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Issue Date:  December 28, 2007

Many Millennials claim parish membership; few attend

Given the Millennial generation’s aversion to “benchmark” commitments of adulthood -- committing to an employer, a city or a spouse -- it seems likely that they would avoid parish life as well. Yet a solid majority of Millennials -- 70 percent -- identify themselves as parish members.

That’s the unexpected finding of the sociologist-authors of American Catholics Today, who for 20 years have charted a steady decline among U.S. Catholics in the seemingly clearest index of parish membership: Mass attendance. According to their research, about 50 percent of Millennials attend Mass monthly; just 15 percent attend weekly (a higher 22 percent for those who are college students, according to research by William D’Antonio and Vincent Bolduc).

By way of comparison, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow places weekly church attendance among the general 20-something population at 29 percent.

One possible explanation for the large number of Catholic Millennials who claim parish membership is that many, particularly college students, still feel they belong to their family’s home parish. Another is that many are “members” in much the same way they were “followers” of the wildly popular John Paul II, whose teachings many largely ignored. They feel a connection, with little or no corresponding action.

Justin Brandon, Nicole Shirilla, and Ed Fians all confess to associating the Catholic parish with the “settled” life that Millennials notoriously postpone. None is registered at a parish where he or she lives. Fians’ assessment is typical. “I link a parish with a house, a mortgage, a town and a job. It’s something very static and formidable.”

-- Greg Ruehlmann

National Catholic Reporter, December 28, 2007

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