Josette Peckman of St. John the Baptist Parish, Pottsville watches the webinar. (Photo courtesy of Josette Peckman)
Annie Sarlo, secretary of the Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization, fields questions from viewers near the end of the webinar. (Photo by Rick Dooley)
By ALEXA SMITH – Director, Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry
“Today’s young people are one of the most studied sociological groups ever,” Marcel Lejeune began a Dec. 4 live webinar to over 40 viewers on “How to Draw Young People Back to the Faith.”
Lejeune, president and founder of “Catholic Missionary Disciples,” went on to explain the dramatic shifts in cultural, moral and technological factors that have come to a head at the precise moment when Millennials and Generation Z are coming of age.
“We’re observing the breakdown of the family, the fulfillment of what the sexual revolution promised, the total abandonment to the license of false freedom, all in the midst of the largest technological development since the industrial revolution,” he said.
“The tectonic plates that have been mildly shifting through the years are now rapidly changing for this generation.”
Lejeune explained that the meteoric changes to cultural norms and expectations, combined with the Catholic Church’s steadfast adherence to tradition, have resulted in a massive dying off of Christianity.
“More people are leaving the Catholic Church than have ever left before, in just a few generations,” he cited.
Lejeune stated that the “Nones” – individuals who feel inclined to respond “None” when asked their religion – are the fastest growing group of people in the United States with regard to religious identity, and that this trend is especially prevalent in younger generations.
Lejeune first sought to address the question of why these young people lack faith.
“For each person you ask that question, there is a different reason,” he said. “We have to understand that there is no magic bullet that will reach all young adults, but there are some principles that can inform what we do and how we do it.”
The first principle Lejeune introduced is that we must strive to aim for the heart, rather than the head, when appealing to modern young people.
“This does not mean we dumb down the Catholic faith or ignore the richness of our theological traditions,” he said. “Nor does it mean avoiding difficult truths that need to be addressed.
“You cannot love what you don’t know, so there are things we will have to teach. But in transforming the heart first, the deepest place in the human person, we allow the head to follow.”
Lejeune said that conversion ultimately starts with the “kerygma,” or proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and the salvation that comes only through him.
“The kerygma is at the very core of what it means to be a Catholic, and in large measure we have forgotten it, we have lost the ability to proclaim it correctly, and we have neglected to invite the response that it requires.”
Second, Lejeune emphasized the importance of trust, and how it must be earned before a true discipleship relationship can be achieved. He discussed the importance of trust and authenticity when it comes to dealing with young people in particular.
Finally, he stressed the importance of investing meaningful time and effort into few people, rather than casting too wide a net.
“Jesus, who had to save every person for all of time, in all places, spent 75 percent of his time with 12 men,” he said. “How much of your time in ministry is spent investing in a few people? In many places, the majority of ministry is spent in administration, working with large groups, or running classes and events.”
“Jesus went deep and narrow, not wide and shallow,” he said. “But that deep and narrow investment multiplied so effectively that the world was changed in just a few generations.”
Referencing a theme from Sherry Weddell’s “Forming Intentional Disciples,” Lejeune made the point that “God has no grandchildren.”
“Your parents’ faith will not get you to heaven,” he explained. “Each of us needs to choose to follow Jesus and be a member of his Church for ourselves.”
However, he said, we are not creating enough opportunities for young people today to choose this for their lives. To do this, we first need to invite young people into conversation about their faith.
“Start with big, meaningful questions that will get to the heart of what is going on with someone,” he suggested. “A lot of people have rejected a false God and a false Catholic Church that do not reflect the true Jesus and the true Church.”
“Our questions show that we care about the person,” he said.
After asking questions, we must listen, assess and respond.
“Never accept a label in place of a story,” warned Lejeune. “Someone might say they are an atheist, or that they are ‘spiritual but not religious,’ but these labels can carry different meanings for different people.
“Don’t fill in the gaps when you don’t know where somebody is. The labels mean very little until you hear the person’s story.”
In the end, Lejeune stressed that becoming a disciple of Jesus is a choice each of us must face.
“You cannot accidentally become a disciple of Jesus,” he said. “Each of us must decide in an act of faith to drop our nets and follow.”
Next Webinar on Defending Your Faith
The next installment of the Winter Webinar Series will be Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. Trent Horn will discuss “The Beginner’s Guide to Defending Your Faith.”
Horn will show viewers that you don’t need all the right answers – you just need the right questions and the right attitudes to share the Catholic Faith with anyone.
A webinar is a live, virtual event hosted online. You can access the webinar from anywhere using your mobile device, computer or tablet/iPad. For more information and to register, visit www.allentowndiocese.org/webinars. Once you are registered, you will receive instructions on how to connect. For these webinars, you do not need a camera.