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Deacon Keith Strohm


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Keith Strohm is the director of the Office for the New Evangelization.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Church’s Fundamental Mission of Evangelization

It’s no secret that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is in crisis.

Organizations like the Pew Forum and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate have studied the issue from a sociological perspective and the results are both enlightening and alarming. For example, in the United States 6.5 as many people leave the Catholic Church as enter it each year (Pew Forum, 2014 Study), and the fastest growing “religious group” in the U.S. are the Nones—those who don’t identify with any religious tradition.

We have many things to be proud of here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. However, we are not immune to this crisis. For most of us, we just need to look around our parish on any given Sunday. There is a demographic “cliff” that we are facing, brought on by a glaring absence of two generations within many of our parish communities. Consider the fact that only 18% of Millennials attend Church services weekly (Pew Forum, Religious Landscape Survey), that the baptismal rate is falling faster than the birthrate, that in many parishes we see a year-over-year decrease in the numbers of those participating in our religious education programs, and that we often struggle to find catechists and other leaders to handle the regular ministries and work of parish life.

In the face of this reality, some parishes are starting to respond in ways that will increase parishioner engagement, attract new members, and grow participation in the life of the parish. These are all good things, but our crisis isn’t simply one of engagement, participation or membership.

It’s fundamentally a crisis of discipleship.

Lack of engagement, participation and membership are symptoms of that crisis, but we will never be free from the crisis unless we attend to its root cause. The good news is the Good News! Christ has already given us a prescription to deal with the issue we face, and it’s found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28). We are to make disciples, baptize and teach what Christ has given us. The Church has a word for this process of making disciples, baptizing and teaching—evangelization.

If we want to truly deal with the issues we face as a local Church here in Chicago, we must recommit ourselves to the Church’s fundamental mission of evangelization. To help others encounter the love of Christ, entrust themselves to Him as a disciple in the context of His Church, grow in the habits of discipleship and be formed for their own mission to the world—these are some of the critical things that should captivate our attention and energy as parish communities. We can no longer afford to focus on maintaining our current structures and ways of being parish communities. We must begin to orient ourselves around mission. As Sherry Weddell, author of the book Forming Intentional Disciples writes, in our time “mission is the only maintenance that works.”

The Office for the New Evangelization hopes to assist parishes in doing just that—becoming centers of evangelization. If you, or your parish, are interested in moving in this direction, please don’t hesitate to contact the office by phone (312-534-5299) or by email (kstrohm@archchicago.org).

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