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“The Future Church”

I put the title of this article in quotations because it is not actually my title.  It is the title of a talk I heard today by John L. Allen, Jr. and it is also the title of his book on the same subject.  The talk was given at our annual diocesan Ministerium and was a continuation of a talk he gave last year.  The book discusses ten trends affecting the Catholic Church in the 21st Century.  Last year he covered four of the trends and discussed some of the remaining trends today.  Here I offer a few highlights.  If you want more information I provide the full citation for the book below.

The first trend he discussed today was actually #3 in the book, Islam.  I wish to be clear here the discussion was not about Islam and terrorism.  John Allen’s point was that 25% of the people in the world belong to the Islamic religion and that makes it a major world player.  Of course, he recognizes the 9-11 attacks are a major factor in how Islam is viewed but he also stressed that Pope Benedict’s speech at Regensburg in 2006 had a major effect on Catholic Muslim relations.

Then John Allen moved to Trend #4 – The New Demography.  The point of concern here is the aging population.  He referred to it as “The Grayby Boom” because of the increasing percentage of senior citizens in our pews.  Generally, when people are discussing how the average age of our congregations is increasing, the discussion revolves around the fact that younger people are not coming to church much, if at all.  That is true and in the “New Evangelization” we need to work on inviting these younger families into our churches.  But even if everyone was coming to church, the average age of our parishioners would still be increasing because people are living longer and the younger generations are not having as many children.  This effects what ministries are needed and when to offer them.  Working families prefer evening activities but the retirees often prefer daytime activities.  We need to provide ministry to both groups at times that work for them.

Next came Trend #7 – Globalization.  The world we live in is constantly changing and we need to make our faith relevant in it.  If we don’t help people see how faith is still relevant in our world today, then why should we expect them to care about our faith?  For example he spoke of the “Vocation of the Business Leader” released last year by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice on how our faith influences our work in business.

Then he talked about Trend #10 – Pentecostalism.  Pentecostalism is the most rapidly growing religion today.  In part, they are growing because they do better than us in some areas.  Sometimes they do a better job of pastoral care.  They do a better job of getting all parishioners involved.  They make morality a priority that sometimes we don’t like to talk about (but the Catholic Church has a lot to say about).  We need to be aware of what attracts people to churches.  However, we must not engage in a popularity contest.  We are not called to proclaim the message that people want to hear.  We are called to proclaim the truth that Jesus offers.  The question we need to answer is how best to proclaim Jesus’ message in the world today.

In that we must remember that we are not to be evangelized by the popular culture today.  Rather, we are called to evangelize the culture according to the principles of our faith. In other words, we must shape society instead of letting it shape us.

To conclude, John Allen offered a new trend that he sees after the book was published in 2009.  Trend #11 is Religious Freedom.  When you hear this, I suspect that the first thing that might come to mind for Americans is the current controversy over the health care mandates.  John Allen did speak about that but he spoke more about the global situation of religious persecution.  In the United States, if you offend someone with your religious views, the worst that might happen is you get sued.  In many countries, your religious views may get you executed.  He said that every hour 17 people are martyred for their religious views today.  Where is the freedom of religion?

These are just a few of the highlights of what I heard today.  The question for us think about is how these ideas affect our ministry.  What do you think?


Fr. Jeff

John L. Allen, Jr.The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, Doubleday:New York 2009.

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