is 28 (and close to 50% men). Sadly, in the Catholic Church, our “bottom line” isn’t very good. We are still a little stuck in our bunkers, not knowing exactly how to turn our doors out and be radically missionary.
I don’t want to universalize. There are marvelous Catholic apostolates, communities and initiatives. There are still many Catholic men and women who are sold out for the Gospel and whose whole lives are angled toward reaching “the lost.” And perhaps the situation isn’t as dire as I am painting it. But, we can’t ignore the aggregated fact that we, as a Church, are still limping along when it comes to actually encountering the majority of people in our cities and towns. How many stories do you hear (in the secularized West) of people living a totally secular life and then being introduced to Jesus through a Catholic? How many people around you on Sunday or at a Catholic event didn’t grow up Catholic (or Christian)?
All of what I have said includes i.d.916. For all of our talk and effort, we have still not quite popped the bubble either.
This shouldn’t discourage us. How many times in history has the Catholic Church been sidetracked and forgotten who she is? And how many times has she, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, bounced back? God has not left our midst. He is in control and He will lead His Church to victory.
So, may I make a clarion call?
This should be the agonizing question that obsesses us and aches within our breasts: how can we have a Church that actually reaches people? What do we need to do to get radical about this? How can we extend ourselves to meet a culture that is far away from us? How can we restructure our Catholic life so that, years down the road, there are many people sitting next to you on Sundays who once walked an intensely secular path?
We must beg the Holy Spirit to plant in our hearts the thirst of Jesus for souls. We must ask for our hearts to be broken. The ‘here’ we are in is just not good enough. We need to go ‘there’! We must let this question gestate in our hearts. We must burn with a holy fire to attend to the challenge of our day. Without the drive and desire boiling in the heart of Jesus, we will give up way short of our goal and settle for Netflix.
So, let’s beg the Lord for His Heart, and then put steel in our spine, grit our teeth and lay our life down to attain the goal set before us.