Are Catholic Families Letting Go of CCD? – EpicPew

Are Catholic Families Letting Go of CCD?

The Good Old Days

Eight years ago, our two-church parish in Massachusetts had over 1,400 children enrolled in the Religious Education program (commonly called Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, CCD for short). The two biggest classes were sacramental years: second grade for First Holy Communion and tenth grade for Confirmation. Our Children’s Liturgy program had 20-30 children who came downstairs during the Liturgy of the Word at Children’s Masses and over 20 participated in the annual Epiphany Pageant.

I guess you could say business was booming in the way of children’s faith formation. Events were held several times a year and volunteer opportunities for kids and adults were plenty. Participation was up and we catechists were busy.

The Big Drop

Fast forward to Fall 2020.

Like many schools, classes went virtual and enrollment dropped significantly. People hardly “showed” for class if they were enrolled. Children’s Liturgy became a recorded reading/teaching and those videos were hardly viewed. No events took place. No Children’s Mass happened. Many families stopped going to Mass altogether. It didn’t help that Mass was mandated virtual—an oxymoron if you ask this girl. Think about it: the True Presence was made to be “virtual.” Awful times.

As things opened back up, kids went back to school and into what was called a new normal. Mass attendance dipped drastically and our parish saw a serious lack of enrollment in CCD. Our fears were realized as families let the children’s faith formation fall by the wayside.

Some did this because they felt it was unsafe still. Some did this because they decided that maybe it wasn’t important after all. And some decided to homeschool for non-sacramental years to keep their schedules easy and exposure minimal. Even today, our homeschool program has grown while our overall program has shrunk.

Are Catholic Families Letting Go of CCD?

So, it begs the question, are Catholic families letting go of CCD? Are they less concerned with their children’s faith formation? Is faith less practiced at home for this generation?

In our parish, Mass attendance is down significantly since the shutdown. This means contributions are low and budgets are tighter than ever. With low CCD enrollment, this hurts the budget as well. Families aren’t willing to pay for religious education if it’s not that important to them. Granted, we work with families in financial crisis and won’t deny a child due to inability to pay, but the fact that we need to charge is a deterrent. Most won’t come forward to ask for help.

This world asks for secular accomplishments. It demands high-paying jobs and higher education, so naturally parents feel inclined to focus on putting money there. But one thing is pivotal in this CCD decline: faith formation at home.

Children learn what they live. If parents are not prioritizing their faith, why would their children? If parents are not going to Mass weekly, why would their children? Yes, children rebel, but they often come back to what they know. So, if parents are practicing certain habits or living certain values, it’s more likely their children will fall back on what they’ve learned by watching them.

Even among those who are enrolled in the program, few attend Mass at all much less weekly. We are becoming the few, the faithful remnant.

A New Start

This year, I was offered the opportunity to restart the Children’s Liturgy program. I gladly took it up and insisted we go back to the Epiphany Pageant. By God’s grace, we managed to get enough children to pull it off. Our “nativity” side consisted of Mary, Joseph, the star, and an angel. No shepherds this year. We had barely enough older kids to play the speaking parts. Then the night before the play, we had a snowstorm.

Texts and emails came in asking if we were having the play. Guys, we live in New England. We got this. Mass is on. My boys and I came early and shoveled the walkway. I prayed as we waited for people to show.

Eventually, all but the girl playing the Chief Priest showed up. Thankfully, Fr. Chris gladly filled that small role and said her two lines. The congregation that morning was quite small, just the families of the children present and a couple of other parishioners. But. It. Happened.

The faithful remnant came. Those children have parents who bring them regularly. They will grow and remember these days. They are learning their faith, building habits, and growing in church culture. I pray this continues. I pray for more families to follow suit.

The Faithful Remnant

My son’s ninth-grade class has about 80 kids. My daughter’s tenth grade is slightly bigger. For reference, her class was the second-grade class eight years ago. Things have changed, but we must continue offering what we can. We must continue reaching out to families and encouraging the importance of faith formation both at home and in the church community.

The dwindling of CCD enrollment is just a symptom of a bigger problem but it is a sign we cannot ignore. As mental health issues rise and this world continues to turn upside down, we need to continue fostering God’s values, strengthen our faith, and persevere in our faith community.

As we continue to encourage Mass attendance and continue our children’s programs, we urge families to be more involved as well. For some parishes, a program like A Family of Faith by Sophia Institute might be a good option. It can be used independent of the parish or the parish can offer this as an alternative to CCD classes. This brings faith formation home by involving the whole family. When the whole family is involved, the growing child is more likely to remain close to his or her faith. And isn’t that the whole point of building the kingdom?

but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

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