I just finished reading today's Wall Street Journal article entitled, "Thank God American Churches are Dying". (Click here for the full link to the article.) It surely raises feelings for those of us both in leadership and membership of parishes in our country and beyond.
The author, Erika Anderson, writes that "it’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012, according to the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion." She adds that "Pew Research data show a similar trend continuing to the present, with steep declines among mainline churches as evangelical ones keep popping up. And 42% of these new congregations report growing attendance, data from Lifeway Research shows."
The article certainly begs the question, Why!?
Anderson offers one answer, sharing that new churches are "armed with modern ideas to attract and tend to a new generation of believers", and she adds that "can be exactly what a community needs." She explores the impact that millennials and nones have had on the numbers as well.
The parts that I find most interesting relate to the ability of the "new Churches" to cater to specific needs, the concept of house churches, and the manners in which believers seek to live faithfully in less structured ways. These concepts are not new for Catholics. For years, in fact, since the Second Vatican Council, Catholics have been urged to develop the domestic Church, that is, the family. (Lumen Gentium #11)
We have known and believed that it is in the context of the family that we first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek God's will for us. And while today's Churches in general, and local parishes in particular, despite their sizes and complexities, can surely better take the pulse and respond to the specific needs of its people, the following bullet points offered by the United States bishops offer some suggestions on how to better build a “domestic Church” through a life of prayer that can help all the members of one's family.
Begin praying as a family and reading from Scripture daily, certainly before meals, but also first thing in the morning or before bed. Find a time that works for your family. Use the liturgy of the Church as a model for prayer, and try to include heartfelt unstructured prayer as well.
Pray a Family Rosary (each member leads a decade, and everyone shares intentions).
Have a crucifix in a prominent place in the home, and in every bedroom.
Make the Sacraments a regular celebration – take the whole family to Confession and Mass!
Begin family traditions based on the seasons celebrated in the liturgical calendar.
Make your vacation a holy pilgrimage by visiting the shrines and saints of our land and the world.
Make worshiping God a priority. Never miss Mass, even while traveling – go to: www.MassTimes.org. . . to find a church near you!
Teach stewardship and charity to your children, through word and example.
Demonstrate love for your spouse, your children, your neighbors, and the world. Remind their children that they are loved by God and have been given gifts to serve others.
Talk freely about the presence of God in the joys and sorrows of your life.
Welcome into your home and support priests, brothers, sisters, deacons, and lay ministers in the Church.
Participate in the lay ministries and activities of your parish community.
Allow your children to witness you in private prayer. Encourage your children to pray daily on their own, to listen for God’s call, and if heard, to respond.
Building stronger domestic Churches builds stronger and more faithful families. It may follow that then these families can build stronger Churches, where particular needs can be better addressed and where people can be better cared for. And while the numbers tell part of the story, my hope is that by strengthening families, all people can have more more meaningful spiritual relationships. RSM