Training Conversationalists

Earlier this week, we looked at the importance of building relationships through the process of registration or joining a local churchRelationships bring people back. Relationships are a part of belonging, of growth, and more!

How Can We Train People To Have Fruitful Conversations?

Do we simply hand them a paper form and say, “help someone fill this out?” Absolutely not!

Remember, It’s Pre-Evangelization

The conversation is an exercise in what the Church calls pre-evangelization, not predominantly focused on proclaiming the Gospel and offering a chance for life transforming response, but instead connecting with or awakening the desires and values of those we meet with what we embody as Christians (General Directory for Catechesis§47-48). Sherry Weddell’s maxim, “never accept a label in place of a story” certainly implies. Simply because the person identifies as Catholic is no guarantee that pre-evangelization isn’t important or necessary.

Pre-evangeliztion matters because it creates the conditions for a relationship of trust, it inspires interest–and without trust and interest–the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a lot less likely to be responded to. While it’s incredibly tempting for us to want to enthusiastically proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ to a person as soon as we get a chance to 😀 we may be creating stumbling blocks to a response by offering something so profound before we’ve even built the smallest amount of trust with a person. Think of Sherry Weddell‘s “5 thresholds of conversion” (pictured below). Making the pitch for an intentional life as a disciple of Jesus Christ before having a firm establishment of trust, curiosity, openness, and active seeking or interest is trying to work around our human nature!

full presentation here

If a conversation that starts as pre-evangelization turns into a place where a person can make a life changing decision to follow Jesus Christ and pray for forgiveness and a new life in the Spirit, then praise the Lord! God can do marvelous things, inspite of all our human weaknesses. However, I’d strongly caution against fostering the idea that this is the immediate goal/purpose of a registration conversation, because it may tempt those trained to think of that rather than building trust and curiosity as their specific ministry.

Conversations that Build Trust and Curiosity

The best way to train staff and volunteers for this “joining” ministry is role-playing. Many of us loathe it–but the reason we secretly dislike it 😉 is because it’s hard. We have to think on our feet, rather than passively listen to a “how to” talk. It’s the most valuable training for precisely that reason–it helps us become comfortable and confident in this ministry role.

There’s no silver bullet list of questions or order of discussion a conversation with a person joining a parish must follow, what I offer below are a series of conversation starters with a say and a listen for component.

Say: Each conversation starter includes a “say,” often in the form of a question to ask. Within these, various linguistic options are suggested in [brackets].

Listen For: Some tips on what to be listening for to guide the conversation further or complete a form to join the parish.



Basic Introductions

Say: Welcome! My name’s ____________, I’m so glad you’re interested in learning more about joining All Saints Catholic Parish.


Listen For: Tone. Do they seem comfortable already? Nervous talking to someone at a church? Ready to get this over with? Critical about “why can’t I just fill out a form and be done with this?”….

Say: Thanks for taking the time to come and register, what brings you to All Saints? [How’d you find us, get interested in our parish, etc.?]

Listen For: Their answer to this is key data collection (on your part) for whoever leads Engagement, Marketing, or Outreach at your parish.

Moving Deeper

Through your basic introductions, hopefully you’ve come to know something about each other–where you live, occupations, interests, etc. These are some follow-ups that help take “basic information” to the level of “interesting conversation I don’t normally get to have” (aka, I’m enjoying this!)



  • Wow, with those moves and different jobs, what’s the greatest lesson you feel you’ve learned so far in your life’s journey?
  • Oh interesting, I do [or don’t] meet many [insert occupation]. What do you like most about what you do? or What motivated you to pursue that path?
  • With those different [hobbies, spiritual journeys, homes, etc.] what experiences have shaped your worldview the most?
  • It’s definitely a busy stage of life [raising kids, getting ready for retirement, navigating care for aging parents, starting off new, etc.]…what are you passionate about in this season of life?
  • What makes you [and/or your family, spouse, etc.] happy?
  • With those [work/hobbies], what kind of people do you look up to? What attributes in people are most important for you?
  • [For someone who is giving verbal or non-verbal signals that they don’t like this “registration conversation” concept, maybe some humor…] so, I figure sitting down to have to talk to someone about registering at a church might be the most boring part of your week…but, what’s been the best part of this past week for you?

Listen For / Do: 

  • Ways to “push their ideas a step further. Ask why and how more than what and when” (from Science of People)
  • Opportunities to make them feel important, to feel that their opinions/interests, matter

Getting the Mundane Details

Say: We’re so happy to have new folks like your family joining All Saints, would you mind if I jotted down some info from you so that we can make sure you start getting parish newsletters, emails about events, and things?

Listen For: Answers to basic info you might need: full mailing address, phone number, email address, children’s grades/ages. Through your conversation you should already know what town/city they live in, occupation, religion (likely to come out in the “what brings you to All Saints…” question). If not, feel free to ask at this point, as you’ve built a human relationship first, and are only now collecting that “important to write down” type of detailed information.

Background Prep: Before training your team, think through what information you truly need at this step.  Make it as short as possible. In a world of information “over-collection,” you can show trust by not turning registration into an interrogation of all personal information a family might possibly have! 😉 For example, you need the information to stay in communication with the person/family, and to know other people in the household who might not be at this conversation. A parish likely doesn’t truly need to know dates of children’s baptisms, emergency medical info, etc. This can all come later, through growing relationships with youth catechetical leaders, etc.

The Turn to the Spiritual Life

Say: There’s such a wide range of people here at All Saints Parish and so many opportunities. We really learn from each other as we seek God. [Insert cultural statements appropriate to your parish of course!] Would you be willing to…

  • describe/share [or: tell me the story of] your lived relationship with God [or: connection with God, connection with Jesus] up to this point in your life?
  • share a little of yourself, do you pray? do you find it a struggle? how do you like to pray?
  • share some of the ways your faith causes you to change how to live your life? or things in your faith that seem like a struggle?

Listen For:

  • What the person believes about God and the possibility of a relationship with God (i.e. God is impersonal force, a person they do connect with)
  • Additional religious affiliation (not already stated etc.)
  • What bridges of trust or curiosity they have to Catholicism/Christianity
  • if they’re comfortable using the name, “Jesus”

Follow Up Ideas to Go Deeper:

Choosing depends on the listening throughout the conversation, remember not to make a huge or uncomfortable “jump” into the deep end of a pool a person hasn’t even mentioned swimming in 🙂 Just take a little step down the ramp in the shallow end…

  • For you what’s the most important thing about Jesus?
  • Have you had any kind of moment when you felt particularly close to Jesus? If so, can you tell me about it? If not, have you ever wanted to?
  • What do you mean by describing yourself as ______________?
  • How do you describe God to others [or your kids]?
  • What does it mean to be Catholic in your experience?

Remember, during this conversation you’re not correcting, catechizing, or judging–you’re helping spur the person to talk and share as much as possible so that you can listen. This takes a tremendous trust in the Holy Spirit, that by experiencing genuine love and listening, this person will open up and continue to come back. 

Affirmation and Closing

Say: Pour on the praise and affirmation for what the person shared with you, taking the time to have this conversation. Share how you’ve been enriched by hearing their perspective, how they have real spiritual insights, how you found their life story interesting.

–> If the person showed genuine interest, i.e. “what do you mean personal relationship with Jesus, isn’t that for Protestants?” that’s an opportunity to take it another step further and share the Gospel with them and offer a concrete way to respond in prayer.

In Closing Offer: Is there any way I can pray for you, or even with you right now? Or anything I can help you with? Would you want to get together again, we could…or  I just look forward to seeing you around the parish in the future! [If you parish has cards with social media outlets, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, or any other “reminders” for new members, this is a great time to give it.]


Silver Bullet? No

This is certainly not the best training outline, nor suited for every parish. However, I offer it as a starting point–it’s a great draft to begin role-playing, to begin training staff/volunteers to have “registration conversations” with people, rather than hand out or email a form that gets returned without personal contact. I recommend staff/volunteers also familiarize themselves with “threshold conversations” (Weddell) and giving their own personal testimony, as those would be likely follow-ups for a person who shows great interest and openness to hearing about what God is ready to offer them, right in this moment.



Parish Registration That’s a Conversation

Let’s face it–joining or registering at a Catholic parish can be one of the most non-relational experiences a person can have. What does it typically entail? A form to collect information. Reading or being told of “policies.” Being asked personal information, i.e. the dates of a child’s first Eucharist, something that might feel a bit like “judging” if one is unfamiliar with the terms of didn’t do it at the “right time.”

The “Problems” of Registration for Catholics

Many Americans who self-identify as Catholic carry baggage related to parish registration. That relative they remember who couldn’t get married at a certain parish because they weren’t registered. Not being able to join a youth sports team because of being registered in a different parish. Calling to request Anointing of the Sick for an aging relative and being told they cannot receive it because they are not registered or in “good standing.” The litany of ways people have taken offense during the process of “registration” is long, complex, and an exercise in empathy to hear! Now, as many familiar with the Code of Canon Law or liturgical books know, many of the situations I mentioned are filled with error/miscommunication. Yet, that factual reality does not change the actually experience of offense taken by that person who (without the benefit of an understanding of Canon Law or liturgical rites) felt excluded or unhelped in a time of need.

The “Problems” of Joining a Parish for Non-Catholics

For non-Catholics, whether they be seekers, “nones,” or our separated brothers and sisters, the experience of registering in a parish can be even more confusing. As an “outsider” to some of our unique language, what does “registering” even mean?

  • Is it like a mini-application? Will I get in?!? What if I’m a single parent? Will my kids get in if they’re not baptized yet? If I check a box that they have special needs?
  • What do you mean I’m not “registered”? I’ve been coming here for years and get email newsletters from the parish all the time?
  • I’ve been told only Catholics can register. So, I basically don’t really belong at this parish.

The Root Problem is That It’s Non-Relational

In any situation, the real problem is when parish registration is a non-relational experience, which I’ll define as an experience that does not form a personal connection between the person registering and a person in the parish. A kind secretary who “helps” someone fill out a form can be slightly more relational 🙂 [shout out to all of the amazing administrative personnel in parishes who are gifted enough to show love amidst ringing phones, fixing copy machines, and helping a young parent with a crying infant fill out a registration form!] however, these situations aren’t ideal for a conversation that allows a person to experience being known in a way our society doesn’t typically make space for. A conversation where a person experiences being welcomed unconditionally and listened to for the unique story and beauty they bring to the world!

From Here to There: Introducing Conversation to Your Parish Registration Process

  1. Identify people (clergy or lay, staff or volunteer, etc.) to be part of this conversation ministry. Organizationally, this might fall under the guidance of a parish Director of Evangelization, Director of Engagement, or a Welcome/Hospitality Committee.
  2. Train the leaders.
  3. Have the trained leaders then start to slowly expand the pool. Emphasis on slowly because you’ll need to tailor conversation guides/ideas for your unique local setting! By doing this first, your leaders will improve the concept as they do it, and then pass that on to others. This needs to be done well before it’s done “big” because of what a critical moment this conversation is for welcome, hospitality, and evangelization for those checking out your parish. [For those keeping track, 😉 you’d be doing what’s called “lean experimentation” with this style of growth/learning.]
  4. Decide the when/where. Be expansive. Remember, people work all sorts of hours, may not live close to your parish, etc. The advantage of having both staff and volunteers trained, is that staff can cover meeting with people for whom typical “office” hours and the parish office are convenient, and volunteers can cover evenings, weekends, off-campus meeting spots like libraries or cafes near their homes.
  5. Publicize to your parish! Parishioners are on the “front lines” of helping people move from “maybe I want to join St. Mary’s…” to making it happen. Parishioners are always hoping a friend or family member decides to give their beloved parish a try! When that person says to them, “our family wants to join St. Mary’s,” you want to empower your parishioners to have a ready and joyful answer (i.e. who to call or email) rather than a nervous “um, I think there’s a form” or worse, “no, just keep coming, no need to register” [because they want to shield others from their own negative experience registering!]  
  6. Once you know it’s functional [enough!] remove the printed registration forms from your welcome brochure racks, front office, website, anywhere they exist.
  7. As you’ve raised the level of engagement necessary to register, make sure there’s a low-risk/low-engagement way interested people can be in the communications loop at your parish. This might mean an online sign up for an electronic newsletter, a way anyone can join a parish smartphone app, etc. As Carey Nieuwhof writes, “the online world is the biggest front door the church has ever seen, suddenly we’re all connected.” Translate this for your local setting, even if online communications aren’t the “biggest front door” for your church, what is? The sign out front? Your bulletin? etc. Whatever it is, make sure that door to communications stays wide open for those who want to get in touch for months, years, or even decades, before they take the step to engage more and join/register.
  8. Continue to assess and improve this essential pre-evangelistic and evangelistic ministry, and how it flows into follow-up moments for connection.

Optional: Caveat on Canon Law and Parish “Registration”

Parish registration is such a commonly used term in the United States, it’s easy to think that it’s part of Church teaching–something that makes Catholics, Catholic. But it’s not.

The Church teaches that a parish includes all Catholics living within a certain defined geographic area [note: in some cases, non-geographic parishes exist] (Code of Canon LawCan. 518). By living in that defined geographic area, a Catholic officially belongs to the respective parish–no form, online registration, live here six months and start tithing, etc. as necessary to canonically be a part of that parish. [For more background, see the “Canon Law Made Easy” blog.]

I would love for someone to do a historical study on the rise and history of “registration” in parishes in the United States, as it’s a cultural custom that has become widespread and oft-appealed to here, in contrast to other parts of the world. My layperson’s hypotheses is that it has something to do with our  culture of registration and membership in societies/organizations in the U.S. in general and general cultural tendencies toward “order”  (i.e. compare a communion “line” in the U.S. to places where it’s a free-for-all mass movement to the front of a church to receive the Eucharist).

Depending on your local setting, it might make more sense to avoid using the word “registration” and talk about joining, connecting to, becoming a part of, or being a member at such-and-such parish–especially if you have a large number of non-Catholics who (when it comes to Canon Law) are simply “outside” of a canonical definition of “parish.” In order to have an accurate understanding of people in your parish who are under Canon Law and those who are not, you may need to add this in your parish database, or simply understand this difference by noting a person’s religion (i.e. Catholics would be Canonical members of the parish, non-Catholics are not). But 🙂 this isn’t a big deal, because of course you’d want to know those who’ve reached out and connected to you who are not Catholic! A wonderful blessing of those who already have trust and curiosity in knowing and worshiping the Lord with us!

Everything I’ve suggested above with regards to making the process of joining/registering in a parish more relational, does not in anyway suggest or intend to change our Canonical definition of a “parish.” Being more relational is about taking an American custom of “registering” via forms and allowing it to be filled with a spirit of pre-evangelization and evangelization, so that people experience authentic love and human connection when they reach out to us.

Registration is like a front door. How warm and welcoming is yours?

Front DoorImage: “Front Door” via LuxuryLuke (Flickr)

A Glimpse of Parish Life as a “None” Parent via”Losing Our Religion”

9781479883202_fullFor the past week, we’ve been diving into key points and applications from Christel Manning’s “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”. In closing, I’m sharing her own personal experience encountering a Catholic parish as a “None” parent. I’m thankful to Manning for incorporating her own personal experiences into her valuable work of sociology.

Manning, like many other parents who identify as “None,” experienced new questions during the “early childhood” stage of her daughter, Sheila. Embodying the diversity of her framework for understanding the beliefs of Nones and range of options to offer worldview formation for their children, Manning took up the recommendation of a Catholic friend, and enrolled her daughter in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at her local parish. Here’s her reflection:

The teacher leading the program was a lovely woman, gentle and non-dogmatic and so good with kids. My husband was initially opposed to any kind of church-based education, but I convinced him to give it a try…I enrolled Sheila for the first year. She loved it…When we went to England for Christmas, my husband’s family was duly impressed with Sheila’s knowledge of religion…At the end of the school year, however, the doctrinal basis of the program became more clear. The first year curriculum, geared to very young children, was centered on the idea that God is a good shepherd who will take care of you–a fairly generic concept that I could accept. By contrast, the second-year curriculum involved teaching children the Catholic creed and preparing them for first communion. I did not feel comfortable with that. Parents were encouraged to attend church with their children, and in talking to other parents I realized that everybody else was actually doing that. I felt like a fraud. So the next Sunday, I went to mass and I took Sheila with me…There were rousing hymns singing glory to God, prayers, a reading from the Bible, a homily on a topic I cannot remember people lined up to receive communion. The hymns struck me as militaristic, the Bible reading felt irrelevant to my life,and the prayers reminded me that I do not believe in God. Sheila was bored and fidgety. I was bored and alienated. It was clear this was not the right path for us. I was disappointed, but also relieved. (192)

Take Aways

  1. What appealed to Manning?
    • the recommendation of her Catholic friend, who did not hesitate to share an experience that was positive for her child with her “None” friend —> personal endorsement/invitation is the most powerful marketing
    • about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? We see it in her own layperson’s description, “a Montessori-based two-year program for preschoolers and kindergarten age children that allows children to choose from various religion-themed play activities rather than imposing a unified curriculum on them” (192). While this is incomplete in a technical sense (i.e. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is in Catholic language a “systematic” catechesis and stretches to age 12) it reveals what resonated with a “None” parent —> our marketing “key words” for outsiders do not need to be what’s most theologically important to us “church folks”
    • the Level 1 (ages 3-6) emphasis that “God is a good shepherd who will take care of you” was experienced by Manning as pre-evangelistic, it connected to her existing values –> the Church’s teaching on the role of pre-evangelization should not be overlooked 🙂
  2. As described in her research, it was her interest that convinced her husband to allow the “testing the water” in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. After the child’s interests/needs, spouses exert the second most powerful “push” to explore religious worldviews. And it’s usually the woman. –> #MarketToMoms #ConnectWithMoms

  3. Those familiar with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) will notice that Manning’s perceptive description isn’t quite accurate, i.e. our “insider” understanding of different “Levels” each spanning approximately three years is not clear to her. And this isn’t her fault, she’s not trying to be a catechetical expert (and yes, the parish mentioned runs typical Level 1 and 2 CGS programs). This impacts her expectations and understanding. –> When describing catechetical programs to parents, let’s remember that they don’t have the time to research or prepare to be familiar with our “insider” language.

  4. Manning takes her daughter to Mass. (!!!) Did you catch that? How blessed are we to receive such seekers in our midst! Remember, Manning is a “None,” her husband initially opposed the idea of having their daughter attend Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Manning herself already feels “uncomfortable,” and yet, she still goes. This is a huge leap on her part. –> Our attitude toward seekers should respect and honor the risks they’ve already taken to encounter us on “our turf,” rather than veil a disdainful or critical, “where have you been all these years?” We rejoice (note Jesus’ 3 parables in Lk 15) that the Holy Spirit has led them this far.
  5. Manning finds the Eucharistic homily at Mass to be forgettable. –> #AlwaysBeEvangelizing. While Mass isn’t “for” seekers, seekers are present. Preaching matters–it’s worth spending the time, bringing in the team, and preparing for the sake of those who might only be giving Mass one try.

  6. The music and lectors didn’t captivate Manning either –> Movements like Amazing ParishRebuilt, and Divine Renovation all emphasize the importance of the “Sunday Experience.” They’re right. (Other evidence supports this too).
  7. Manning’s daughter was bored and fidgety. –> While liturgically oriented Catholics may love having their young children with them at Mass, it’s unlikely a seeker or “None” will find that experience life-giving. We shouldn’t force them to by failing to care enough to offer a memorable and engaging experience for their children. It was Sheila who indirectly “brought” her mother to Mass this time–imagine if Sheila had spent the car-ride home telling her mom about the kids she met, how much she loved the singing, how fun it was–many parents would come back a second time (or more!) simply because their child had a great experience. That’s how us parents work 🙂

Again, I’m grateful to Christel Manning for sharing so personally in the conclusion of her book. Rarely do we get such a detailed description of how a “None” parent/child can go from non-attending, to catechesis, and even make it to Mass. 

Having concluded this series on Losing Our Religion, what new thoughts are you thinking about “Nones” as parents?


“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #5, Nobody Likes a Seemingly “Forced” Religious Identity

9781479883202_fullParents who identify as “None” worry about their kids just as much as religious folks.

Key Point #5: “None” Parents Worry. But Nobody Likes a Forced Identity

As Christel Manning observes in,  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”:

“Unchurched Believer* parents often worried when their children showed no interest in religion.” (164)

At the same time:

“Another parent, a Philosophical Secularist whose teenagers had become born-again Christians, worried about their future while trying hard to remain true to his commitment world view choice. The hardest thing as a parent was, as he remarked, ‘not to criticize them when they became Christian.’ Instead, he hoped ‘the children will find their way back [to something closer to the parent’s worldview] when they go off to college.” (164)

Parenting is not for the feign of heart! Regardless of whether or not a parent identifies with a religion, parents worry about what worldviews their children absorb and identify with.

None parents especially value what sociologists call an “achieved identity”–meaning a person’s act of choosing beliefs/worldview–rather than an “ascribed identity” where a worldview is embodied simply because someone was raised that way (58).

*Note: for descriptions of Unchurched Believer Nones, Philosophical Secularist Nones, and more check out my series on “Losing Our Religion”  here.

Ministry Applications

What’s the “so what” for us?

  • We can think of ourselves as partners with None parents, even if we do not share the same beliefs. The None parent who laments their child’s lack of interest in religion is someone we can empathize with, without an attitude of, “well, what did you expect?!? not having faith yourself!” Likewise, the Secularist parent who is shocked that their teen is attending parish LifeTeen with friends can still be invited to be part of the community in a way that doesn’t force belief (i.e. invitations to potlucks, etc.)–this shows love. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care for them and their child, regardless of beliefs.
  • None parents value the idea of choice (“achieved identity” not “ascribed identity”). Offering opportunities to explore the rationality of Christian belief resonate with those seeking to make an “informed” decision.
  • That our contemporary culture places a positive value on “achieved identity” isn’t a bad thing! It’s the cultural context that allows non-Catholics to perceive a freedom to come explore Catholic Christianity. Historically, the normative experience of Christians in the early Church was indeed a “believer’s” baptism and profession of faith. It was a choice during the centuries when the # of “born Christians” was fewer than the number of “convert Christians.” We need not fear elements from our Tradition that emphasize this.
  • Given this cultural context, it’s important that we emphasize opportunities for those who were “raised in the faith” (aka “ascribed identity”) to also experience “achieved identity” without “switching” to a new religion. Talking about Baptism in the Holy Spirit, deliberately preparing for and reflecting on the meaning of renewing one’s baptismal vows at Easter, and more from our Catholic faith are ready-made for this! 🙂
  • We can also explore how to avoid giving children, teens, or parents the perceptive experience having been “forced” into an initiation sacrament–something that would “feel” like “ascribed identity.” Catechesis of the Good Shepherd models this with regards to a child receiving Eucharist, explaining, “at the annual announcement of the celebration of first communion, the children respond according to the desire for the sacrament and their personal maturity, which is discerned with the help of the family, the catechists and the priest.” With regards to Confirmation, check out these reflections from Fr. Gareth Leyshon of St. Philip Evans,  Chris Wesley of St. Joseph Parish & Marathon Youth Ministry, and Fr. Peter Dugandzic of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Interestingly, our Tradition does not mandate a precise age for sacraments of initiation, instead offering guidepost-based ranges and language that include parental insight into discernment, for example:
    • on Confirmation, the Code of Canon Law (CIC) states, “Parents and pastors of souls…are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time” (can. 890)
    • on Reconciliation and Eucharist, the CIC explains, “It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible” (can. 914)

Feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications of Manning’s book in the Comment box. 



“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #4, None Doesn’t Mean Nothing [When It Comes to Worldview Formation]

9781479883202_fullKnowing that Nones are the fastest growing “religious group” in the United States, it’s natural to wonder–so what exactly do “Nones” teach their children when it comes to religion or other worldview questions?

Christel Manning’s  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children” offers new insight into the diversity within this growing population of parents in the U.S. (If interested, check out other key takeaways from her book here).

Key Point #4: How Nones Form Their Children’s Worldviews

When it Comes to Worldview, What Do Nones Do To Raise Their Children? (Table 5.1)

Characteristics (across)

Options for Incorporating Worldview into Upbringing of Child (below)

Intentionally incorporate worldview into home life Enroll child in institution that transmits worldview Change in parent affiliation
conventional Yes (Judaism, Christianity) Yes (CCD, Sunday School, Hebrew School, etc.) From None to Christian or Jewish denomination
alternative Yes (secular philosophy or seeker spirituality) Yes (plural worldview education) Yes (from None to UU or AHA)
self-provider Yes No No
outsourcing No Yes (CCD, Sunday school, Hebrew School) No
non-provider No No No

What we see in the chart is that Manning identified five general “types” of how None parents seek to transmit worldviews to their children–conventional, alternative, self-provider, outsourcing, non-provider.  She concludes:

There is more variety in how Nones raise their children than existing research would imply. It is not just a choice between doing nothing and going back to church (136).

And on top of this, contemporary American religious life has a general “fluidity,” so Nones (like all Americans) are likely to shift between methods (whether deliberately or not). 

Ministry Applications

What to think?

  • Manning suggests, “These five options for incorporating worldviews into the upbringing of a child could, theoretically, be applied to churched parents as well” (p. 186) –> Yes! In Children’s Ministries we can grow in awareness that even our faithful churched parents have different methods for sharing the faith at home. Since in Catholic teachings the parent is the primary catechist, how we in ministry empower and support parents is critical.
  • Many Nones take a “conventional” approach, which means they come to church programs and often even change their affiliation as a result, this is a significant opportunity!
  • “Outsourcing” parents represent a more challenging opportunity–the kids are at church, but nothing at home. Capturing the interest of these parents is likely the special task for our discernment and on-going consideration. It’s not easy in a busy world, but there’s a point of trust with their child to build on.
  • There’s a place for marketing children’s ministry outside of parish communities. None parents are clearly in the marketplace for “institutions” and organizations to offer formation for their children. They might select your program for completely non-religious reasons (i.e. the environment is engaging, the schedule works, etc.) — this is an opportunity for outreach.

As always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box. 



“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #3, Your Local Mission Field Matters


How Nones perceive your church and ministry varies tremendously depending on your location. Understanding that perception–what it’s like to be an Unaffiliated person in your community–increases our ability to empathize and connect with Nones.

In  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children”, Christel Manning’s interviews with parents who identify as “None” reveal distinct differences between how these parents perceive religious people and communities depending on the local/regional culture.

Key Point #3: Knowing Your Local Mission Field Matters

Here’s what Manning observed, None parents in two cities with high religious affiliation rates, Colorado Springs and Jacksonville:

believe that the majority of people in their communities disapprove of having no religion….[while] I found no evidence of Nones being persecuted or discriminated against…these narratives must stand as expressions of subjective parent experience…Nones in these cities expressed a sense of being embattled (80-81). 

On the flip side, in New England:

The presumed privacy of religion had a clear impact on how parents think about its role in the lives of their children….[Nones] tended to see local churches and synagogues as benign, a kind of useful resource that you can draw on when you need it (i.e. Jewish Community Center day care, the Catholic high school with a great hockey team)…religion or secularity for New England parents was not a source of cultural embattlement and social tension (87).

Ministry Applications

What to make of these differences?

  • Never discount the perceptive reality of others, especially outsiders. While it might not be accurate (Manning noted there was no actual discrimination in the cities of high religious affiliation), the accuracy isn’t the central point. A perceptive/experience is not to be debated. “Perception becomes reality” as the conventional wisdom goes.
  • It’s our job to be more accommodating and loving of those who are wounded, or perceive being isolated or not belonging in a religious community. In a community setting where a None family might feel “embattled,” this unconditional love is greatly needed. We can surprise them with acceptance, non-judgemental friendship, listening, and openess.
  • In a community where religious “privacy” is the norm, churches and ministries can expect None families to show up at programs/events that seem “benign” to them–this is an opportunity to be ready for.
  • There aren’t going to be in-depth studies on every region and sub-region in the U.S., so as churches it’s up to us to do some reconnaissance, do scouting, do focus groups, get out of our “comfortable” circles to listen/learn what the None experience is like and what perceptions they may have of religious organizations.

Stay tuned in the coming days for more key points and applications from this study! And, as always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box. 



“Losing Our Religion” — Key Point #2, We Don’t Know If Parents Are Coming Back

9781479883202_full“They’ll come back to church…once they marry and have kids…”

How often have you heard that assertion? Is it true? Is it an assumption? Wishful thinking?

Christel Manning’s book  “Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children” offers some evidence-based insight into this perplexing, and important, question for ministry leaders (as well as other useful research, check out my series on book and other sociology and demographic data here).

Key Point #2: We Don’t Really Know if Marriage and Family Brings Nones Back to Church

Some background: 

Prior to the recent statistical increase in Nones, there was indeed “a life cycle pattern in religious affiliation,” where young adults disaffiliated and then re-affiliated once they married and had children. Those who re-affiliated, typically returned to the religion of their childhood or their spouses’–this was especially true for Baby Boomers (p. 34). Also, the female spouse’s religion tends to be more likely for re-affiliation.

It’s probably not a sound conclusion to assume that this will continue with younger generations because “the societal pressures that may have pushed previous generations of None parents back to religion are less powerful today” (57). What we see already is that “though it’s true that Nones are more likely to be single and childless than religious Americans, that difference is largely because they are younger” overall. When controlling for age, it turns out to be a relatively small difference between the religiously affiliated or unaffiliated based on parenthood/marriage (57). Marriage and family life doesn’t seem to cause a significant increase in religious affiliation.

Okay, so what is it about marriage and/or starting a family that might cause Nones to re-affiliate with a religion? Some theories (that likely interact/overlap)(p. 55-56): 

  • the new spouse (especially the female) influences the other
  • a desire to do so “for the sake of their children,” i.e. an interest in life cycle rituals, positive emotional ties to one’s own childhood religion, and/or a marker or preservation of ethnic/cultural identity
  • desire for community

Manning’s research revealed that “there is something about having a family that raises questions about religion identity and commitment for people” (58). However, these questions don’t automatically lead back to religion (seeking answers to the questions raised by marriage and family can also lead someone from an Unchurched Believer to Indifferent, etc.). As a parent of young children (as Manning is as well) this rings true. The questions of children force adults to grapple with their core beliefs. As Manning explains it, children’s questions and/or existence in a family structure often lead to:

  • open articulation of worldview identity as parents interact with others in the family
  • a new articulation of boundaries and/or the importance of their worldviews in their lives

She explains:

The most powerful relationship to shape a parent’s religious or secular identity may be with the child…thinking about and interacting with their young children compelled None parents to consciously confront and continuously reevaluate their worldview ways in ways that are different from those induced by interactions with their partners and extended families…because a None’s worldview can be transmitted to another, [who is “unformed”], it suddenly matters (69)


This makes sense. For me, just thinking deeply about the prospect of raising children in my mid 20s compelled me to discern moving from identifying as “Christian” to the truth of particular traditions–reaching a “room” from in the “great hallway” of Christianity, as C.S. Lewis imagined it.

Ministry Applications

For those in ministry, Manning’s research on this pressing question reminds us:

  • Avoid making decisions as if history is normative or determinative, just because Baby Boomers “came back” doesn’t mean that holds true for others–>awareness of current trends is necessary for informed decision-making and expectations
  • Not to assume or take for granted that GenX and Millennial parents will return to a church of previous affiliation once they marry and/or have children
  • See the opportunity in the “baby” years of 0-3, when many children’s ministries do not yet “offer” anything specific for children, but when parents may be starting to ask those big questions about life, the universe, and religion/spirituality. These can be socially isolating years for new parents, so there’s a significant and meaningful opportunity here to offer a supportive spiritual community for Nones at this time (and, believer-parents as well!)
  • Follow-up to the sacraments of baptism and marriage may be even more important than the preparation for these sacraments (which typically receive more resources in parish life) when it comes to helping parents explore those big questions of life, especially for Nones

Stay tuned in the coming days for more key points and applications from this study! And, as always, feel free to offer your own insights, observations, and applications in the Comment box.