In the Diocese of Portsmouth, the general population is 3.1M, of whom perhaps 8% are baptised Catholics: 248,000. 35,500 practice. In other words, the practice rate is 14%. There are huge numbers of ‘inactive’ Catholics. In the Diocese, the practice rate has been plummeting. Over the last 25 years, attendance at Sunday Mass has gone down from 54,500 to 35,500.
In 2014, in the Diocese of Portsmouth, there were 320 baptisms and receptions: miniscule in view of the 3.1M population?
These bare statistics can mask the magnitude of the challenge. In Portsmouth over the last 25 years, especially its urban centres, there has been a massive influx of immigrant Catholic groups such as Filipinos, Keralans, Poles which suggests that much of the former Anglo-Irish constituency has evaporated.
First, understanding: we need an in-depth understanding of the inner mind of the nonchurchgoing and the unchurched, and the categories and demographics of this: the
types of people, the reasons they reject religion, the causes of lapsation, the questions raised, and the factors that result in unbelief.
Secondly, personal contact: evangelisation occurs mainly through friendship and personal contact. In the Early Church, the Faith spread one-to-one through personal contact, business links, family and friends, acquaintances and chance meetings, a classic example being Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8.
Thirdly, visibility: making the Faith more visible: a Rosary in the car, a holy picture on the wall, wearing a crucifix, making the Sign of the Cross before eating, or when passing a church, or upon seeing a hearse. Again, in conversation to say: ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Please God’ or ‘I’ll say a prayer for you.’ Digital media are important. The Catholic Tradition is a deep tool-box from which can be drawn things old andnew: signs and symbols, Gregorian chant, the saints, icons, new media and 21C artistic commissions. We also need to identify the local areopagi: schools and colleges; sporting venues; shopping malls; libraries; housing developments; transport nodes; hotels and conference centres; business and industrial complexes.
Fourthly, forming intentional disciples: helping the Catholic faithful to be more missionary by deepening their sense of discipleship and vocation. This is about transforming the ‘service mentality’ – the parish and its clergy are here to serve me and my needs – into an outward-focused evangelistic mentality. This is a stubborn and difficult attitudinal shift to bring about. Many parishes are static, the same old faces, with little sense of outreach. Where are the new faces? Why not ask people to bring a friend with them to Mass?
And finally, encouraging parishes and Catholic schools to undertake simple, do-able mission-projects. Each school and each parish could set up an Evangelisation Strategy Team. Doing a Catholic form of street witness – a procession, music, leafleting
shops, praying the Rosary – after appropriate formation and training, is a powerful
mission-project that can with prayer produce fruits. Even the basic matter of keeping
the church open for prayers and visits is a hugely evangelistic activity. Another is
making the church building tidy, comfortable, welcoming and easy to use, with a good
presence on the internet and in social media.