ICL Guest Contributor – Raellyn Kovich, Moderator, Catholic Ideas & Issues Forum

Editor’s Note: The Catholic Ideas & Issues Forum, sponsored by the Integrated Catholic Life, is an outreach of the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference that presents panel discussions and Q&A on relevant faith and business topics. The panels are comprised of Atlanta Catholic business leaders seeking to assist Catholics to inform their business practices and decisions by their Catholic faith. The forum takes place four times each year. This is a recap of the March 22, 2011 forum held at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia. The topic was “Engaging Young Catholic Adults in the Life of the Church”. An audio recording of the evening follows the recap.

What a great evening we shared at the Catholic Ideas & Issues Forum on March 22, 2011! We had a very good turnout for this month’s topic – “Engaging Young Adults in the Church.” As panel moderator, I definitely saw engagement with the audience and our panel, and I was thrilled so many young adults came out and expressed their thoughts and needs as they relate to Mass and the Church.
Our panel members spoke from the heart as they, too, recounted challenges with their own engagement over the years.  Father Henry also spoke of the challenges clergy may face as they work to support the needs of all of the members of the congregation.  But everyone agreed – the conversation must continue.

Topic:  Engaging Young Catholic Adults in the Life of the Church
Our Panelists were: Father Henry, Parochial Vicar, St Peter Chanel; Matt Tovrog, Bell Oaks; Alex Garrett, Merrill Lynch; and Dorothy Polchinski, Atlanta Archdioces Young Adult Ministry (YAM).

In preparation for the evening, it was decided that the following were desirable ideas to highlight:

  • What gets young people excited about Church? What prevents that excitement?
  • The benefits of YAM and how others can help support
  • Why young people may not feel the need for Mass at certain times of their lives
  • Tips for parishioners who want to help engage more young people in the Church
  • Tips for parents in approaching their kids to reengage in Church activities
  • Benefits you have seen by remaining engaged in the Catholic Church
  • HOW you are engaged in the Catholic Church
  • Generational shifts and “searching for meaning” – what attracts and engages younger people

The panelists were asked the following questions:

  • As you look back on your involvement with the Catholic Church, what has kept you engaged?
  • Why do you feel Catholics are challenged in keeping young people engaged in the church?
  • Tell me about a time when you may have questioned your Catholic faith or questioned the relevance of the Catholic Church and your involvement in it. How you were able to overcome the obstacle?
  • Those of us in business understand the criticality of keeping employees engaged in order to ensure productivity, what is your perspective on how staying engaged in the Church strengthens your faith?
  • While its true that “God lacks for nothing,” is there some truth to the critics out there that bombard young people today with messages that the Church lacks the ability to respond to or keep up with young people’s needs today?
  • Again drawing parallels to business, “modeling the way” is an important leadership skill in engaging employees.  Who has modeled the way for you and what did that example look like for you?  How do you model the way for your peers?
  • We have many members of very young children seeking the best way to raise their sons and daughters to love and serve the Lord.  What do you remember from your childhood that you feel influenced you the most to engage in the Church?  Was there anything that may have driven you away?
  • According to a 2005 study conducted by the authors of the book Catholics in America: Their Faith and Their Church, 80 percent of young adult Catholics believe they can be a good Catholic without attending Mass weekly.  What can members of the Catholic Church do to attack this problem?
  • I suppose one obvious question on everyone’s minds is, “if they aren’t attending Mass, how do we find these people and get them to Church?”  Does the Catholic Church need to compete with the likes of Facebook and YouTube? 
  • Tell us more about YAM and what you have planned for 2011.  How does YAM work, and what can all parishioners do to ensure its continued growth and success?
  • The onset of Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, etc. clearly demonstrate the need people have for “connection,” perhaps due to a loss of that connection given the demise of so many families and far fewer people active in their Church.  How can we as Catholic leaders create deeper relationships in the workplace and demonstrate the Joy we experience when engaging in the Church?

Key themes:
Throughout the evening, key themes were identified and discussed, among them:

  • Young people may perceive things differently, but they WANT to have relationships with other members worshipping together.  Its not just about the Mass, its about sharing the warmth of God’s love by being open and getting to know each other.  How do we do this?  One suggestion was to just greet each other on our way out to the parking lot and even offer to have coffee.  It doesn’t have to be difficult, but we do need to make the effort to get to know those around us beyond just saying good morning.
  • Walk your talk.  Whether in business or in parenting, we understand the need to “model the way” since people are watching our behavior.  Young people are no different – but they are especially watching our behavior outside of church.  Do we run that red light?  Do we graciously let someone into our traffic lane because they too might be running late for work?  Do we demonstrate our faith to others or do we hide it and only show it by sitting silently in a pew on Sunday?  People will know our character and our Catholicism by how we live our lives in service to others.
  • Everyone is on a journey.  Each of us is in a different place when it comes to the depth of our faith, and we all demonstrate that faith in different ways.  But one thing is for certain – the young people present at the Ideas & Issues Forum were clear that they are still searching, and we need to help them engage.  One comment was, “it’s more than Mass” meaning, we must all find ways to become involved, to engage, in order to strengthen our faith and continue our journey towards Christ.  We are fortunate to be part of an Archdiocese that provides countless activities for strength and engagement, whether it be Young Adult Ministries (YAM) or continuing education for adults.  Whatever your interest, know that the Church can provide opportunities for you to strengthen your faith along the journey.

During the course of the evening, observations were made about the “social” setting of Mass and comparisons made to non-Catholic Christian services in terms of differences in social/fellowship experiences.  At the close of the evening, our host, Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, made the point that the Mass is a Sacred, mystical moment and act of worship, and while we do need to seek ways to engage one another in fellowship outside of Mass, we mustn’t try to make the Mass something other than what it is, rather, we should endeavor to make better known and engage in its sacred mysteries.

We invite you to continue the discussion at the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference LinkedIn Group.

Listen to the March 22, 2011 Catholic Ideas & Issues Forum.

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