How can the church better serve young adults?

Categories: Around the Diocese,DMD


Christina Capecchi, workshop presenter for upcoming Diocesan Ministry Day, August 31, 2015.

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated Catholic column “Twenty Something,” which appears in The Visitor and approximately 50 diocesan newspapers across the country. Capecchi holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University. She managed the CatholicMatch blog and currently edits, a national campaign to broaden awareness of Catholic sisters.

The Visitor recently interviewed Capecchi, who will present “Young Adults and the Church: What do they want? What do they need? How can we serve them better?” at Diocesan Ministry Day Aug. 31 in St. Cloud. The following is an edited version of the interview.

Q: What have you learned from your own experience as a young adult Catholic?

Capecchi: My 20s were a decade in which I really have been able to dig deeper and deeper into Catholicism and discover more of its beauty and depth. My faith was enhanced by a few things. For starters, when I went to a Catholic college, I fell into a group of friends who really valued their faith, and we were all attending Sunday night Mass together. At that early juncture, it’s easy to kind of walk away from your faith and I found a supportive group that shared it with me.

It’s just been continuing to both have my faith be a matter of head and heart, learning more about it and owning a catechism and flipping through it — being in awe that the Catholic Church stands for so much and can present it all bound between two hard covers. I’ve really enjoyed both the intellectual part of it, but also the emotional piece of it.

Many of the people I love and admire the most are Catholic. Both sides of my family are Catholic — I married into a Catholic farming family.
I never really had a period where I walked away from the faith. So, this whole matter of engaging young people is so important to me, and it’s personal. I’m keenly aware of what’s at stake. We have this record number of young people who are choosing not to affiliate or identify with any religion — I think it’s one in three. That’s staggering. I feel sad when I see so many young people who were raised Catholic letting it slip through their fingers.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the church in that regard?

Capecchi: The church has to make sure it’s actually reaching these young people and connecting with the people who aren’t in the pews. It’s about finding young people where they’re at, and today that does largely mean social media and doing it in a way that really rings true and is authentic. Unfortunately, so many twentysomethings just aren’t in the pews anymore, so to only look within the church space is just not working anymore.

Q: Why aren’t more young people in the pews?

Capecchi: A lot of young people, when I’m in conversations with them, justify their decision to not attend church, maybe of any denomination, because they say they’re striving for spirituality and not organized religion. That’s just a permission slip to step away from any religious practice. What’s interesting, though, is that I think young adults seek and crave community, and it’s a big loss that they’re missing this beautiful communal element [of the faith].

Also, there is a greater disparity between the church’s teaching on some issues — homosexuality, same-sex marriage, contraceptives — and what tends to be popular social thought right now. I think young people are really struggling with that.

Q: What else should we be doing?

Capecchi: We need to provide more entry points into the church or back into the church for young people. What I think would be powerful is to do more storytelling. I would love to hear the personal testimonies of people from various generations about why their Catholic faith matters to them — answering the simple question of: What role does your Catholic faith play in your life?

I love hearing how people answer that — like how does this police officer go about his job or how does this stay-at-home mom of four make it all work? If they can answer that and explain that their Catholic faith makes a real difference in their day-to-day life, I’m listening. They’ve got my attention.
There’s this idea that the church is supposed to be cool and hip and all the other denominations, the mega churches, do that a lot better. They have latte machines in the back of the church and they have rock bands. I don’t think the church has to try to be that. I don’t think young people are seeking that. There is some benefit to that in the sense of community it builds, but the church can present itself in simple terms, through storytelling and other authentic ways.

Also, right now there’s a movement, certainly among my friends and peers, and maybe this leans more towards women, but an appreciation for the vintage — an appreciation for history. That’s something the Catholic Church has going for it. I think maybe we think we have to just go with being new, but really the fact that we’re old is attractive. We’re the original, the first Christian faith.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

Capecchi: It may seem to many like it’s doom-and-gloom time for the church when it comes to young people, but I think there are a lot of signs of hope, too. My talk hopefully can highlight some success stories. Wherever there’s crisis there’s opportunity, and one big opportunity for the church right now is Pope Francis. I’ve read data about how popular he is with young people, including young non-Catholics. He’s really made it an exciting time to be Catholic, and he is a great leader for our church right now — especially with the play he gets on social media. … It’s a huge opportunity.

Register online

Online registration is now open for Diocesan Ministry Day Aug. 31 at River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Visit
The fee is $60 before Aug. 21 and includes admission to the keynote address by Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, breakout sessions and exhibits as well as a continental breakfast and lunch.

The event, with its theme “Voice of Hope,” includes a slate of speakers of national and international distinction as well as Mass with Bishop Donald Kettler.