We’ve all heard it.
When the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) comes up in discussion as a good thing for the church or as one of the come-from-behind success stories of post-Vatican II liturgy, someone will always pipe up and say: “But I’ve read somewhere there’s a shocking rate of them leaving afterwards,” or “We were told the recidivism is very high,” or “Most of them don’t stay, though, do they?”
So… is this true? Do great numbers of the newly-initiated turn around and leave?
CARA (The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown), in their blog Nineteen Sixty-Four, notes that “there is no current and ‘credible source’” for the gloomy statistics sometimes cited (anywhere from 50% to 90% loss after initiation). In fact, just the opposite is likely the case.
Looking at the numbers of Catholics overall, and the percentage of those who were initiated through the RCIA, they came up with a very different picture.
They estimate an 84% retention rate.
Here’s how they figured it:
Aggregating over multiple years and studies, CARA’s national surveys of self-identified adult Catholics (CARA Catholic Polls or CCP) indicate that 8% entered the Church as adults. Three-quarters of these adults (75%) say they went through an RCIA program. Thus, we can assume that 6% of all adult self-identified Catholics are converts who have been through RCIA.
How many Catholic adults are there? According to the Census, the U.S. population in 2014 was 318.9 million. Of this, 245.2 million were adults. CARA’s aggregation of national surveys for 2014 (Pew, Gallup, PRRI, GSS) estimates that 23.2% of this population self-identified as Catholic at that time. This means there were 56.9 million Catholic adults. Six percent of these adults, who we estimate entered as adults and went through RCIA, represents a total population of 3,413,199.
We know about 4 million have entered the faith as adults since 1986. Surely, some of these people have passed away or moved outside of the United States (…also some who entered the faith in another country may have moved to the U.S. and been captured in our surveys). Yet, even if [we] assume none have passed away or left, then 84% of these entries still self-identify as Catholic and as we have described before they tend to be very active in the faith. For example, 62% attend Mass at least once a month (compared to 48% of cradle Catholics) and 54% go to confession at least once a year (compared to 24% of cradle Catholics).
So why do so many RCIA directors, pastors and others assume retention and activity is so low? Why don’t they see the people they formed in their pews? Because many really did leave that parish. But that doesn’t mean they are not Catholic and not active in their faith in another parish. Remember 72% indicate one of the main reasons they convert to Catholicism is marriage. What do people do in and around the time they get married? They move, buy homes, start families, start careers, and have kids. Don’t take it personally that they aren’t in your pews. It’s a safe bet that they are in another parish’s pews. Actually it’s more than a safe bet. Eleven percent of people CARA has surveyed nationally in-pew, during Mass, self-identifies as a convert to Catholicism. That is higher than their share within the self-identified Catholic population (8%). This is because they are more often attending Mass than other Catholics.
It’s important to note that the 84% figure is an estimate based on aggregating data from other studies, a “quick calculation” rather than a an in depth and comprehensive study. A full study remains to be done. But this does not mean that the story we hear – with estimates of large overall losses – is plausible. The numbers could be better, of course. But they are very, very good. “The 84% retention estimate is likely on the low and conservative end.”
You can read the whole thing here.