If you have been working in RCIA ministry for a number of years, you may have already noticed some shifts in the way you need to minister. These trends in the United States are upending our usual patterns and causing us to rethink our processes.
Catholics are leaving the northeast
Catholics are leaving the northeast and repopulating in the southwest. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, published in 2009, “Catholics increased their share in California and Texas to about one-third of the adult population and in Florida to over one-fourth. In terms of numbers they gained about 8 million adherents in these three states in the past two decades.” In the Northeast, Catholic adherents fell from 46 percent to 36 percent of the adult population.
Total Catholic population is increasing
Overall, the total number of Catholics in the U.S. is growing, according to another study, the General Social Survey (GSS), published in 2010. While the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. population remains stable at about 25%, the total population is growing, and therefore the total number of Catholics in the U.S. is also growing. However, if you are in the northeast, where churches are empty and parishes are closing, it can feel like the U.S. church is collapsing.
Catholics are leaving at an alarming rate
But here’s the bad news. The retention rate is dropping, according to the GSS. We are growing because we are gaining more Catholics than we are losing. But we are losing a lot. In 1973, the retention rate was 84%. Today it is 68%. In 2050, it will be 54%. That means that three of every ten Catholics will leave this year. By mid-century, almost five of every ten will be leaving.
Hispanic numbers are flat
Many people assume the growth in the U.S. Catholic Church is coming mainly from immigration. If that was true a decade ago, it no longer seems to be the case. For example, the percentage of Catholics who self-identify their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino has dropped from 38% in 2006 to 32% in 2010 (GSS). That statistical difference is too small to say there is a decline, but there certainly isn’t a growth trend.
This also has to do with retention, however. There are more Hispanics immigrating to the U.S., but fewer of them are identifying as Catholics. 70% of Hispanic immigrants called themselves Catholic in 2006. Today, that has dropped to 63% (GSS).
What is our next step as RCIA teams?
So what does this mean for your RCIA ministry? If you are in the northeast, are you noticing a drop in the parish population? Are able to find enough volunteers for your team? If you are in the southwest, are you noticing increased numbers in your community? Is that putting pressure on your team?
And no matter where you are in the country, are you watching as people leave and don’t come back?
I don’t think those of us in RCIA ministry can reverse these trends all by ourselves. But we have to do our part. So let’s brainstorm some things we can do.
- What is it about the Catholic Church that you love? Why do you stay?
- What are some ways we can tell other people about what we love about the church?
- Do you have systematic, strategic ways of sharing your love of the church with your catechumens and candidates? Please share your ideas.
- How do you discern the level of commitment on the part your catechumens and candidates before their initiation or reception?
- What other questions should we be asking?
- What other strategies should we be attempting?
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