Many who have drifted away from church believe they will return

 Two-thirds of young people who have stopped going to church, think they will come back, one day - according to new research. In his dissertation: "Invisible Youth: An investigation of Church Attendance and Young People Who Participate in Catholic Youth Work" (based on a study of three schools) Staffordshire Area Youth Worker David Hannett, shows that there has been a massive 70 per cent drop in Mass attendance by 15 year-olds over the past fifteen years, compared to 30 per cent in the Church overall. However, he pointed out that many young people are joining in youth activities organised by the Church, even when only a small number of these are going to Mass. "This offers a huge challenge to Catholic youth workers in terms of the level of evangelisation that they undertake" David says. Writing in Birmingham Catholic Youth Service's paper, the Pulse, David said that 49 per cent of the young people he sampled considered themselves to be churchgoers. On closer inspection it turned out that only 22 per cent attended weekly, 11 per monthly and 30 per cent once a year. This was positive news, he said, because at least 49 per cent felt the 'belonged' to a parish. But he added, the most encouraging result of all in his research was that 66 per cent who are not going to church at all, believed they would come back when they were older. "This is great news " he said, "when so many people are concerned that the church population is dwindling. It is now more vital than ever before that our parish communities become places of welcome to these young people, and that they are nurtured in their journey of faith whether they are attending Mass or not. "I am a firm believer that a whole parish should be involved in the formation of these young people. Perhaps this is the way that the Youth Service needs to develop. By offering the whole parish events where young people can feel part of something bigger than just a youth group or Archdiocesan event, maybe they will start to return sooner. "I do not think that it was an accident that in the past, when the parish was a focal point for socialising, there were more young people present in our churches. The same can be seen today in other countries where the parish churches are very much family oriented and centres of the community. "Without doubt there are many social attractions other than the church for young people in our society which may not have been there 15 years ago. But the popularity of many youth groups is good evidence that this model of parish life appeals to young people today." David said this idea was supported by Boran in his book Pastoral Challenge of a New Age, published in 1999, when he talks of the need to provide Catholic young people with a sense of identity that has been lacking since the 1960s and 1970s. He said: "If this identity is not fostered in the next few years, I believe that many young people who may have returned to church, will be gone. This is especially so as 60 per cent of those who consider themselves to be spiritual, do not believe that a person needs to go to church to express this." David said that Feheney, in his 1999 book Aspects of Pastoral Care in a Catholic School Today, talks of the searching of young people on the brink of the 21st century for new ways of thinking and spiritual feeding.' "If they do not receive nourishment from the Catholic church they will look elsewhere for it. "The results of my research give me some hope that our Catholic population will be sustained for the immediate future but it is imperative that we act as quickly as possible to welcome young people back across the threshold of our churches."

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