Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 22, 2007
Bibby challenges bishops to appeal to non-attenders
Touch their families, give good homilies, offer relationships, he urges prelates
- file photo
Reginald Bibby says non-churchgoers can be drawn back.
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Offer better ministry to families and baptized Catholics who no longer attend church will come back, sociologist Reginald Bibby told Canada's bishops Oct. 15.
"If you want to touch people's lives, touch their families," said the University of Lethbridge professor. Even something simple like visiting a person's father in a nursing home sends a positive message.
"The things people are asking for are so minimal," he said. They are hoping to find something in a homily that will better help them live their lives. They hope their children will enjoy going to church. They are looking for relationships.
The idea that people who aren't involved don't want to be involved is not supported by the research, he told the bishops. "People are receptive to greater involvement if they find it to be worthwhile."
Bibby said Catholics comprise 44 per cent of the population in Canada - about 14 million people, seven million of whom live in the province of Quebec.
Those numbers are the envy of other groups, but "to whom much is given, much also is expected," he said.
"The emphasis on the new evangelization is precisely what is needed in Canada today," he said. Entire groups of baptized Catholics have "lost a living sense of faith."
Bibby, who has charted the downward plunge in church attendance since the 1960s, said he has a "new story to tell" that shows that God is still at work in culture, despite the movement towards secularization.
Secularization has not led to the end of organized religion because people "continue to have needs that only religion can address."
His studies have shown a slight upwards trend in weekly church attendance from 20 per cent to 25 per cent in the last five to seven years, the highest levels since the early 1980s.
While Baby Boomers, born after the Second World War, are the least likely to attend church, their children are more likely to attend than they are.
Research also shows that those who identify as Catholics have not been open to switching traditions and "large numbers of less involved Catholics open to greater participation in churches."
If churches respond to the spiritual interests and needs of these people, "it will be just a matter of time before the established groups experience numerical revitalization," he said.
Among adults, 62 per cent who attended church less than once a month, and 40 per cent of teenagers would be receptive to greater involvement, he said.
People are not looking for a good church, they are looking for ministry and practical ways in which faith can touch their lives, he said.
Studies show 93 per cent of Canadians believe in God or are open to believe; 80 per cent positively believe in God and two in four people pray privately at least once a week. One in two maintain they have "experienced the presence of God."
Despite all the attention atheists have been getting lately, they only make up seven per cent of the population, he said.
Spiritual needs remain, such as helping people understand what happens to a loved one after death. So do personal needs. "A lot of people are barely hanging in there," he said, noting the hurt and pain many people carry.