First the good news: According to a study released by the Pew Research Center in America, there are more people attending Masses online than those who surf for sites devoted to gambling, banking, and trading in the stock market.
This indicates that many people today use information technologies to serve their religious needs and express their sense of belonging to a worshipping and loving community. They witness to the fact that, as Christians, we are not supposed to have a “lone ranger spirituality,” working out our salvation according to our own terms.
The prevalent use of online resources to nourish one’s faith is both an opportunity and a challenge for priests. It affords them a 24/7 access to viewers everywhere. But it also challenges them to improve the quality of their homilies and other liturgical elements of worship.
It also challenges the Church to find ways so as not to totally “virtualize” the Mass into a comfortable and effortless Sunday sing-along, where worshippers are content with being passive listeners and spectators. The Church is also challenged not to water down the demands of Christian faith for the sake of higher viewership, or to bend God’s words to the technical requirements and the distorting influence of the social media.
Now, the bad news. According to the Barna Research Group’s national survey of the youth in America, 50 percent of millennials have not viewed religious services online during the pandemic, nor have they felt the need to go to church, even when restrictions against church-going were already lifted by the government. Many of these millennials look at themselves as “unchurched,” and are convinced that going to church is not necessary for them to be saved.
However, a recent survey shows a small number of these “unchurched” millennials are now coming back to the church or attending online religious services, but their number is still insignificant. Their reason for doing so are varied, but most of them admit that participating in the Mass whether online or in a church gives them inner peace with God and makes them less anxious about their life. In contrast, those who have totally stopped attending Masses say they feel bored all the time, or feel insecure about the future.
A few years ago, a survey conducted by the Philippine Institute on Church and Social Issues showed many young Filipinos would call themselves Catholics but they did not attend Masses, religious services, and activities in their parish church. They thought that salvation was between the individual and God, with no need for a permanent membership in a stable church community.
If this kind of thinking were to persist, young Filipinos would begin to see the church as a place where they could drop in and drop out according to personal whim. They would prefer a worship service that made being a Christian hassle-free or made them feel good about themselves. They would develop an allergy to preaching that corrects, reproves, and challenges. And they would tune in only to worship services that function as entertainment and guilt-free fellowship.
The pandemic and the consequent restrictions imposed by government, as well as the fear of contamination have surely reinforced the millennials’ growing alienation from the Church. Perhaps the Catholic Church in the Philippines can replicate surveys similar to what is being done in America, especially as regards the frequency of the millennials’ attendance in Sunday Mass or participating in on-line religious services in order to stop the drift of young people away from the Church.