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Unintentional Mega-Blogging: the Collapse of Cultural Catholicism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 28 January 2011 11:58

The blog comment that grew.

On Monday, I responded to a "Sherry bait" post over at Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It.  Mark posted my comment and it grew into a 113 comment fest.

Then Fr. Dwight Longenecker picked up a paragraph from that post at Mark's and made it the beginning place of a discussion of the collapse of cultural Catholicism yesterday.

And today Fr. Z over at What Does the Prayer Really Say, picked up the same paragraph this morning and the conversation is going strong over there.

Here's the paragraph in question that has been quoted over and over:

"Here's the deal: roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend. So the next time you witness a baby's baptism, think, in 20 years, 2/3 of those babies will either be gone or non-practicing. Only 1 in 6 of those babies will be attending Mass regularly."

This is just a snippet of the hour long presentation I do on "Spiritual climate" at the beginning of every Making Disciples seminar.  The problem is that I can't do that presentation in a blog post - although, as the three devoted readers of Intentional Disciples know, I have certainly tried to do so over the past three years.

So I end up trying to answer the obvious objections and questions and explain the background of statistics over and over again in comboxes.

But what I find fascinating and so sad at the same time is that almost no one picks up on the main point of my original post:

This goes so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.

In our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a rite of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we'll probably have to do it again when they are young adults. 

I've written about this at enormous length over at Intentional Disciples ( and we cover all this in our seminar Making Disciples. We are still spending our time debating what happened nearly 50 years ago while our future walked right out the door and we didn't notice.

In the future, people will be fervent Catholics because they are disciples of Jesus Christ first who know that this is his Body on earth which he has provided for them and where he desires them to be.

We've worked in 40% of American dioceses now and I can tell you: cultural Catholicism is DEAD, DEAD, DEAD as a retention strategy for the American Catholic church in the 21st century. 

In the 21st century west, God has no Grandchildren.

You know the mantra: If we don't evangelize our own, someone else will: evangelicals, Mormons, or a post-modern culture of vague agnosticism.

If you want Catholics, MAKE DISCIPLES.

If you want Mass attendance, MAKE DISCIPLES.

If you want vocations, MAKE DISCIPLES.

If you want people who will fill our Institutions and pay for them and care for them, MAKE DISCIPLES.

It is what our Lord has commanded us to do in every generation, but we thought that culture and institutions would do it for us. But those days are past.

And yet almost no one, on any of these blogs, seems to want to talk about Making Disciples.  The only category they seemed to understand was "Catholic identity" and "Catholic culture".  Which is NOT necessarily the same thing at all.

We go over this at every Making Disciples but let me say it here again:

"Catholic Identity" and "Catholic culture" is not the same as discipleship.  Catholic identity flows from discipleship.  Catholic cultures are built and sustained by disciples.

Catechesis is not initial proclamation.  Catechesis comes after the initial proclamation of Christ which awakens beginning Christian faith.  Because the Church teaches that catechesis is intended for the maturation of those who are already disciples of Jesus Christ.

Our deepest, most fundamental problem is that the vast majority of those baptized as Catholics, whether they are practicing or not, are not yet disciples.  Disciples pray.  Disciples worship.  Disciples study.  Disciples give.  Disciples serve.  Disciples discern vocation.  Disciples obey.  Disciples repent.  Disciples are transformed. Disciples are increasingly filled with faith, hope and love.

And nothing is more obvious in our present situation than that mere "Catholic identity" can co-exist with the complete absence of all these behaviors that naturally flow from discipleship.

Sara S, a very thoughtful young Catholic of less than a year from a "none" background, made an important observation during the discussion over at Mark's, that very few people took in:

"I do wish we could stop referring to our experiences of 40 years ago when the crisis is with people who weren't born when older Catholics were cutting and pasting for Jesus."

I'll raise my hand. I am a 29 year old convert from "nothing". I don't care one bit about how bad it was for the folks on my RCIA team when they were kids, and I wish they wouldn't have wasted so much of my time trying to explain it to me when I was in RCIA.  Both sides think it was bad. The "old hippies" were all trying to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how bad it was when everyone had to speak Latin, and when they were finished, the angry young men were waiting on the other side to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how the old hippies had ruined the music.    

I wish I could explain how disillusioning and ridiculous it all looks from the outside, and how much of it makes literally no sense to someone like me who doesn't already have years of exposure to this stuff.   If you can "evangelize" more effectively-- or put up a more heartfelt defense-- about some bit of Church culture or liturgical issue or controversial teaching-- than you can about the Kingdom of God-- what is someone from the outside supposed to think is more important to you?  I literally thought that the majority of Catholics I met were just nice folks who liked music and doing good works but didn't believe in God much... because every time I tried to talk about how I was falling in love with God they changed the subject to music and/or good works.  

I love to evangelize and I don't find it hard-- to me it is just about, as another commenter said, living with my faith on my sleeve. There are a lot of "nothings" out there, like I was, who are so deeply moved by people who live joyful, counter-cultural lives and aren't afraid to say that they are motivated by a deep love of Jesus and a desire to follow Him.  

The 20 somethings I talk to, who have abandoned the religion of their childhood if they ever had one at all, might *think* that they are dead-set against the Church because of its teachings (so did I, 5 or 6 years ago)-- and if I were to approach them with Church teachings I would have some very short conversations.  But I find that I can talk with these same people just by talking about my own life-- about Scripture, about saints, about how faith informs my choices every day-- just give them enough to start feeling hungry. I trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest when they get to the point that they are worried about controversial teachings.

None of the Catholics Sara knows in her culturally Catholic part of the county, on her RCIA team, in her partly Catholic family, wanted to talk about loving God.  How unspeakably sad.

Because the vast majority of Catholics who are missing in action couldn't care less about our liturgical or culture war insider debates.  They are so far removed from the faith that those things don't mean anything any more.

As I put it in the original post:

"At the very moment, I type this, about a quarter of US adults are either actively seeking or at least are passively open and scanning the horizon for spiritual options. This is true of Catholics in our pews, Catholics who no longer practice, and huge variety of other people of all religious traditions or none. If we were out there, proclaiming Christ in the midst of his Church in a joyful, intriguing manner, the interest of many would be peaked. But so many "orthodox" Catholics are holed up behind their barricades and inside their institutions.

This is a large group who, if we were reaching out evangelizing them during their "limbo" time, could easily become the Catholic saints and apostles of the 21st century. But so many of us distain their hunger and ignore their spiritual distress. They aren't going to accept "no" or "just shut up and do your duty" as an answer. They will vote with their feet.

There are those who leave and become "nothing" because it just doesn't mean anything or because they don't believe in specific Church teaching or even in God anymore. (14%) 80% of this group are gone by age 23. They are really out there and we will have to GO OUT and find them with the imagination and zeal of a Francis Xavier setting foot on the soil of Japan for the first time."

Update:  More thought-provoking discussions are breaking out over at Fr. Chris Mathias' Blessed is the Kingdom , Kevin O'Brien lets loose over at the End of the World, and, from an Orthodox perspective, over at Fr. Gregory Jensen's blog, Koinonia where his post is entitled stunningly, "About Jesus Hardly at All".

Whew.  Exhale deeply.   But there is something so right and blessed about a number of us all wrestling with this, most essential and fundamental source of all the rest of the Christian life.  This kind of discussion shouldn't be so rare around St. Blog's.

Now I must return to writing the train the trainers weekend for the large scale Making Disciples initiative underway in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Comments and questions welcome.  I'll try to respond as I can.


Join the Conversation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 24 January 2011 13:30

Back from Chicago.  Had a very successful workshop there with a group that is doing some amazing work with women facing crisis pregnancies.  Tons going on.

Meanwhile there's an interesting conversation going on over at Mark Shea's blog.  Start here and then see my reply and feel free to join in the conversation.

I'll be back in a bit.


Milestone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:51

January 1 marked our 4th anniversary of starting this blog and I just realized that I put up post #3,000 a few days ago.  Thanks to all of you who read and comment and e-mail us and add your wisdom.

May Jesus Christ be praised!


Sudanese Christianity’s Death and Resurrection PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 January 2011 14:03

In light of the news coverage and discussions this week of the referendum regarding independence for southern Sudan, I thought it would be helpful to spend a few moments looking at Sudan's remarkable and tumultuous Christian history.

The first words of Philip Jenkin’s book* are brutally frank: “Religions die.”

*The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died

The history of the Sudan is a long demonstration of that fact.  But the Sudan is also a testament to the fact that religions can also be reborn in the very place where they seem to have been extinguished.

Sudan was, for centuries, the heart of a vigorous Coptic Orthodox kingdom.

By the end of the 6th century Nubia, as Sudan was then known, had coverted to Monophysite Coptic Christianity (although there is some evidence of Byzantine Christanity in the early years as well.)  When Egypt was conquered by the Islamic armies, Nubia was cut off from the rest of Christendom. Most people, and therefore, most Christians lived in northern Nubia.

In 641 and 651 Arab armies from Egypt invaded Nubia but were repulsed.  Christian Nubia was one of the few countries who successfully resisted Muslim conquest in the first Muslim century.  A rare treaty known as the baqt was signed creating a relative peace between the two sides that lasted until the 13th century.  The baqt lasted nearly 700 years and may be the longest lasting treaty in history.

The Christian kingdom of Makuria expanded.  The period from roughly 750 to 1150 saw the kingdom stable and prosperous, in what has been called the “Golden Age”.  The king of Makuria became the defender of the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria, occasionally intervening militarily to protect him.

Exquisite frescoes from that era survived.  Many, like this stunning image of St. Anna now in a Warsaw museum, were removed before the Cathedral of Faras was drowned by the building of Aswan Dam in the 60’s.

st. anne faras cathedral sudan

Increased aggression from Egypt, and internal discord led to the Makuria collapse in the 14th century.  The 15th and 16th centuries saw Christian Nubia become overwhelmingly Muslim.  By 1910, the number of Christians in the Sudan was so small that it registered as a percentage of 0.0%.

Then the tide began to turn in a surprising place: southern Sudan.

From 1898, the United Kingdom and Egypt administered all of present day Sudan as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, but northern and southern Sudan were administered as separate provinces.  In the very early 1920s, the British passed the Closed Districts Ordinances which stipulated that passports were required for travel between the two zones, and permits were required to conduct business from one zone into the other, and totally separate administrations prevailed.  People in the northern zone spoke different languages than those in the southern zone.

The British discouraged Islam in the south and opened the area to Christian missionaries.  But the real growth began after the British left and Sudan became independent in 1956.  In 2010, 16.5% of Sudanese as a whole and 50 – 70% of people in southern Sudan are Christians. In a century, Sudanese Christians grew at an average rate of over 8% per year, from 2,600 to 6.8 million. (Numbers and graph below from the Atlas of Global Christianity.)

Last year (2010), the Christian community grew by 154,500 and 30% of these new Christians were converts.  Most are either evangelical Anglicans or Catholics.  Today, Sudan has become the second most Christian nation in north Africa.  If the people of southern Sudan vote for independence as expected, their nation will become the only majority Christian nation in north Africa.


John Allen had an interesting side note in today's article (which refers to recent attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt):

In response to the recent outbreak of violence, the BBC has reported that some Coptic Christians living in diaspora have floated the idea of an independent Coptic state in Egypt, similar to the anticipated autonomous state of southern Sudan.

Rome Reports: "I'm a Mormon" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 January 2011 10:53

Check this out.

At the Rome Reports newsite with its announcement of the Beatification of John Paul II (Yeah!), look at the videos on the right hand side of the screen.

Older videos put out by Rome Reports.  5 videos in a row and then immediately below them another larger video showing an intriguing-looking black man.  No description is visible because it falls below the fold.

But when you click on it, you discover that it is one of those "I'm a Mormon" video testimonies: this time from a black British singer with a truly interesting story.  So thousands of Catholics reading about John Paul's beatification may also be exposed to a Mormon testimony.

Google accepted an LDS ad that in style and placement mimics Rome Reports.  Except that it's production values are much higher and it is much less stiff than your typical Rome Reports video.

Accident or very clever?  Who makes these placement decisions?  Google?  Or did the LDS folks request that it be placed there?

Anyone know how this works?

Update: the mystery video has mysteriously vanished.  Who pulled it?  Rome Reports?  Or Google because Rome Reports protested?

How does this work?

Update #2:  An anonymous but very highly placed little internet bird has whispered into my shell-like ear:

"As far as I can tell, they don't seem to be targeting individual websites -- rather, it's a broad campaign aiming at any page in Google's "Catholic" keyword category.  There are ways to block it, but it's tougher than it looks."

Soooo.  Intentional and clever.  Specifically aimed at Catholic readers on an internet wide basis.  (7% of Mormons were raised Catholic.)  A techy friend explained that while you can ask that Google ads on your site observe certain parameters (like no suggestive ads), that  obviously the squeaky clean, religion-friendly Mormon videos would fit those parameters.   So while Catholics would find the unannounced placement of LDS witness videos on Catholic sites to be deceptive at best, it doesn't violate Google's standards.

My little bird tells me that he has found a way to block it and hopefully will share said secret with Rome Reports.

What do you think of them apples?

Fit to Lead the Church PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 20:57

“The most basic task of the Church leader is to discern the spiritual gifts of all those under his authority, and to encourage those gifts to be used to the full for the benefit of all. Only a person who can discern the gifts of others and can humbly rejoice at the flowering of those gifts is fit to lead the Church.”

St. John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood

H/T: Fr. Mike

A Little Glossary Of Global Christianity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 15:26

I know that the various movements that I mention in some of my posts are difficult to distinguish from one another.  That makes it difficult for us to understand the implications for the Catholic Church.  So I thought that a mini glossary would come in handy.

Christian Traditions vs. Renewal Movements

First of all, the foremost scholars of global Christianity speak of six major Christian traditions in the world today: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Independent, Anglicanism, Marginal Christianity.

Within those "major" tradition are many hundreds of minor traditions.  For instance the largest "minor" Christian tradition is Latin rite Christianity which makes up the lion's share of the Roman Catholic communion.  Today, Catholicism is by far the largest major tradition, at just over 50% of all Christians.

What is most confusing for Catholics is the relationship and differences between 1) historic Protestantism, 2) evangelicalism, 3) Independent Christians, 4) "renewalists" (Christians who are charismatic in spirituality) and 5) a final category: Great Commission Christians.  The Atlas of Global Christianity lists Independent Christians as a "major" Christian tradition.  But Evangelicalism, Renewalism, and Great Commission Christians are not considered to be a "traditions" but are trans-national, trans-cultural renewal movements.

A lot of American confusion is because the historically Protestant US was and is also simultaneously one of the major centers of evangelicalism, renewalism, and Great Commission Christianity.  It is easier to distinguish these groups by their historical and cultural origins and when looking at it from a global perspective.


Independent Christianity:   A new "major" Christian tradition that is quite distinct from the earlier categories of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant and emerged in the early 20th century.

The majority, but not all Independents are charismatic/Pentecostal in their spirituality.

Most Independent groups originated outside the west: China, India, Africa, the Caribbean.  What is typical of Independent Christianity is that local appropriation and interpretation of the Christian faith dominates.   That's why some scholars call this movement “indigenous” rather than independent.

Many Independent groups arose out of renewal or schismatic movements in the Protestant world and usually seek to separate themselves from Protestant denominationalism.   Independents are not "protesting" against Catholicism which is separated from them by 5 centuries of diverging development and is hardly on their radar.  They often describe themselves as Post-Protestant. Most Independents measure themselves against and are distancing themselves from 20th century Protestant practice and ecclesiology, not Catholicism. They are present and future oriented rather than historically oriented and are almost entirely uninterested in the issues of "authority" that many evangelical converts to Catholicism consider to be one of their primary issues.

Independent Christians value experiential spirituality and practice and usually seek an intense encounter with God.  This form of Christianity has a a strong oral tradition, a theology of personal experience, and of renewal of society with a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit, charisms, miracles, and healing in the widest sense.   Visions, oral story-telling, testimonies, music and dance all play large roles.  Independent Christians are largely urban.  They are most likely to found, not in the old European centers, but in the world class cities of the Global south.

Global centers of Independent Christianity are China (85 million, 98% of China’s Christians are Independent), the US (72.7 million) Nigeria (26.5 million) Brazil (21.3 million), the Philippines (19.5 million) South Africa (19 million) India (18.2 million)  Nearly 10% of all Africans, 7% of Latin Americans, 3.4 % of Asians, and 21.2% of North Americans are Independent Christians.

There are about 370 million independent Christians in 2010.  They grew from 0.5% of the world population in 1910 to 5.3% in 2010 – their growth rate being nearly 3 times that of the world’s population.  They make up 15.8% of all Christians today and are expected to grow to 19.6% of all Christians by 2050.

The AGC describes three global ‘renewal” movements that transcend denomination and tradition:

1) Evangelicalism:  a largely Anglo renewal movement within historic Protestantism

Evangelicalism is rooted in 17th century Puritan and 18th century Wesleyan movements in English speaking world and in the 17th and 18th century Pietistic movement in continental Europe.  Until well into the 20th century, the vast majority of evangelicals were English speaking and they have spread primarily in areas that were once part of the British empire.  They emphasized the recovery of message of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, and the justification of sinners by faith in the work of Christ alone. Personal conversion, disciplined piety, creativity in pastoral structures to meet new situations, evangelistic zeal accompanied by impatience or suspicion of formal ecclesiastical structures.  Originally, they did not start new denominations but stayed as sources of renewal within historic Protestant denominational bodies.

The true church is seen by evangelicals as made up of those with personal faith in Christ and Biblical doctrine rather than apostolic succession is the center of unity. They tend to work cross-denominationally and within communions with mixed theologies such as Anglicanism. (Sherry's note: global Anglicanism is now majority evangelical.)

Evangelicals are typically in the forefront of mission to unevangelized people groups and cultures.  One result is that 2/3 of all evangelicals live in the Global south in 2010.  They experience fellowship in a spiritual bond based upon personal faith in Jesus Christ, a desire to be shaped by the Scriptures, and a commitment to obedience to Christ’s missionary mandate.  Theirs is a self-consciously Protestant and a heavily literate and verbal spirituality, anchored in the authority of the written Word.  Until the 1980's, most evangelical churches and organizations were anti-charismatic.  Today most evangelical groups accept members that practice a charismatic spirituality.

Evangelicals have grown from 80 million in 1920 to 263.4 million as of 2010 but their percentage of the global population has actually dropped from 4.6% to 3.8%.

In 1910, 48% of evangelicals lived in north America (46% in the US) and 43% in northern Europe (25% in Britain). Today 75% of all evangelicals live in the Global south.

2) Renewalists: A global renewal movement that emerged in the early 20th century amid a world-wide flurry of "revivals"in the Protestant world and has spread across major traditions.

The first decade of the 20th century saw a number of "revivals" such the famous Azusa Street revival under a black American preacher in Los Angeles in 1906, another near Pune, India under a famous Brahmin woman Christian, Pandita Ramabai (1905- 1907) and the great Welsh revival (1904-1905) which swept and transformed that little country.  Welsh missionaries brought revival to the Khassi Hills in northeast India in 1905 and tales of the Welsh revival also influenced the Korean revivals of 1903 and 1907.  There was another outbreak of revival in Manchuria in 1910.

Renewalism includes the “first wave” classic Pentecostalism and Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God as well as the charismatic “second wave” that swept through traditional denominations, beginning in mainline Protestantism in 1960, and reaching the Catholic Church in 1967.  The third wave of renewalism is found within Independent churches which are majority renewalist. Renewalism has a deeply global orientation and is a multi-dimensional missionary movement.

The 614 million renewalist Christians make up 8.9% of the human race in 2010.  22.7% of North America's population are renewalists as are 26.3% of Latin Americans.  42.7% of the residents of southern Africa belong to this movement as do 31.6% of South Americans and 9.3% of the residents of northern Europe.

Renewalism has readily moved across the "major" Christian traditions.  51% of Independents, 22.7% of Catholics, and 22.4% of historic Protestants are also part of this movement.

The 133 million charismatic Latin rite Catholics make up the largest single renewalist tradition in the world.


3)  Great Commission Christians (GCC's):  believers in Jesus Christ who are aware of the implications of the Great Commission, have accepted its personal challenge in their lives and ministries and are seeking to influence the Body of Christ to implement it. (definition from the AGC)

This group is fast growing and spans the globe but hard to measure.  Independent Christians have the highest percentage (about half) while Orthodox have the lowest (20%) and Catholics the second lowest (25%).

Countries and regions with the fewest Christians often have the highest percentage of GCC's.  The countries with the lowest number are those where Christians make up over 80% of the population and where most Christians are Catholic or Orthodox.  In south central Asia, less than 5% are Christian but nearly 80% of the Christians are GCC’s.

The 706.8 million Great Commission Christians make up 10.2% of the human race in 2010, the largest portion of which lives in Asia.

This little illustration from the Atlas of Global Christianity show that the three renewal movements do overlap but also remain distinct.



Catholics can be and are, in huge numbers, renewalists and GCC's.  Although some Catholics do regard themselves as "evangelical Catholic" what they usually mean by the term is something different than an evangelical Protestant means by it, especially regarding how they understand Scripture.

A Protestant could be an evangelical and a GCC but not a renewalist, for instance.  Many in the US move readily between historic Protestant, evangelical, renewalist, and independent groups or participate in two or more at the same time.  As do Catholics: just under 6% of self-identified US Catholics are "practicing" other faiths in addition.   That is, they attend non-Catholic services at least once a month.

As we say in Making Disciples, when it comes to understanding where someone is in their faith, never accept a "label" in the place of a story.  Dictionary terms like "Protestant" and "Catholic" can mask a wide variety of real life beliefs and practices.



A Remarkable True Story from Our LA Weekend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 11:08

We heard many fascinating stories during our Making Disciples weekend in LA.  When you have 425 zealous Catholics intensely grappling together with how to reach out to family and friends, the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.

Among the attendees was a radiant young Indian woman who is in RCIA right now and will be baptized at Easter.  She wrote down a part of her story for me.  I'll call her "Anna" (not her true given or future baptismal name).

Anna was raised in a practicing Hindu family in India and believed in God as a "supreme Power".  She knew very little about the Christian faith.  As a teenager, she began a spiritual search and in her 20's began reading "positive mental attitude" books.  In her late 20's she began to meditate in an attempt to connect with supernatural power.

One of the "positive mental attitude" books that she was reading contained passages from the Bible although she did not recognize them as such at the time.  She "claimed" these verses and then lay down for a nap.  As she slept, she had an extremely vivid out-of-body experience in which she say herself lying on the bed "dead or paralyzed" and then her spirit went through a dark tunnel at a very high rate of speed.  "I told God I don't want to die.  I want to fulfill the purpose of my life for which you gave me birth." Since as a Hindu, she believed in re-birth, she told God "I don't want to have another birth but to accomplish the purpose of my life."  Then she woke up.

The whole experience was a spiritual turning point.  She now "wanted to 'know' God and see him more closely.  She now knew that he was real and wanted to encounter this living God but didn't know how.

Anna worked in a clinic and there in late 2006, she met a woman evangelist who was bringing her mother in for treatment.  This woman was reading a Christian magazine that told of a retreat center in India where many miracles took place.  Anna was excited and told the woman "If this place really exists, I want to see it.  I want to experience those miracles."

Later in 2006, she did make a retreat at another Christian retreat centre in India and there "I met Jesus".  On the last day, "I experienced the gift of tongues and had a vision of Jesus blessing me and I am kneeling with my head bowed down looking at his feet."

Anna has seen many remarkable things happen since then and is scheduled to be baptized and received into the Church at Easter.  While I was listening to her, all I could think of was Peter meeting Cornelius, who had received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized.

She didn't have time to explain exactly how she made it to the US and entered up in RCIA in Los Angeles.  When I asked her if she had shared her story with her local RCIA team, she shook her head (although she had confided in her pastor).

Sherry's note:  "Anna" wrote to say that her RCIA experience has been great and the team is definitely above average!  That is great news.

But I would still say that she average RCIA team just isn't ready for stories like this.  Catholics don't know that experiences like Anna's are happening all over the Hindu and Muslim worlds.

Anna's final written word was this "Pray for me cos I am already evangelizing.  Speaking to Hindus, Muslims, and Protestants to meet the true Jesus and follow him."

What do you think of Anna's experience?  Have you ever heard a story like it?



It's Time to Recognize that America Isn't "Protestant" Anymore PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 22:34

There were several different topics that I would have liked to cover during my post-Christmas blogging binge but I just didn't make it. They are all relevant to our current discussions and news stories so I thought I'd try to make it happen now that I'm home.  Again, I'll be quoting from the magnificent Atlas of Global Christianity which I would encourage Catholic libraries and readers with a scholarly bent to purchase.

1) The 20th century collapse of historic Protestantism in North America.

In our debates, we often talk about America as a deeply Protestant country.  Indeed, I have sometimes heard it said that in the US, even Catholics are really Protestant in worldview, so powerful is the mark of Protestantism on this culture.

But if we only look at the other dominant religious community in terms of what they are not (namely us), we will miss the fact that what they are and how they understand themselves has changed dramatically over the past 100 years.   The majority aren't Protestant anymore in the sense that Protestants would have meant in 1910. Here's what I mean.

Even though historic Protestant denominations (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc.) only made up 18.8% of all Christians in the world in 1910, a map showing the dominant religion in North American countries in that year looked like this (purple stands for historic Protestants):


Throughout North America, historic, creedal, denominational Protestantism was dominant.

A century later, the sea of North American purple was giving way to a complicated and surprising reality.


Catholicism had become the largest national faith in Canada.  Independent Christianity, that new kind of Christianity which no longer looks to historic Protestant creeds or denominations, which sprang up in the 20th century and regards itself to be "post-Protestant", has taken the lead in the US.  The US is one of the five largest centers of Independent Christianity and the only one in the west. About 75 million Independent Christians live in the US.

If we dive in and look at the dominant faith in every state and province in 2010, we'll see that the situation is considerably more complicated.




Although Independent Christians outnumber Catholics at the national level in the US, Catholics are the largest religious group in 30 states.  Independents dominate at the state level only in Texas and "Marginal" Christians (Mormons, etc.) are largest in Utah and Idaho. Non Protestant Christianity dominates in 2/3 of American states.

Here's another way of looking at the same trajectory. (The numbers are from the AGC.)

1910 (Christians in North America)

62%  Protestant

22%  Catholic

10% Independent Christians

4% Anglican

1% Orthodox

1% Marginal

In 1910, classic Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, Baptists, etc.) and Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church) together dominated the landscape.  They comprised 66% of American Christians.  Catholics and Orthodox together made up 23%.


2010 (Christians in North America)

25% Protestant (60% drop)

35% Catholic (60% rise)

31% Independent (210% rise)

1%  Anglican (75% drop)

3% Orthodox (200% rise)

5% Marginals (400% rise)

Classic Protestantism and Anglicanism have dropped like a stone and now only make up 26% of American Christians. Catholics and Orthodox grew dramatically and together now comprise 38% of all Christians in North America.  The new post-Protestant groups have come out of nowhere (Independents and Marginals) and now make up 36% of Christians.

Independents and Marginals still have Reformation DNA because they emerged in reaction to classically Protestant Christianity but most do not see themselves as "Protestant" in the way the term was used in 1910.  They are the more or less estranged children and grandchildren of historic Protestantism who no longer feel bound by historic Protestant creeds or consensus.  We continue to see them as "other" because we are highly sensitive to their still existing Reformed assumptions, but their recent past and their future trajectory is away from historic Protestantism.  Because they are passionately evangelizing and masters of the media - old and new - they are growing faster than all other Christian groups.

Today, the dominant form of non-Catholic Christianity is this country has changed dramatically and they are not much interested in the historic debates of the 16th century.  Which means that when Catholic commentators say that in the US, "even Catholics are Protestant", we need to remember that the content of the word "Protestant" has changed dramatically.  We would be more accurate to say, in the US, even Catholics are Independents.

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Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 06:52
Home from Los Angeles where God is doing truly wonderful things.  More on that, and a couple background posts on the election in the Sudan, religious freedom around the world, and the de-Protestantizing of North America in a bit.
The Holy Spirit is Moving in LA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 06 January 2011 20:34

The Holy Spirit is doing amazing things in LA!
I just learned that we are expecting 550 to come to our Making Disciples this Saturday and Sunday.  Meanwhile, the staff, pastor, and Parish Council of another parish in another region have gotten all excited about the possibilities for their parish.


I'll be on the road until Monday afternoon but will try to post as I'm able.

The Ultimate Exit Interview PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 03 January 2011 08:31

Over at America, William J. Bryan, wrote a thought-provoking piece about doing "Exit Interviews" for departing Catholics.  Then Inside Catholic's Margaret Cabaniss picked up the discussion.

Bryan proposed a few basic questions:

He proposes a few questions that could be included:

  • Why have you stopped attending Sunday Mass regularly?
  • Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?
  • Are there any doctrinal issues that trouble you?
  • Does your pastor or anyone on the parish staff know you by name?
  • Are you in a mixed-religion marriage?
  • Do your children go to church?
  • Did you ever really consider yourself to be a member of a parish community?

I think the idea of asking questions is brilliant and that the suggested questions would provide a lot of important information.  But these questions don't address the heart of the matter.  We go over all these in great detail in Making Disciples but I'm in a hurry so I'll just work from memory.

Notice that none of the suggested questions mentions God. And that's the 800 lb gorrilla in the room.  If we don't address this one, we will miss the heart of the matter.  The Pew Forum, in their 2008 and 2009 surveys did ask alot of God questions and discovered that huge numbers of Americans don't believe in a personal God including nearly 30 % of Catholic of all generations.

A careful crunching of the Pew data shows that for anyone younger than a Builder (66 and under), Mass attendance goes up and down in direction relationship with the percentage of Catholics in a given generation that are certain you can have a personal relationship with God. Because the vast majority of people, 66 and under in this country, are post-modern in their worldview and they only engage in religious behavior that they find personally meaningful. These people aren't motivated by duty anymore, and the younger you are, the more cultural pressure you feel to not attend church.   So you have to have a strong personal motivation. Why bother going to Mass if there isn't a personal God with whom you can have a relationship?

Pew found that the percentage of Catholics who are certain one can have a personal relationship with God drops with every generation. Only 40% of Millennial Catholics (the eldest of which has just turned 30) are certain that you can have a personal relationship with God.  So it's no surprise that only 34% of Millennial Catholics said they attended Mass regularly.  And when you correct for the well known tendency for people to tell surveyors what they think they want to hear, you find yourself down in CARA territory (CARA's methodology does correct for that distortion) with 17% of Millennials and 15% of Gen Xers Catholic at Mass weekly.

And the Pew studies also found that surprising numbers of people who consider themselves to be "atheists", "agnostics" or "unaffiliated" still often believe in God, still pray, still are registered members of our congregations, still attend services occasionally, and sometimes are even involved in congregational activities. So our concern can't just be with those who leave but also with the large numbers of Catholics floating in and out of our pews who may not even believe in God and the majority who are not yet intentional disciples.

Secondly, it is really important to know that there are "two basic tracks". Here the quick numbers:  Of all Americans raised Catholic, 32% have dropped the identity altogether.  Of that number, 15% have become Protestants, 14% have become "nothing" and 3% have joined a non-Christian faith.

The Pew studies found that there are significant differences in motivation between those who become Protestant and those who jettison all religious affiliation. Catholics who leave to become Protestant tend to do so out of conscious spiritual hunger that hasn't been satisfied - they want "more".   For instance, 81% of Hispanic Catholics who leave to become Protestant state that they wanted a "more direct, personal relationship with God."

Catholics who leave to become a "none" are more likely to have ceased to believe in specific Church teachings or in God altogether.

Catholics on these two tracks are also on different time lines:  those who will eventually become Protestant leave a bit later and spend some time out searching and considering their options before choosing a Protestant faith.  While the majority of those who leave to become "nothing" are gone by 18; 79% of Catholics-become-nothing are gone by age 23.

And the Pew studies also pointed out that there is period of a few years before people leave when their faith is becoming progressively weaker.  Because most people don't just wake up one morning and decide they want to be a Baptist. Most people make the journey in two or more stages.  The time to be having these conversations is before people leave.

At the Institute we are proposing a somewhat different approach.

1)  First of all, let's have a real conversation, not an interview.  The truth is we don't know why Tom or Hayley or Jose left the church or are struggling with the idea of faith at all. The assumptions of those of us who are deeply invested in the Catholic faith as to why people leave are often absurdly wrong.  (For instance, the Pew studies found that the sex scandal and personal crisis like divorce were actually not major reasons why people leave.) Their journey is peculiar to them and their way back to God is sometimes just as unexpected.  (I met a woman in LA recently whose spiritual turning point was being electrocuted!) We cannot know what the real issues are for this person until we are willing to invite their confidence and really listen.

And let's focus the conversation about people's lived relationship with God to this point in their life.  Let's learn to recognize and respond helpfully to the needs of people who are not yet disciples so that they are able to continue the journey to following Christ in the midst of his Church.  And let's give lots of Catholics at all levels this evangelical awareness and set of skills

That's why I had to write this in such a hurry.  I'm packing for my first trip of the new year right now to fly to LA where Barbara Elliott and I will be teaching 500 Catholics how to have these very conversations with their friends, family whether or not they have darkened the door of a church in years.

Christ did not just send his Church to lapsed Catholics but to all people in all the world.  Because the primary mission of the Church isn't institutional survival.  The end for which the Church exists is for the ultimate salvation and happiness of every human being on the planet.

Lay Apostles: A "Novelty of God" for Our Time PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 01 January 2011 10:30

What the Vatican calls the "Workforce for the Church's Apostolate" grew tremendously between 1978 and 2008.  The "force" grew from 1.6 million to 4.386 million (174%) while the Catholic population grew 55% in the same time period from 752.5 million to 1,165.7 million.

Ten years ago, I would tell groups that bishops and priests made up .04% or 4/100th of 1% of the entire Catholic population.  In 2011, I have to say that bishops and priests only comprise .0355% of all Catholics.  In 20 years, that figure will probably to fall under .03% of the Catholic population.

It isn't because the number of priests and seminarians aren't growing.  Although the number of the ordained (bishops, priests, deacons) grew from 413,169 to 451,371 during these 30 years, this increase was dwarfed by the demand created by relentless growth of the human race and the Catholic population.  The immense number of the baptized has called forth a major new "workforce" for the apostolate: the laity.

In 1978, the clergy made up 26% of the 1.6 million member "workforce" recognized by the Vatican. The largest group was religious women (nearly 60%) and lay people only constituted 10.8%.

workforce 1978

But by 2008, everything had changed.  In this greatly expanded workforce of 4.386 million (which includes graduate seminarians and deacons), clergy now made up only 10.29%, religious women 16.85%, religious brothers 1.25%, graduate seminarians 1.34%, and lay men and women are the overwhelming majority at 70.2%.

In 30 years, clergy and religious have diminished from nearly 90% of the Church's acknowledged "workforce" to less than 30% and the lay "workforce" has grown 700%.  (The graph below shows the figures for 2005 which are almost identical to those of 2008.)

workforce 2005

This is, I think, an example of what Pope Benedict called in his audience of March 10, 2010, a "novelty of God".  The Pope talked about a series of new movements in Christian history.  In the 19th century, God called forth a new missionary wave of active women religious who transformed the landscape of Catholicism.  The small armies of habited sisters in every parish that we think of as exceedingly traditional (ala The Bells of St. Mary's) are only about 130 years old.

The determination to create a new kind of Catholic by catechizing all children - which was produced by the crisis of the Reformation - demanded a whole new labor force. It came first in the form of informal groups of devout lay women who lived in community but didn’t take religious vows.  This was because the Church had insisted since the late 13th century that women formally recognized as religious had to live in cloisters.   But educating millions of children all over the world and paying for the cost of such a staggering new initiative, required that sisters be able to work outside the cloister .

When, in 1749, the Vatican quietly changed its 500 year old insistence that women religious had to be enclosed, the stage was set for a transformation of the Church's life.  The emergency of the French Revolution and the need to resurrect the Church’s life in France in the early 19th century was the catalyst.  By the late 19th century, the number of women religious outnumbered priests and male religious for the first time in history and utterly transformed the Catholic landscape.

In Ireland, for instance, there were only 120 women religious in 1800.  If you think of the total number of priests and sisters together as the Catholic "workforce", sisters only made up 6% of the total at the beginning of the 19th century.  By 1851, women religious made up 38% of the combined body of priests/nuns. And by 1901, women religious were 70%.  In the US, there were 4 sisters for every priest by 1900.

In the 21st century, God seems to be doing something new again to meet the needs of our time and the Vatican has formally recognized it. Millions of lay men and women are answering God's call to evangelize, form, and nurture the tens of millions of new Catholics that God is sending us every year.  Lay apostles seem to be one of the “novelties of God’ that the Holy Spirit is raising up in our midst.


Happy New Year! Time for Roasted Pig Evangelization! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 31 December 2010 12:51

Lol!  And in wonderful Corpus Christi where so many good things are happening (and where outdoor barbeque pits are normal accessories in the parishes I have visited!).

I Refuse to Be a Zombie!

"The other day I went into the bank to cash a check.  “Father, what are you planning on doing for New Year’s Eve?” asked the young bank teller.  “I can’t wait,” I answered.  “Our parish is planning a big family celebration for New Year’s Eve with Mass at 10:00 PM, followed by a dinner with roasted pigs and live jazz music.”  The young girl seemed surprised at my enthusiastic answer and proceeded to tell me even though so many people came into the bank that day, I was the only one who had exciting plans for New Year’s Eve.

My conversation with the young bank teller only affirmed my personal conviction that the gift of Christian joy is the way that we can change the world.  As Deacon Keith Fournier continually tells us, we are living in a new missionary age.  I think that the best way that we can evangelize our sad world is through the gift of Christian joy."

Go and do likewise!  Roasted pig for everyone!  (Except for your friends who are vegans, vegetarians, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim, of course.  Have a killer veggie quiche available for them. ) Happy New Year and God bless!


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