There are many buzzwords in ministry. The most popular right now seem to be “new evangelization,” “accompaniment,” “missionary discipleship,” and “listening.” These are good words. And I’ll admit, I have used a lot of them.

That last word comes directly from the synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment that took place in Rome during the month of October, 2018. It seems to me that there is a lot of talk about reaching the “Nones.” Nones are defined as those who have chosen to disaffiliate from religious organizations. It’s not that they aren’t spiritual (although some are not). It’s that they have left organized religion, some, if not most, have left it for good.

Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis speaks on the Nones often through his Word on Fire platform. John Vitek and Robert McCarty from St. Mary’s Press led a national qualitative study on Nones titled Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics. I have talked about Nones in many workshops and graduate classes I teach.

With all this energy on Nones and reaching those disconnected from the Church, the question I still struggle with is this: how do I connect with the unconnected? I don’t think I’m alone in asking this question.

Let’s face it. I’m on the inside. Inside the Church walls, Church structure, and even the Church hierarchy. Most of my good friends are Catholic. My family and I do a lot of Catholic things. I’m on the inside.

And if you’re reading this, you’re likely on the inside, too.

It seems to me that all the buzzwords we hear lately have one thing in common: connecting with the disconnected. And this is good!

But the question we haven’t answered well is how. And I don’t have a good answer.

I was on a consultation call with a Director of Faith Formation in a large California parish in the Central Valley. We were talking teen theology and apologetics. We were brainstorming how we can delve into these issues effectively with young people. And you know what? I had no good answers for this leader. I waxed and waned poetically quotes from documents and books that I’ve read. I shared some untested hypothesis and theories, in hopes of inspiring this individual to try them.

And I got off the phone frustrated. Frustrated with myself, realizing that, although I’ve been at this ministry thing for over two decades now, I still don’t know what I’m doing. I’m sure that statement builds confidence with you as my reader. Well, maybe another way of putting this is that I’m still learning.

Sometimes, my greatest gift is not the good ideas I have to share in ministry, but the questions I’m willing to ask.

So, today, I humbly ask the question: how does the Church connect with the unconnected?

If you have ideas that have worked, please share them. Share them with me. Share them with your Diocese. Share them with the world-wide Church. Because this is a question that needs to be answered and answered well. It needs to be answered in every culture, in every time, and especially now.

Because what we have as Church cannot be found elsewhere. And this, above all, is the most important thing we can do as Church.