Inactive Catholics

"The Holy Spirit also evangelizes through our attempts to reach those who have given up the practice of their Catholic faith for one reason or another... Many in our Catholic community know family members, friends, and neighbors who do not have or practice faith." (Go Make Disciples, 38)

Historically, parishes have grown through the migration of Catholic families to our shores from abroad.  For decades, these families were large, tight-knit and closely aligned with a neighborhood parish.  Parishes thrived. In a real sense, we are victims of our own success.  In the last few decades, families, neighborhoods and the role of the parish has changed dramatically.

Today, the largest religious group in the United States is Roman Catholic. The second largest group is former Roman Catholic. We all know someone who is an inactive Catholic.  Regardless of the reason for why anyone has left, or more likely drifted away, Catholics have a unique opportunity as ambassadors of Christ in the world. Whether it is in our homes, workplaces and the larger community, we can listen, pray with others who have left the Church. We can renew the promise that those claimed by Christ at baptism will never be lost to Christ.

Parishes will thrive in the years ahead if Catholics are equipped to reach out, welcome and invite former Catholics to reconsider the life that is our in Christ. The reasons for leaving that are given by former Catholics are many and varied.  One of the few constants in most of these accounts is that their absence went largely unnoticed.  As a result, most Catholics who return do so quietly throughout the year.  Occasionally Catholics visit a church website incognito.  Some may read our blog and become curious.  They can show up on such holidays as Christmas.  They can attend a wedding, funeral or baptism.  They can view us on Youtube or listen to a homily podcast online (if we have one).  We have plenty of opportunities to re-engage these curious Catholics.  Some basic strategies include:

  • Equip the congregation for Everyday Evangelization
  • Train the office receptionist and event greeters on the importance of a smile, extending words of welcome and ways to extend simple hospitality to visitors
  • Host occasional receptions for newcomers
  • Create a visitor center at the entrance to church with simple refreshments, a guest book and informational materials that describe the community, purpose and activities at the parish
  • Conduct census outreach through phone, email or home visitation
  • Get to know people and personally invite them to participate in a parish ministry

Thriving parishes know how to make the experience sticky when people return.

Consider these articles and resources:

Annulment Writing Workshop - Interested in sponsoring an workshop for Catholics seeking an annulment?  Bulletin announcements regarding the dates and the parish hosting the workshop are sent to all the parishes in the Diocese approximately six weeks before each workshop.  These sessions offer an overview of the annulment process after which participants work on their annulment applications with the help of annulment companions.  Many people find that they can complete the initial paperwork in one weekend.  The registration fee includes snacks, breakfast, lunch, a booklet on the annulment process, forms, and all the help you need.  If you have any additional questions, need any help, would like to work with an annulment companion or attend one of our workshops please contact Barbara Wyse.

Visit these web resources:

Consider the following printed resources:

  • When Someone You Love Leaves the Church (Lorene Hanley Duquin, Our Sunday Visitor, 2001)
  • Faith Rediscovered: Coming Home to Catholicism by Lawrence S. Cunningham (Paulist Press)
  • Christian Hospitality (Archdiocese of Louisville, KY)
  • Practicing Catholic by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk (St. Anthony Messenger Press)
  • Returning Home to Your Catholic Faith: An Invitation by Sally Mews (Liguori Publications)
  • While You Were Gone: A Handbook for Returning Catholics by William J. Bausch (Twenty-Third Publications)
  • When They Come Home: Ways to Welcome Returning Catholics (Melanie Rigney and Anna M. Lanave, Twenty-Third Publ 2009)
  • A Time to Listen . . . A Time to Heal: A Resource Directory for Reaching out to Inactive Catholics. No. 5-306 (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 800-235-8722,
  • Yes, I Can Believe (Frank DeSiano, CSP, Paulist Press).
  • Awakening Faith (a six-week, 90 minute session program published by Paulists Evangelization Ministries) is designed to invite both inactive and even active Catholics "to feel something about their faith again".
  • Catholics Continuing the Journey (a faith-sharing program for small groups by Sally Mews) a six weekly two-hour session for those who have recently returned to the Church and for others who are seeking to renew and strengthen their faith. Inviting Catholics Home (a six-week session aimed at helping Catholics return to Church) by Sally Mews.
  • 101 Questions & Answers on the Bible (R. E. Brown, Paulist Press)  
  • Catholic Q & A: Answers to the Most Common Questions about Catholicism (J.J. Dietzen, Crossroad Publishing)
  • Why be Catholic? Understanding our Experience and Tradition (R. Rohr & J. Martos, St. Anthony Messenger Press)
  • Catholicism: Now I Get It! by F.S. Smith (Our Sunday Visitor)
  • Faith sharing materials - many choices available for online purchase from  The Impact series booklets are designed for small groups (six sessions every two or three weeks).