I have a daughter in 6th grade… I’m in trouble, I know.
As a parent, I am concerned that my kid doesn’t drop off and over the cliff of religious disaffiliation like so many other youth in the U.S. Based on the seminal study “Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics,” the median age for disaffiliation is 13 years old. The disaffiliated are loosely categorized as injured, drifters or dissenters (or likely, a combination), and it is occurring across gender and cultural lines. Young people who disaffiliate from religion are not necessarily walking away from God nor their faith, but they are walking away from their religious practice. They value diversity and inclusivity. Many disaffiliated youth and young adults report feeling “free” and “relieved” when they decide to no longer identify as Catholic. Family dynamics frequently influence disaffiliation, and we, as adults and role models, play a critical role.
My daughter is at an age of exploration and discovery. Her mind, body and spirit are growing exponentially. She is a marvel and a wonder to my wife and me. She’s also our greatest blessing. We want her to explore and discover the world through the lens of our Catholic faith. Of course, online access and popular media present an opportunity for counter-messaging, and yet, we also want her to understand responsible netiquette and smart decision-making when it comes to technology. Can you relate?
My daughter attends a healthy Catholic school where my sister/daughter’s godmother works. That said, the Catholic school can’t do it all when it comes to forming the faith in our kids. We profess parents as the primary educators, but as we all know not all parents are onboard with our Catholic mission and practice of the faith.
This is a case and a cause to measure. Our Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE) for youth has just been revised in 2022, and like the Information for Growth (IFG) for adults, it remains aligned to a strict blueprint in accord with the Four Pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Five Tasks of Catechesis. In partnership with Springtide Research Institute, we have added the Belonging Index to our family of assessments for students, teachers and families. We believe that faith is born and nurtured in community. This assessment measures the degree that school members feel noticed, named and known within the school community. The revised website and new online dashboard are intended to create a more user-friendly platform for our schools and dioceses. You can find more information at www.ncearise.org.
Because prayer is the backbone of our Catholic faith, NCEA has partnered with Hallow to assist schools and parishes on the backend of IFG and ACRE reporting. This NCEA-discounted app can provide your community with the actionable tools they need to ensure that the entire community is one steeped in prayer. It is only through prayer that our communities can be transformed.
In a Church Life Journal article by Sue and Tim Muldoon, they offer what I think is an important tip. Rather than take a linear approach to pastoral care (e.g., relying on the school to do all the heavy lifting), take a more “stacked” approach. How do we “load” varied opportunities for families to convene to be engaged in the life of the church? Our goal is to invite parents and other adults who have an impact in the lives of young people to discern how they might be part of a “stacked” approach to faith formation, encouraging Catholic parents and religious educators to discern carefully what factors contribute to positive religious formation. We might ask: Who are we failing to reach? Is there anything our community might be doing to push young people away? What are we inviting young people to be part of? How might a mature Catholic faith help a young person to grow and develop?
Jesus calls the little children to come to himself, and they need shepherds to guide them. Through prayer, mentoring and invitation, they will come. Despite her middle school drama, I am trying to teach my daughter how to lean into the Lord when she is faced with challenges. I also want to ensure that she doesn’t have to do this alone. It won’t happen on its own. Faith is better when we share it together. In fact, it is necessary. NCEA Rise can help.