An Encouraging Word — How to bring people back to church?

Sir, we would like to see Jesus! John 12:21

It’s enough to make a priest cry — the fact that one-third of Americans who were raised Catholic no longer consider themselves Catholic.

Why are so many leaving us? There is no one simple answer, but my gut is telling me that they are leaving because they are looking for Jesus and they feel that all they hear about are the goings-on in the organizational structures of the church. For them, the earthenware jar is becoming more important than the treasure it holds.

What will bring them back? One thing, I believe, that will help bring them back is for us spiritual leaders to focus more on Christ and less on the organization.

Because we have focused so much on protecting the institution and because many of our leaders have lost the trust and confidence of our people, we are more and more impotent in challenging our disordered culture, no matter how much talking we do or how many campaigns we organize.

Speaking to the bishops of the United States, Blessed John Paul II said it this way back in 2004:

“Experience shows that when priority is mainly given to outward stability, the impetus to personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and missionary zeal can be lost and a false sense of security can issue. The church is only authentically ‘reformed’ when she returns to her origins in a conscious appropriation of the apostolic tradition and purifying reevaluation of her institutions in light of the Gospel.”

If our people feel that they have to go elsewhere to clearly hear the Word of God, maybe the focus of any “new evangelization” effort should be more on those who lead than those who leave.

“Because he can and does evangelize, the priest ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized.” says Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis.

If the church needs “re-evangelization,” maybe it should begin by focusing on its evangelizers.

The first subject of such a focus should be our spiritual leadership ability.

“Priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of the gospel of God to all. For through the saving Word the spark of faith is struck in the hearts of unbelievers, and fed in the hearts of the faithful.” says Presbyterorum Ordinis, Pope Paul VI’s decree on the ministry and life of priests.

Maybe fewer would leave if we were more skilled at “striking the spark of faith in the hearts of unbelievers” and “feeding the hearts of the faithful.”

The second subject of such a focus should be our leadership credibility.

“The priest needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him — the mind of Christ. The priest ought to be the first believer in the word,” Pastores Dabo Vobis tells us.

Maybe fewer would leave if we were more credible examples of what we preach.

With all that said, the validity of the message has never depended on the effectiveness of its messengers.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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One reply on “An Encouraging Word — How to bring people back to church?”
  1. says: Kristen

    This article about bringing back people to the Catholic church was a wonderful article. I left the Catholic church in my early 20’s and found Jesus, got re-baptized at local Christian Church and now have a relationship with’s not just about a religion it’s about the relationship accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior….and gosh I am so much closer to Christ than I ever was growing up Catholic..My husband still attends a Catholic church he brought my attention to this article. I hope and pray that the Catholic church will focus more on helping people find Christ. Theres so much focus on the ritual and routines in the Catholic Chuch & not enough focuss on GODS WORD…..our GOD is so AWESOME & I would love for more people to experience a close relationship with our GREAT GOD……it gives hope and peace……Thank you again for the wonderful article…..GOD BLESS

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