The Strange Myths of the New Evangelization

More than forty years after the publication of the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi by Pope Paul VI and six years since the establishment of a new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, it is a good time to pause and evaluate how the New Evangelization project is proceeding. While many doom-and-gloom prophecies abound in casual Catholic conversation, a serious analysis of our current situation is essential. I would like to suggest that the common understanding or “conventional wisdom” among new-evangelists about the New Evangelization’s status is not based on well-documented evidence.

While statistical studies are often cited with pessimistic relish, I will report on recent statistical and sociological research that may point in another direction—though a comprehensive sociological analysis of Catholic evangelization efforts is still lacking. Unfortunately, despite large investments of institutional energy in the New Evangelization, many Catholic communities are still evangelically ineffective. Later, I will suggest possible strategic shifts that could be implemented in order to improve the outcomes of our efforts. On the one hand, a renewed effort at full implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) offers hope of success, while on the other hand different, less typical modifications of our approach may have an outsized impact. In particular, a re-orientation of zealous Catholics toward social contact with outsiders, a prioritization of outreach to unbelievers and a transformation of apologists into witnesses may yield better results. In the end, I will contend that a more detailed analysis of the available data may help us reinvigorate and modify our evangelistic practices.

Debunking the Conventional Wisdom

One frequently hears Catholics utter lamentations and dire prophecies about the present state of the Church: “Things are not what they used to be;” “We have no priests;” “Our parish will have to shut down;” “Catholics are going to become rarer and rarer, like Hasidic Jews or even Zoroastrians.” I would like to examine some of these ominous utterances and see if they ring true. That is, are the prophets of doom modern-day Jeremiah’s proclaiming the fall of the Temple or are they false prophets into whom a lying spirit has entered? That might sound harsh, but our spoken beliefs and predictions have profound power to shape our motivations and actions. If we believe that evangelization is a fool’s errand, destined to failure, then we will sit on our hands, disobeying Christ’s call to evangelize and allowing sin to take its course. Before suggesting strategies that might lead in the right direction, I would like to take aim at a few destructive “myths” that have weaseled their way into common Catholic parlance and taken the air out of the sails of many a would-be evangelist.

Myth #1: Half of All RCIA Converts Are Missing a Year Later

This myth has been widely perpetuated. Its foundations might lie in a study that the US Bishops commissioned in 1997, subsequently published in 2000, which showed that 64% of RCIA converts still attended Mass on a weekly basis a year after their Easter Vigil initiation.[1]

Despite the fact that this rate of Mass attendance was and is higher than the average Catholic rate and despite the fact the same report showed 50% participation of RCIA converts in parish life at the committee and ministry level,[2] the myth of a 50% drop-off cliff has been perpetuated. Just one example from a Catholic author writing on a prominent Catholic publisher’s website says it all, “It’s also a well-known fact that among adult converts who come into the Church via the RCIA program, as almost all now do, as many as half drop out again within a year.”[3] This “well-known fact” has been so constantly repeated and so widely disseminated that CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate), the premier source of Catholic statistics in the United States, decided to study the question. While CARA’s calculations are actually a compilation of data from different studies and not a rigorous original survey, they show significantly more promise for the success of the RCIA than a 50% success rate and so are worth looking at in detail.

Essentially, CARA surveys show that 8% of adult Catholics self-identify as converts to Catholicism and 75% of these converts entered through an RCIA program. Of all adult Catholics (54.9 million in 2014 numbers), that means 6% or 3.4 million would self-identify as RCIA converts.[4] From hard data—not surveys—we know that about 4 million adults have entered the Church through RCIA since 1986 when it was implemented in the U.S. Even if we do not adjust the denominator for deaths and moves (or the numerator for RCIA converts who since migrated to the US), the retention rate is 3.4 million over 4 million, or about 84%.[5] An 84% retention rate is a great deal higher than the “50%” number that is often thrown around. Now, it should be said that CARA is tracking monthly Mass attendance wherein converts beat out cradle Catholics by 62 to 48%. Beyond that, when CARA surveys people in the pew, 11% say they are converts, when we know from national statistics that only 8% of self-identified Catholics are actually converts. That means that converts are attending Mass more frequently than non-converts. Surprisingly, RCIA appears to be statistically more successful at turning people into practicing Catholics than a typical Catholic upbringing. While these statistics are valuable and seem to show substantial and positive trends, it is clear that we need better data. CARA was only able to piece together a retention rate based on multiple surveys and sources of data. They did not perform an independent study of this question for lack of funding.

Looking at the question from another angle, one sociologist (David Yamane of Wake Forest) has investigated RCIA’s effectiveness with before-and-after survey methods in 32 parishes. While he did not evaluate retention, he did evaluate RCIA’s ability to increase a person’s ecclesial involvement. Most striking among his observations was the fact that parishes which more fully implemented the RCIA process produced Catholics who “were not only more actively engaged with their parishes (ecclesial involvement), but also grew in their level of spiritual practice.”[6] His data shows that “the relationship between the extent of implementation of the RCIA process and spiritual practice is positive.”[7] That is, the more fully a parish implements the RCIA, the more effective it is at encouraging the Catholic practice of its candidates.

Whether we take the statistical approach or the sociological approach to evaluating the effectiveness of RCIA, we are unlikely to come back to a 50% drop off rate. That is just not happening. It is a myth. The authors of the CARA analysis suggest that since most RCIA candidates (72%) are becoming Catholic in order to marry a Catholic that their apparent absence from the parish where they were initiated may simply be explained by their mobility.[8] They are still likely going to Mass, but at a different parish.

Myth #2: The New Evangelization Is All About Re-evangelization.

In Redemptoris Missio, the magna carta of the New Evangelization, St. John Paul II distinguishes three types of evangelization—the mission ad gentes, pastoral care, and re-evangelization of communities with Christian roots. In this third group, he teaches that “what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.’”[9] He uses the term “re-evangelization” three times in the document. Several Catholic authors re-affirm this terminology and definition of the new evangelization: “The new evangelization pertains to a very specific group of people: fallen-away Christians.”[10] Another author similarly explains:

Now the Church is called to a new evangelization, an evangelization within itself, a “re-evangelization.” . . . What John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI now call for is an evangelization to those who have already been baptized. The call to the new evangelization is a call for the baptized members of the Church to deepen their faith and reach out to other Christians in deep need of a new encounter with Christ.[11]

Indeed, Pope Francis himself offered a message for a recent international conference entitled: “The Need for a Re-evangelization of the Christian Communities in Europe” (August 28-30, 2016 in Thessalonika).[12]

However, to stop with Redemptoris Missio’s language would be to overlook the development of papal magisterium on this particular point, the definition of the New Evangelization.[13] Even late in the pontificate of St. John Paul II, he begins to speak of the new evangelization as a term that incorporates not only the re-evangelization of the baptized, but evangelization ad extra, to unbelievers.[14] Pope Benedict, in his motu proprio, which creates the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, likewise asserts that “this task directly concerns the Church’s way of relating ad extra.”[15] Archbishop Fisichella, the first president of this Pontifical Council, further emphasizes this point:

I consider it best to avoid the neologism ‘re-evangelization,’ to allow us to speak of the new evangelization as a form by which the Gospel is proclaimed with new enthusiasm, in a new language, which is comprehensible in a different cultural situation and with new methodologies that are capable of transmitting its deepest sense, that sense which remains immutable.[16]

In addition, the Synod of Bishops published propositions, which like Redemptoris Missio, held Evangelization to have three aspects: “Firstly, evangelization ad gentes is the announcement of the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ;”[17] second, growth in faith; and third, ministry to those who have become distant from the Church.[18] Similarly, Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium cites the CELAM Aparecida document, which calls the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission.”[19]

The point here is twofold. First, the new evangelization now includes both evangelization ad extra and evangelization ad intra. It embraces the dynamics of conversion in terms of initial coming to faith and in terms of growth in faith or rediscovery of faith. Second, when discussing new evangelization as a kind of “re-evangelization,” what began as a discussion of re-evangelizing baptized persons grew into a discussion of re-evangelizing “baptized cultures” even if the people who inhabit those cultures are not actually baptized. Therefore one could speak of “re-evangelizing” when preaching the gospel in a traditionally Christian country that has become highly secularized.

Why does this terminological concept matter? Many promoters of the New Evangelization have dodged the responsibility to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers by insisting that the project is exclusively focused on ad intra efforts. In that vision of the project, one could have a complete and sufficient “New Evangelizing” parish community while promoting programs for Catholics, but never reaching out to the unbelieving. This false interpretation of the New Evangelization as solely the re-evangelization of baptized Catholics must be hung out to dry. It ignores the fundamental commission of Jesus to go, make disciples—and baptize them (see Matt 28:19-20).

Myth #3: The Catholic Church Is Sliding into Oblivion

Again, the dire predictions abound: “Parishes are closing! People are leaving in droves! The priesthood is in decline! Ex-Catholics are the second-largest religious group in the U.S., just behind Catholics! We lose six-and-a-half people for every one we bring in.[20] Everything is going downhill. Reversal is out of the question. Decline is our future. We just need to grin and bear it as we become less and less relevant and churches become more and more empty and fewer and farther between.” Some statistics seem to back up this doom-and-gloom assessment. The total number of priests since 1965 has precipitously declined.[21] The number of former Catholics has exponentially increased. [22] The number of baptisms has gone down.[23] Mass attendance has gone down to abysmally low levels.[24]

However, a few trends and stories offer a counter-narrative. For example, the Archdiocese of Washington recently welcomed in 2014 a record-large group of converts through RCIA—about 1,300 converts, which constitutes an impressive 1 convert for every 100 weekly-Mass-attending Catholics in the Archdiocese.[25] That is a 1% growth rate by conversion alone, not counting infant baptisms. In addition, converts to the Catholic faith who came through RCIA at a pace of about 150,000 per year since 1988 by themselves constitute one of the 50 largest religious groups in the US.[26] Furthermore, Mass attendance rates have not changed since they started being measured in 2000.[27] The number of pre-theology seminarians has quadrupled since the early 1980’s[28] and seminary enrollment as a whole has substantially recovered and seems to be leveling off.[29] The rate of active priests per parish has retreated from its crest back to levels last seen in 1950,[30] though the absolute rate of priests per Catholic is in decline.[31] (The global priest and seminarian numbers are vastly more encouraging.[32]) While it does not solve the priest shortage, the number of lay ecclesial ministers is constantly increasing[33] and enrollment in lay ecclesial minister formation programs is also on the rise.[34] The Catholic population in the United States is projected to grow from about 75 million today to between 95 and 128 million by 2050.[35] Not only that, but global statistics have the Church at large reaching 1.64 billion by mid-century.[36] Are the doomsday prophets of the U.S. Church ready to see their parishes grow by 50%? Rather than shuttering all the parishes and struggling to find other Catholics to fellowship with, the problem will be meeting the massive pastoral needs of a giant American Catholic population.

Myth #4: It’s All our Fault!

The party line in media stories about the declining, even hemorrhaging, Catholic population and declining priesthood usually comes out toward the end of the story: The Church alienates people through its marriage policies, its teachings about sex, homosexuality, abortion and papal infallibility.[37] In addition, commentators complain that one in three people raised Catholic are leaving.[38] Catholics often bemoan the success of Protestants with quips like, “The Evangelicals are doing a much better job at evangelizing and lots of Catholics are fleeing boring Masses to go to exciting mega-churches.” Besides that, we seem to think that all of the responsibility for all the dire statistics falls squarely on our shoulders. However, four realities belie this self-flagellating attitude.

First, a lot of the demographic shifts we see in our parishes and dioceses mirror larger social changes in our nation. In general, populations are moving south, which means we are closing parishes up north while opening new parishes in the south.[39] That might be depressing for Catholics in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh or Boston, but encouraging for Catholics in Tucson, San Antonio or Atlanta. We have to be careful when extrapolating from our experience to the statistics. Local phenomena do not necessarily mirror national trends. In addition, the way in which younger generations relate to institutions of all sorts is changing. On this point one sociologist advises, “it would be an error to think that the prevalence of no religious preference and lack of religious attachment among those who have a preference is just a Catholic phenomenon or even just a religious one.”[40]

Second, as of the 2007 Pew Survey, Catholics do “a better job of keeping those raised in the faith than any Protestant denomination (68% of those raised Catholic remain so as adults).”[41] Since then, Pew performed another survey in 2014, where they found that the Catholic retention rate was only 59%, (but interestingly 16% of the lost 41% still practice some form of Christianity).[42] While this new retention rate is lower, it exceeds all mainline Protestant denominations and in fact, those denominations are sending some of their former members our way.[43] Yet our retention rate does lag behind the Evangelicals by six percentage points (theirs is 65% while ours is 59%).[44]

Third, while our demographic data can be depressing, it is a far cry from the mainline Protestant data, which shows precipitous, linear decline.[45] In fact, our graph looks far more similar to the Evangelicals’. The fact is that we are successfully handing on the faith and persevering in faith at far greater rates than the mainline Protestants and roughly at parity with the Evangelicals. On the whole, 4.8% of American adults are leaving Christianity, while 4.2% of all adults are coming to Christianity.[46]

Fourth—and this is the most impressive statistic to me—Barna research shows that “Catholics are the least likely to believe evangelism is their personal responsibility (34%), but have the highest success rate (33% did evangelize in the past year).”[47] That is actually a higher success rate than Evangelicals. To explain, 100% of Evangelicals believe that it is their responsibility to evangelize, but only 70% actually shared their faith. On the other hand, 34% of Catholics believe evangelism is their responsibility and almost all of them shared their faith (33% of respondents).[48] Catholics, once they embrace the teaching, apparently are excellent at putting it into practice. We like to put our money where our mouth is. Barna also found that Millennials are the most likely to share their faith—more so than any other living generation.[49] When we do a good job of handing on the faith, Catholics are great at picking up their oars, leaning in and doing their part. The bark of Peter is going forward.

Larger demographic trends at the national and international level are affecting our ability to see clearly what is actually happening. Far from declining, the Catholic Church is holding steady and even growing in the United States. We have a long way to go to fix the shortage of priestly and religious vocations, but we should not expect the average parish to get smaller. Data is a powerful tool, but like a blowtorch or chainsaw, it must be used carefully. The conclusions we draw from it shape our action as a Church. I am not contending that we have nothing to worry about or that we do not have any work to do. Rather, I think the way that the media, including Catholic media, talk about the statistics is misleading. Much of what we are experiencing in the Catholic Church is part of much wider demographic trends—whether regional movement, international immigration or generational secularization. In addition, many of the myths claim that what we are doing is not working and thus discourage us from evangelistic efforts, when in fact the one program that we have to bring people into the Church—RCIA—actually does work and the more we implement it, the better it works. The statistics serve as a warning that we are in the midst of a sea change in American religious practice, but they also reveal that we are not at the back of the pack and that we have many opportunities to affect the future.

Shifting our Strategy

From a review of the common and discouraging myths, I will pivot to discussing how we might be able to adjust our strategies to become an even more effective evangelizing community. While discussions of the “New Evangelization” often become mired in theological vagaries, I think it might be best to discuss the project of the new evangelization in more strategic terms. Simply put: What are we trying to do? Pope Paul VI answered this question in a succinct way:

Evangelization will also always contain - as the foundation, center, and at the same time, summit of its dynamism—a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy.[50]

That is it; that is the mission: to proclaim Jesus Christ. It might seem simple, but we always have a temptation to do what is easy rather than to do what is right, to live as reclusive communities rather than outgoing ones. I will propose four strategic shifts that might help us move us away from what Avery Dulles calls an “excessive preoccupation with inner-Church issues,”[51] a preservation of the status quo, toward a missionary dynamism, and start to build truly evangelizing communities.

Shift #1: Schmoozing Is a Contact Sport

Taking a cue from Guy Kawasaki’s column on corporate “evangelism” from Harvard Business Review, the first shift I propose is simply this: “Schmoozing is a contact sport.”[52] If we do not build social contacts with people outside our Church community then we will not actually evangelize them. To speak more theologically, again Dulles helps us: “A vital church is one that looks outward, spreading the good news and inviting others to join. It is not enough to evangelize those who come into our buildings; as bearers of the gospel, we must move into the neighborhoods and workplaces to evangelize.”[53] If fervent Catholics participate in Church activities multiple times a week and build relationships with one another, they will have little to no social contact with outsiders. The only way to reach new “prospects” is to meet them. Literally, we need to go to the places in our cities where unbelievers spend time and build relationships with them, so that we can earn the right to be heard and invite them to faith. If we do not have social contact with unbelievers, evangelization is dead in the water. It will never happen. We need outreach, not inreach. This is the danger of getting overly focused on “re-evangelization.” I argue that we need to heed the broader definition of the new evangelization, which, as I have shown, has developed in the papal magisterium and thus shift from an inward-looking focus to an outward one. In order to be real fishers of men, we have to go where the “fish” are.

Shift #2: Do Not Focus on “Drag Back” Programs

Many parishes and dioceses have implemented “welcome back” programs that try to reach out to Catholics who have fallen away from the practice of the faith and reel them back in. Unfortunately, this is the wrong focus. It might seem like people who have practiced the faith in the past are the most likely prospects, but on the other hand, efforts in this direction are more like picking up a list of former customers to cold call. There is a reason they are “former” customers. If we shift to focusing on unbelievers and succeed in winning them to Christ, then I think the “former” customers will come back too. Besides, “drag-back” programs are a symptom of the specific inward-focused mentality Dulles warns us against. They represent a desire to preserve the status quo, to bump up our fundraising efforts, to get support from the people who are “consuming services.” If instead we pivot away from them toward true outsiders, we will actually be heeding Jesus’ call to baptize the unbaptized. Take the Sea of Galilee, for example. It has an inlet and an outlet. If we ignore the unbelievers and only go for the non-practicing, we are trying to pull water upstream from the Dead Sea while damming up the inlet to the Sea of Galilee. However, if we get the inlet flowing, then the water can be purified further downstream. So, what should we do in this regard? Create communities that ooze hospitality and welcome. Target unbelievers and reinvest in building fantastic RCIA programs.

Shift #3: Get Away from Apologetics and Go Toward Witness

Apologetics was huge and hugely important just a few decades ago—when most Americans held deep convictions and wanted to discuss their views and see how they measured up against other worldviews. However, Americans are becoming less and less ideological (just look at how many millennials did not vote in the election[54]). Dogma, argument, truth-claims, logic and so on are just not as interesting as they used to be. Apologetics might be a good route to travel with a convinced Protestant who is interested in ideas, but for most millennial Americans, it will not work. They want authenticity, relationship, real spirituality and community. We need to get more personal and less ideological. We need to listen to the demography. The best defense is a good offense. We ought to switch from being “defenders” of the faith to being witnesses of Jesus. Social forces are often more important than strictly theological or religious ones. We should focus on reaching people at turning points like marriage, baptism, but also at stages in life where things are open-ended, namely in the early stages: high school, college, young adult. As Bl. Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”[55] In business-speak, we could heed Kawasaki’s dicta such as “Get out,” “Ask questions,” “Unveil your passions,” “Follow up,” “Do favors,” and “customize.”[56] These highly personal and personalized approaches to delivering a message contrast strongly with a doctrine-centered or idea-centered style. If we get away from a defensive posture and instead embrace a more other-centered outlook, then we will be more effective at getting the message of the gospel into the hands that desperately need it.

Shift #4: Get Better Data!

To circle back to my initial observations, we simply need better data. It is so easy to rely on data that confirms our suspicions or our worst fears. But in fact, we have been relying heavily on data that is suspect, incomplete and understudied. By repeating so-called “statistics” like the 50% RCIA drop-off, we have been perpetuating myths that undercut our confidence to evangelize. For example, if I eat a healthy, low-calorie diet and exercise daily, but my bathroom scale is erratic so I seem to be never losing any pounds, I will probably just give up. It is the same with lousy statistics—if we believe them, we can easily get discouraged from even trying to evangelize. Data is useful if it considered wisely and then responded to with realistic objectives. The problem is, the data we do have on the national Catholic population, on Mass attendance, on RCIA retention rates and on other vital data points is lacking, confused, and mixed. This dearth leads to misapplication of the data—to taking some parts too seriously and other parts not seriously enough. We need better studies that explain what makes an “effective” parish or diocese so “effective.” We need studies at both a statistical and sociological level that measure things like retention and defection while controlling for wider demographic movements. If we get better data, I am convinced we will be able to act on that data more wisely and intelligently than we are acting on the currently-available data.


Pope Francis reminds us: “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy.”[57] By taking stock of where we are at in the progress of the New Evangelization, we can embrace the task ahead with greater candor. It is important that we debunk the myths that 50% of RCIA converts vanish in a year, that the New Evangelization is exclusively about re-evangelization, that Catholics are becoming rarer than blue onyx, and that all the bad news is all our fault. In fact, RCIA has a great retention rate and the Catholic Church is continuing to grow bigger and bigger, primed to grow by 400 million over the next thirty years. While we should embrace many goals—increased vocations, stronger Catholic schools, a renewed missionary spirit, deep spiritual lives—I argue that a few strategic shifts could make an outsize impact. Namely, schmoozing is a contact sport; do not focus on drag-back programs; focus on witness, not apologetics; and finally, get better data. I believe that if we successfully pivot on these points, many of our other goals will become more realistic and much of our institutional effort will harmonize with our chief goal of being who Jesus called us to be, bearers of good news.

[1] United States Catholic Conference, Journey to the Fullness of Life: A Report on the Implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the United States (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000) 54-55.

[2] Ibid., 54.

[3] Russell Shaw, “Catholic Calculations,” OSV Newsweekly, November 5, 2009,

[4] CARA, “How Many Catholic Converts Stay? A Quick Back of the Envelope Reality Check,” Nineteen Sixty-four blog, entry posted February 26, 2016,

[5] One could argue those who entered through a provisional RCIA process before 1986 could skew our numbers here if they responded “yes” to the RCIA question.

[6] David Yamane, “Initiation Rites in the Contemporary Catholic Church: What Difference Do They Make?,” Review of Religious Research 54 (2012): 401-420; here 416.

[7] Ibid., 415.

[8] Similarly, David Yamane (Becoming Catholic [New York: Oxford University Press, 2014] 236) found that when he mailed out follow-up questionnaires to subjects he had studied four to five years after their initiation, more than half of the letters were returned undeliverable as addressed, prompting him to speculate, like the CARA authors, that these persons had moved near the time of their initiation.

[9] St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (1990), §33,

[10] Kevin Cotter, “What is the New Evangelization?”, FOCUS, June 3, 2013,

[11] Ave Maria Press, “What is the New Evangelization?”,

[12] Vatican Radio, “Pope sends message to Catholic-Orthodox Symposium,” August 29, 2016,

[13] Notwithstanding the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s definition (Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, December 3, 2007, §12, “In a wider sense, it is used to describe ordinary pastoral work, while the phrase ‘new evangelization’ designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith.”

[14] See Redemptoris Missio, §34. For example, St. John Paul II (Novo Millenio Ineunte, §40, ) invokes the “new evangelization” in discussing reaching out to a globalized culture. While he mentions its need “even in countries evangelized many centuries ago,” it is clear that “new evangelization” applies to the “work of evangelization” in toto. In addition, in Ecclesia in America (January 22, 1999, §66, he states, “the urgent needs which result, mean that the mission of evangelization today calls for a new program which can be defined overall as a ‘new evangelization.’” In §74 of the same document he teaches, “The program of a new evangelization on the American continent, to which many pastoral projects are directed, cannot be restricted to revitalizing the faith of regular believers, but must strive as well to proclaim Christ where he is not known” (emphasis added).

[15] Benedict XVI, Ubicumque et semper, September 21, 2010,

[16] Rino Fisichella, “The New Evangelization: What’s it all about?”, America, October 15, 2012,

[17] Synodus Episcoporum Bulletin, “Final List of Propositions,” 7-28 October 2012, Proposition 7.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, November 24, 2013, §25, CELAM, Concluding Document, Aparecida, May 13-31, 2007, §551,

[20] On this point, see Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, May 12, 2015, p. 35.

[21] CARA, “Frequently Requested Church Statistics,”

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Tara Bahrampour, “Washington area welcomes a record number of Catholic converts amid falling national rates,” Washington Post, April 19, 2014; and Msgr. Charles Pope, “Some Keys to Evangelization as Seen in a Record Number of Converts this Year in The Archdiocese of Washington,” Community in Mission, entry posted April 21, 2014,

[26] Yamane, “Initiation Rites,” 402.

[27] “Mass attendance levels have shown no significant change since CARA began measuring these nationally in 2000 (...even among adult Millennials).” CARA, “The Growing Mystery of the ‘Missing’ Catholic Infacnts,” Nineteen Sixty-four blog, entry posted February 7, 2013, Note: the confusing part about Mass attendance is that while weekly Mass-going among Catholics is around 22%, at any given Sunday about 31% of Catholics are present. That means almost a third of the people in the pew each Sunday are not there every Sunday. See CARA, “The Nuances of Accurately Measuring Mass Attendance,” Nineteen Sixty-four blog, entry posted November 22, 2009,

[28] CARA, Catholic Ministry Formation Enrollment: Statistical Overview for 2013-2014,, p. 8.

[29] Ibid., 5-7.

[30] CARA, “Surplus and Shortage: Mapping Priests and Parishes,” Nineteen Sixty-four blog, entry posted August 9, 2013,

[31] CARA, “Frequently Requested Church Statistics.”

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] CARA, “Pies, damned pies, and statistics: Is the Catholic population growing?”, Nineteen Sixty-four blog, entry posted November 25, 2010,

[36] CARA (“Global Catholicism,” Nineteen Sixty-four blog, entry posted June 1, 2015, reports: “If current trends continue, we can expect the global Catholic population to increase by about 372 million from 2015 to 2050. This would represent 29% growth during this period and result in the 2050 Catholic population numbering 1.64 billion.”

[37] Michael Hout, “Saint Peter’s Leaky Boat: Falling Intergenerational Persistence among U.S.-Born Catholics since 1974,” Sociology of Religion 77 (2016): 1-17; here 11-13.

[38] Peter Steinfels, “Further Adrift: The American Church’s Crisis of Attrition,” Commonweal, October 18, 2010,

[39] Msgr. Charles Pope, “Doin’ the Uptown LowDown – On the Great Migration of the Church in this Land,” Community in Mission, June 3, 2013,

[40] Hout, “Leaky Boat,” 6.

[41] CARA, “Pies, damned pies, and statistics.”

[42] Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, 39.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Hout, “Leaky Boat,” 7.

[46] See Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, 36.

[47] Kate Tracy, “Which Christians Actually Evangelize?”, Christianity Today, December 20, 2013,

[48] Barna Research Group, “Is Evangelism Going Out of Style?”, December 17, 2013,

[49] Ibid.

[50] Pope Paul VI. Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, §27,

[51] Avery Dulles, “John Paul II and the New Evangelization—What Does it Mean?”, in John Paul II and the New Evangelization, eds. Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), 33.

[52] Guy Kawasaki, “The Art of Evangelism,” Harvard Business Review, May 2015,

[53] Avery Dulles, The Priestly Office: A Theological Reflection (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1997), 53.

[54] Millennial voter turnout was about 50%. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, “Young Voters in the 2016 General Election,” Tufts University, 2016.

[55] Evangelii Nuntiandi, §41.

[56] Kawasaki, “The Art of Evangelism.”

[57] Evangelii Gaudium, §15.

Featured Image: François-Émile Ehrmann, Œdipe et le Sphinx, 1903; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Mark Giszczak

Mark Giszczak (S.S.L., Ph.D.) is a biblical scholar and author. He is Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute, specializing in Old Testament and biblical theology. When he's not eating, sleeping, and breathing the Bible, you might find him decorating a cake, brewing beer, recording a podcast, taking one of his children to the playground, playing volleyball, or drinking a cup of manually-brewed single-origin coffee.

Read more by Mark Giszczak