Opening the Doors: Teenage Participation in Local Churches

Over recent decades, the involvement of young Australians in worship services has been declining. However, analysis of surveys of students in Catholic schools has shown that many young people who do not attend services of worship are involved in churches in other ways. The most common form of involvement is through sporting clubs, but others are involved in small groups, social welfare and social justice activities, in music and drama. This pattern reflects the individualistic and consumer-oriented way in which young people decide upon their involvements. It is a reminder to the churches that if they want to engage young people today, they need to open many doors to them, not just the door to worship.

Changing Patterns of Involvement: For many years, the decline of the involvement of young people in religious practices has been tracked. Dr Marcellin Flynn conducted four studies in Catholic schools over a period of twenty-six years. Among Year 12 students (in their final year of secondary schooling) who identified themselves as Catholic, he noted a significant decline in the proportions attending Mass monthly or more often between 1972 and 1998.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Christian Research Association conducted surveys in a number of Catholic schools in three dioceses in Australia. In one particular diocese, a number of these schools was surveyed again in 2011 using a very similar instrument. In terms of Year 12 students, the pattern of decline in Mass attendence observed by Flynn appeared to be continuing. When we look at the sample as a whole, we find that 25 per cent of these students in Catholic schools attended Mass or other services of worship monthly or more often. However, 31 per cent of the students were involved at least once a month in at least one or other of these activities and did not attend Mass monthly or more often. Indeed, 13 per cent of the total sample said they were involved in one or more of these other church activities but never attended Mass.

The Demographics: Of those who were not attending Mass at the time of the survey but were attending these other activities, 26 per cent indicated that they used to attend Mass when they were in primary school. Thus, they have decreased their attendance since that time, but are continuing to be involved in other activities in the church. However, 42 per cent said they attended Mass less than monthly while in primary school and 32 per cent said they never attended Mass when in primary school.

Conclusions: In a consumer-oriented society, churches need to open many doors to young people. They cannot rely on all young people coming first to worship. Additional activities such as youth groups, sporting groups, discussion groups, music and drama and social justice and welfare activities will be attractive and will provide an opportunity for the expression of Christian values and the building of Christian community for young people who are not attracted by services of worship. Given the fact that many young people are finding their way into church-related activities apart from through worship suggests that there is great potential there to make and develop church connections. These other activities can contribute to the growth of faith, as well as to personal and social growth.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 3, Pages 1-4

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