Reducing the Number of Nones

The number of Nones – people who don’t identify with any religious group – is growing each year. Forty years ago, less than 10% of Americans said they had no religious affiliation, but today that number is up to 23%.

“Frankly, we’ve seen a hemorrhaging of people in their 20s and 30s away from regular practice of the Church,” said Fr. Pat McGrath, president of Loyola Academy, on a recent episode of Morning Air®. “We’ve seen a huge decrease in their self-identification as Catholic.”

We know that young adults are leaving the Church in great numbers, and it is important to draw them back to the Catholic Church. But we must also look at how we are forming and evangelizing our children and teenagers, how we can prevent them from losing their faith in adulthood, and keep them from adding to the growing number of Nones.

“We’ve clearly seen something happening, and there’s all sorts of smart, wonderful studies of how we got here – what the cause of this is,” said Fr. McGrath. “And we’ve also done some good thinking and praying about what we ought to be doing now to engage those kids, to try to stop the hemorrhaging, to up our game in the evangelization and formation of our own.”

Fr. McGrath offered some suggestions of how to provide a firm foundation of faith in the lives of our children and young adults.

Engage and Equip Parents
The parents are crucial. From a sociological perspective, sociologists talk about something they call ‘social reproduction.’ This is the reproducing of the habits, the attitudes, the values of this generation in the next generation. It’s a good thing, it’s what it means to share the faith, for example.

But that social reproduction depends dramatically upon the behavior of the generation that is doing the forming. So here we’re talking about parents. And I think we can say that there was a decline in the quality of the religious education and formation that we experienced over the years.

The first thing I would say, to be really practical, is to pay attention to the parents. If we want to have effective teen ministries or outreach to young adults, we’ve got to pay attention to the parents. I find that the more we can offer to the parents of our students – resources, experiences, prayer, theological formation – it brings them into the conversation in a new way and supports them in their faith development.

We have to expand our vision and say that the parents are absolutely crucial. They need skills, and tools, and help. And they are receptive to it. They want it. And if we can step up and offer that, I think it will make a huge difference. I think that is the most important and positive step, and there is so much we can do.

Cultivate a Catholic Culture
Sociologists are helpful when they talk about some of these trends and patterns that they see. And one of the cultural things that’s happened that’s impacted us negatively is a movement away from what they used to call the ‘total culture model’ of Church.

In other words, everything was the parish life. If you were Catholic in this country, it was more likely that your entire life, in some sense, was rooted in the life of the parish. Not just your sacramental life, but also your education as part of the Catholic grade school system. The social life of you and your family was primarily among people in your neighborhood, in your parish, and therefore people who shared your worldview.

The multiplication of social interactions that everyone in the family is having, not just social media and things like that, but simple things like the likelihood that both parents are working outside the home as a necessity is just much higher. That is what it is, it’s neither bad nor good. But now both Mom and Dad have a constellation of work relationships and a constellation of work responsibilities.

They’ve stretched the limit of the experience of the social world as a young person and as a family. And to a deeper point, because that strained the connection to parishes, it really has weakened much of that sense of that ‘sacred canopy’ of Church. The lens that I’m looking at the world through is not exclusively Catholic as a young person anymore, and therefore the challenge to form them in the faith is more challenging in its own way.

Meet them Where They Are
St. Ignatius used to have this great line when he talked about evangelization, which was ‘Sometimes you have to go in their door in order to bring them out your door.’ In a sense, you have to come to understand them, the person who has been placed in front of you as an invitation to share the story of faith.

So when it comes to kids, we want to get to where they are. For example, at our school we have tons of kids who play on sports teams. So we invite those teams to come together and pray together frequently. We want to have Masses with those teams and their parents together, because they feel this great affinity toward that group of people. That’s their world, that’s where the feel connected, known, loved, challenged. So let’s go there, let’s build an experience of prayer and the sacramental life in the context of the places where they feel most at home. In other words, let’s go in their door, let’s go to that place in order to bring them out a different door that comes at the other end of the evangelization conversation.

Listen to the full conversation below:

Morning Air® can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.


Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.