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Posted January 25, 2008

Study: Young Adult Catholics
and Their Future in Ministry

Interim Report on the
2007 Survey of The Next Generation of Pastoral Leaders

Dean R. Hoge and Marti R. Jewell
Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership

Introduction and Highlights

The ministry of the Catholic Church depends on those who respond to Godís call to engage in ministry. That call may be to lay ecclesial ministry, the diaconate, the priesthood, or life as a vowed religious. With the average age of each of these groups over 50, it becomes very important to understand where the next generation of people in ministry will come from. To find out how the next generations are viewing ministry, the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, a joint effort of six national Catholic associations, commissioned us to survey Catholic young adults to get their attitudes about ministry in the future.

We began work in summer 2006. First, we decided to do a nationwide survey of Catholic college students. Since we are interested more in Catholics who are active in church life than in a random sample of students, we opted to survey students via Catholic students centers. We asked Catholic campus ministers to provide e-mail addresses for an online survey of a sample from their largest list of Catholic students. We were not interested only in the Newman Center leaders or regulars, but all Catholics who have come to their attention.

In addition, we wanted a nationwide survey of young adults aged 20 to 39 taken from non-campus lists. We decided to contact a random sample of dioceses, one in each Episcopal region, asking young adult ministry staff to work from whatever lists they had available.

This preliminary report contains some main survey results. A full report will be published by Loyola Press in the coming year. This report is organized in five major findings.

Highlights of these findings include:

1. Young adults see lay ecclesial ministry as a call from God.

More than a third of the young adults surveyed who are active in the life of the Church expressed an interest in lay ministry, and that number increased with age. Most believe lay ministry is a call from God that allows a person to help other people. While they have spoken to parents, pastors, and lay ministers about this interest, two-thirds do not see a connection between lay ministry and their gifts, talents, and career interests.

2. Many young adults have seriously considered priesthood and religious life as a way to provide ministry.

Nearly half of the young men surveyed and more than a third of the young women have seriously considered ministry as a priest or religious. While half of the young men who have considered priesthood are interested because it will allow them to preach or provide sacraments, nearly 90 percent believe the main reason for becoming a priest is to care for Godís people. Following other career paths and a desire for marriage are most often expressed as the primary reasons one would not follow this path, although women are more likely also to cite not wanting to be part of a structure dominated by men.

3. How would changing the guidelines for who can become a priest, religious, or deacon impact the attitudes of young adults about these vocations?

The results are somewhat surprising. Opening the priesthood to all people is not something that is of interest to young women. Nearly a quarter of the young men would find the priesthood more inviting if celibacy were not required, but half do not have an opinion about it. Seeing priesthood as a lifelong commitment does not appear to be a deterrent. The diaconate is of interest, but it is seen as an option for later life.

4. Who are the minsters of tomorrow and what do they think about ministry?

Young adults who are the ministers of tomorrow are active in the Church today! The most significant indicator of interest in ministry was current involvement. There are few differences based on age or marital status. Those who identified themselves as Latino were less likely to be born in the United States and more likely to say they are interested in ministry.

5. Young adults have a strong message for the future direction of the Church.

Young adults call pastoral leaders to more actively engage them in the life of the Church. Those who are involved and active are asking for a more solid catechetical foundation. No one label describes them; some are calling for more traditional practices, while others are calling the Church to relate more to modern life and their personal experience.

Underneath the differences, these young adults exhibit a deep care for their faith and an interest in the future of the Church. How are we going to respond to them? How are we going to engage them in a church for whom discipleship is central and their involvement is crucial? The young adults in this study have given us some interesting ideas to think about, and point to further questions and study. It is an area of concern that affects us all.

Here are a few examples of recommendations regarding youth and young adults:

As a young adult, I am so proud of my Church, and I think that the Church has done a great job. However, if there is anything I would like to see, it would be to see more ministries available to young adults ages 20-30. It almost seems as if sometimes we are excluded. Other ministries are either too young or too old.

As Pope John Paul II said, we must look at the future of our Church. Helping young individuals at the college and high school level grow closer to God is essential in hte expansion of the Catholic Church. During this period I believe many people choose to grow farther away from God because of all the temptations, and there are no parental figures to look over you really. Being engaged in activities with followers of God takes the temptations away from these adolescents and young adults.

I believe the Catholic Church really needs to focus on the young adults in the church. We lose so many young people to other religions because of lack of energy in music, sermons, social activity, everything. If we were to focus on our young adults, the faith of the Catholic Church would be more deeply planted in young people, therefore, causing more devout relationships to God as well as with people.

I think that the church needs to invest more time in the youth. Working with high school students in the summer. Iíve noticed over the past few years how they are not as excited about their faith as I was at their age. And so many students lose their faith entirely when they come to college because they didnít practice it very well during high school.