US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Declining ranks of the religious: Out with the old, but not in with the new

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Here's some news that probably won't surprise you: A new Pew Forum report finds that the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is on the rise. Pew finds that 19.6 percent of Americans--or one in five adults--have no ties to any religion, and 13 million consider themselves atheists or agnostics. That's a jump from just over 15 percent of Americans who considered themselves unaffiliated five years ago.

A big part of the problem is something that Pew calls "generational replacement." In other words, the older generations who were more likely to fill churches on Sunday morning are slowly dying out, while the younger generations are less likely to consider themselves part of a religion. Among the youngest group surveyed by Pew, ages 18-22, 34 percent say they have no religious affiliation. If that trend continues, churches are only going to get smaller as time goes on.

There are plenty of other interesting findings in the study for those who like statistics. But Catholics who look around their parishes don't really need such a study to tell them that as the older generations pass away, the church gets emptier. The million dollar question, of course, has been what we can do about it.

This week, Pope Benedict and bishops from around the world are gathered in Rome to discuss the need for evangelization and how to bring back Catholics who have drifted away from the faith. We also hear often from church leaders about how important it is to reach the young generations and make a place for them in our parishes. But if studies like this new one from Pew tell us anything, it is that we're still a long way from finding the solution.

I for one don't claim to have the answers on how to reverse this trend. But hopefully we can get some of the best minds in our church to keep working on the problem and our church's leaders, from Pope Benedict on down to your local pastor, will be open to any and all solutions--before it is too late.