Diminishing congregation


My church congregation is shrinking due to mortality and I’m concerned about the lack of younger Catholics, in fact we have possibly two under forty and the majority are over sixty plus.
My question is has anyone found any practical ways to reach out into the community and attract younger people to convert?
I have thought of competitions to help bring people in to help show them that we are good to be with and perhaps set their minds to wondering what we have and why it might be good for them to have the same…
Any ideas?


Your Diocese office of Evangelization has tools that are in line with the demographics of your area.

Have you read “Forming Intentional Disciples”? I’d start there.


Practically every religious group in the Western World is facing the same problem. There have been countless hours spent on thinking about this, and countless books and articles written. Our own Church is holding an international synod over this very question next month.

What we have learned so far is that there is no fast, easy or cheap solutions out there. Retaining the young Catholics is hard enough, never mind converting non-Catholics, and both require inspired leaders, who don’t just grow on trees.

Is there anything that can be accomplished without inspired leaders? Probably not. There is a Nobel Prize waiting for the person who discovers anything of that sort.


Thank you I’ll look that up this evening.


There is really no set answer to your question. Are the children of these elderly Catholics still around, but just no longer in church?

Or have all the young people gone to greener pastures? Who are the new younger residents and what is their current religious bent?

Different places have different reason for a decline in the number of Catholics.


I suppose that’s true. I’m sure the elderly Catholics do have children who are also Catholic but due to financial reasons they no longer live locally.
I live in a fairly affluent area of the country but my local church is in a fairly poor area, or at least the young are often tempted to leave to be nearer their work etc.

There are a lot of young people in the area but I’m pretty sure they are not very religious, though that is a guess. The modern world has removed some of the harshness from life which naturally led people to God at one time I feel. The spirit of the age seems to be one of individualism, of defying age constraints, of hedonism, instant gratification etc. Technology and science offers answers today for those who are worldly whereas religion seems to offer answers for tomorrow and of course the young consider old age for them hard to imagine.

Of course we know the benefits of belief. Perhaps one day they will exhaust the promises of science and technology, celebrity etc after all there can be nothing more boring or unsatisfying than a perpetual party!


You asked for ideas, and here’s one:

The “kids these days” speech has been repeated in every generation ever since we came down from the trees, and it has succeeded in doing nothing except convincing younger people that they want nothing to do with the older generation, and scaring them away for good.

A good part of the young people who are leaving the Church are doing so precisely because of this “kids these days” mentality. A good place for you to start is with yourself by ditching this mentality and developing a sense of love and respect for the younger generation. If you don’t respect them, then why should they want to spend time with you and your congregation?

Sorry to be frank, but I really do think that the “kids these days” mentality is killing off churches all over the world, including ours.


That’s a fair comment and thank you for pointing it out to me. I was once a kid in my day as well and had the same or similar outlook on life, in fact I only joined the Catholic Church two and a half years ago myself!

I can see the pressures on them and I’m trying to empathise just to find a partial solution. When I was a child we had, in the UK, morning assembly at school which was often conducted by an Anglican vicar, we had religious education lessons where actually only Christianity was discussed and the population was considered Christian and many many people attended church especially on sundays. Often Christians would be on the radio or TV expressing their opinions and as an institution it was respected. Then things changed and I think some of that change was politically motivated and some of that change was a general rejection by the young of the old well established institutions.

So if that’s how religion in society has been diminshed perhaps that also points the way to how it can be reestablished?


In the UK, that change began during World War I, when the “old, well established institutions”, religious and secular, miserably failed the young generation of the time, and continued to do so for each successive generation, right up to the present time. So it is hardly surprising that each generation has realized that they have to fend for themselves, and that the “old, well-established institutions” are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Also, I find it a bit ironic that you long for a time when the C of E was highly privileged, at the expense of Catholicism. Catholics were not fully accepted into British society until quite recently, and that only happened because the C of E lost its privileged status.


I should explain myself better. I don’t long for the time I’m just remembering how religion generally was more prevalent in society than now. I learned a little about God through this process but it eventually led me to become a Catholic, I never chose to be an Anglican though my mother was.

I might say that I learned to love the idea of becoming a gourmet food eater by being introduced to fast food. No offence to fast food eaters!


Sorry to bother you but do you have a link to that, is it the book you’re referring to because there seems to be quite a few entries for “Forming Intentional Disciples” ?


Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus Paperback – July 3, 2012

by Sherry Weddell

There are Study Guides, follow up books as well.


Perhaps I should have asked here “what do we want from God?” Or “what do we get from our Catholic beliefs?” Since the answer to those kinds of questions are perhaps incentives to unbelievers.


The congregation should work, along with the parish priest, on answering one very fundamental question: why be Catholic?

The answer you all come up with should affirm, support, and promote the fullness of truth. No compromise. You must stand in stark contrast to the secular world.

At the end of the day, evangelization is just convincing others that your answers are the correct and authoritative answers.

After prayer and reflection, your next step would be to figure out how to let people know that you all are there with the answers and guidance the world can’t provide. This require active outreach and evangelization including using the internet and social media to your advantage.

This is no small task, and a lot of this comes down to inspired leadership. Is God calling you to be that leader?


Congregation demographics are generally due to the area demographics. Some of the parishes I attend that are large parishes situated in areas with lots of Catholic families have a huge number of children and young people attending every week. Parishes in areas where most of the younger people have moved away for college and jobs tend to have an older demographic. You are probably not going to get enough younger people to “convert” in that case, because they just aren’t around.

I would advise that you not fall into the trap of looking at your parish demographics and assuming it’s like that at every church. Parish demographics differ greatly depending on the area and the church.


I think once a congregation has reached that point it’s very hard to reverse it.


Thank you. When I read your question “Is God calling you to be that leader?” it frightened me somewhat. I wish I had the skills and the presence to do such a tremendous thing. However God may entrust organising a poetry competition to me but I still might have to convince my priest! :wink:

I don’t mean to make light of your answer because it’s a great one and value laden. I will think carefully about what you have said and discuss this with my priest, though he is awfully busy. Thank you.


It’s a very unpleasant thought that my local church will eventually close. We have also recently had a diocesan wide study on how best to use resources as we are experiencing a decline in the number of priests being ordained. My priest serves two churches and a university chaplaincy and a third church is to be added to his responsibilities shortly.

So it seems that as far as congregations are concerned in my particular parish the only feasible way to stem the decline is to somehow attract more Catholic families with children into the area?


In my area, Catholic and most Protestant congregations are shrinking. But non denominational churches are growing, mainly driven by young adults. Most of them RC by baptism.

If that’s true in your area, find out what kinds of things they offer, what approaches they take. Some of this might be done by parishes or diocese.


That’s a good idea, the only thing I can see might be a problem is that their appeal is somewhat different to our Church. What works for them may not work for us, but it’s ceratinly worth looking into. Thank you.

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