Are we losing our religion? Several recent studies, including those by Pew Research Center and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), suggest that maybe we are. According to the numbers, organized religion is less important to Americans overall and especially to young people. Requests for Catholic baptisms and weddings are in sharp decline, while the number of self-identified “former” Catholics is ballooning.
Among millennial Catholics, only about one quarter say they attend Mass weekly. Compared to their parents’ generation, millennials are about twice as likely to say that religion is not important in their lives.
We hardly need studies to tell us this. The “graying” of church is a trend most of us can intuit from our own experiences. The numbers are not all so bleak, but the situation is serious.
Sociologists and bloggers have set to work unpacking this data and proposing ways to address the relevance gap. How can the Church make itself more appealing to younger generations? Should they try technology-infused worship? In-house coffee shops? Live-streamed Mass? Contemporary music? Plush worship spaces? Inclusive language? Welcome committees?
As a member of the millennial cohort, I watch these experiments with great interest. In general, I applaud the attempt. Certainly, church leaders ought to assess how well their worship communicates to young people. Homilies should offer a clear and challenging message to persons of all ages and backgrounds. Liturgical art and music must be universally beautiful and inspiring, rather than becoming “stuck” in the particular aesthetic of one generation or another.
But I wonder if we are looking at this the wrong way. What if we turn the relevance argument on its head? Instead of asking how the church is relevant to our lives, let’s explore how our lives are relevant to the church.
How does my to-do list relate to my spiritual life? Is this grocery trip holy? Does this archery tournament have anything to do with the Kingdom of God? Does this committee at work have any bearing on the Body of Christ of which I am a member? Is God anywhere to be found in this science fair project?
The connections aren’t always clear. But more often than not, God reveals some small sacredness in the everyday that leads again and again back to the Eucharist. Without faith, it is easy to perceive life as a series of random occurrences, and a weekly trip to Mass is just another activity. Once we see through the eyes of faith, however, everything is connected.
I have this theory that the solution to the church’s relevance problem is much simpler than we want to believe. Life is liturgy. Each thing we do — each agenda item, each interaction, each small frustration – has great potential to reveal truth to us. I hope to use this column to unlock some of that potential so that readers will more readily notice the many connections between their lives and the liturgy of the church.
I believe that once we do this, Sunday Mass becomes the indispensable nexus that ties it all together. It is not only relevant but the most relevant. The space “Between Amens” — from Sunday to Sunday — is alive with new meaning and deep, spiritual significance.
Between Amens is a new monthly column with a focus on the intersection of liturgy and everyday life. It is written by Dr. Karen Shadle, the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.