While my freshmen students and I, over video conferencing of course, were reading the first several chapters of Acts and talking about the exponential growth of the early Church, I asked them what they expected would happen in the Church as parishes reopen over the next several weeks. Will people come back? Will the Church grow or shrink? I’m always interested in their hot takes, because they often consider things that I don’t. As usual, they answered thoughtfully and two big ideas emerged. Here are paraphrases of two positions articulated by bright young minds.
1) People will have gotten used to Sundays without Mass and simply won’t come back. Maybe Sunday Mass was an obligation and a force of habit before, but people have seen that they are just fine without it and won’t risk possible exposure. Some families live-streamed Mass at the beginning of the pandemic but trailed off when that got old. They are essentially gone. If we want them to come back, we’ve got work to do.
2) During quarantine, many people have done some serious soul searching and they will flock to churches because they are looking for God, clarity, purpose, and hope. Some who weren’t regular churchgoers will lament that they were kept away at Easter and will jump at the chance to worship freely in their parish. Others will simply be curious and restless and are likely to end up in church. There will be new faces and new opportunities to reach out to those who are now taking faith more seriously than they were before all of this coronavirus stuff happened.
We Need Ambassadors
I thought both hypotheses had a great deal of merit and I suspect that parishes will be met with both realities along with a crowd of usual suspects who took Catholic life somewhat seriously before, weathered the age of livestream Liturgy, and will simply jump back in when greenlit to do so.
I thought to ask for their prediction because of a homework question I asked about the growth of the Church from Acts 2-Acts 6. Why did the early Church keep growing in exponents? Many noted that miracles were a big factor, but others pointed to the fresh and bold message of the apostles. They thought people joined because they were convicted. One even noted and quoted that many were, “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).
What would it take for modern Americans on the fringes of church life to be cut to the heart? When we gather together in Churches again will it be business as usual or will we be cut to the heart, convicted, and set ablaze?
I think the answer to that question is rather simple, but it requires all of us, who care enough to read and listen to podcasts such as this, to bring our A game to evangelization. When our neighbors don’t come back to Church, we need to invite them. When we see new faces, even if masked faces, we need to notice and connect. What cuts us to the heart? Sincerity, clarity, and charity. We need to be ambassadors for Christ now more than ever.
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Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition. They are also co-authors of the Power and Grace Guidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides. Colin hosts The Tightrope podcast.