From an outside perspective, it seems that the Catholic Church is in a permanent state of emergency. Just when one scandal fades, another rears its embarrassing head. Pope Benedict is alternatively reviled and demonized. People of other faiths—and Catholics themselves—aren’t being taught the fullness of the Catholic doctrine. In the midst of all the bad press, the Catholic Church has seen a steady, precipitous decline in attendance. The aggregate number of American Catholics is staying level only on account of a rapid influx of Hispanic immigrants, who are incrementally shifting the Church’s teaching in a more Pentecostal direction. In other words, Catholicism is in the midst of institutional and identity crises.
William J. Byron, writing for America, a nationally-distributed weekly magazine for Catholics, puts it a little more bluntly: “The church in America must face the fact that it has failed to communicate the Good News cheerfully and effectively to a population adrift on a sea of materialism and under constant attack from the forces of secularism, not to mention the diabolical powers that are at work in our world.”
But Byron isn’t just haranguing the choir. He sees a solution for the Church’s dwindling attendance in the bureaucratic practices of corporations and human resources offices across the business world. “An exit interview, if used creatively,” writes Byron,
could help church leaders discover ways of welcoming back those who have left, even as it helps leaders find ways to strengthen the current worshipping community. This interview could also help identify what else might need to be taught to those called to positions of parish leadership. The church would have nothing to lose by initiating exit interviews.
So what would you ask a disillusioned churchgoer? Byron brainstormed a few questions, and mentioned that the questionnaire would be fluid to meet specific problems within any given parish. Here are a few potential queries for sheep leaving the flock.
- Why have you stopped attending Sunday Mass regularly?
- Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?
- Are there any doctrinal issues that trouble you?
- Are you in a mixed-religion marriage?
- Did you ever really consider yourself to be a member of a parish community?
Exit interviews, he argues, would be less Spanish Inquisition and more proactive listening.