How do I get someone who has stopped going to Mass to return?

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A common question I receive from many people is how to get their loved ones who stopped going to church to attend church again. This is especially true from parents of adult children who lament the fact that they brought their children to church every Sunday and taught them to be faithful to Christ and follow everything the church teaches, and often the children not only don’t go to church but don’t even bother to have their grandchildren baptized. They ask me, “What can I do to get them to return to church?” There is of course no easy answer to this question and certainly no one answer that would settle all situations. It’s almost easier to say what we should not do rather than what we should do. One thing I always remind people that is never going to work is nagging people. You know very well for, for example, that parents with teenagers, if you nag them and nag them, you can guarantee you’re going to make sure they never do what you asked them to do. The same thing can be said of grown children and anyone else who leaves the faith. There will be many different reasons why people have stopped worshiping. Some people are perhaps disillusioned, others maybe have problems with things we believe, and for many others it’s just not important enough to them. But in the past it seems to me that our approach has often been to harp on people and to be negative, to try to convince them that they’ll go to hell if they don’t worship God or threatening them with harmful things that will happen to them, that God might even punish them for not attending Mass. Or we may point out their faults and try to get people to start attending because we tell them that they’re not good enough people. Yet such an approach rarely works well.

Whenever we put people down, we tend to treat them as less than ourselves. We place ourselves in a superior position and condescend to them as if somehow we are better and we’re going to help them be as good as we are. That often can come across rather pharisaical and insulting to the individual. Instead, I suggest witnessing to them about the difference that faith makes in our own lives. Letting people know why we worship God and what we get out of being disciples of Jesus is a far more powerful way to convince people to worship than to tell them why we are better than they are or why they are sinful because they are not doing what we do. As the old expression says, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!” If people see us living a life in Christ that has made a difference; if they can see that our worship has made us better people, has given us a happiness in life that they don’t know or that they would like to know, then perhaps we will bring them closer to the Lord. Leading them by desire rather than by force is certainly a better way to bring them into a faithful relationship with the Lord. We also have to be intentional disciples; we have to be living out our faith and desiring to bring Christ to other people so that they can see by our love and our actions the difference it makes, so that we are a living example to them of how faith works and how it makes a difference and is a positive attribute in our lives. Writer Madeleine L’Engle observes: “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they will want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” I often feel that in the past our approach has been all the wrong way and has turned more people away from Christ than towards him, even though our intentions were very good. Be the light of Christ; show him to the world in your words and actions. Let people see the difference Christ has made in our lives by our conscious decision to follow him, how he has given us strength to endure even the most difficult of situations and come out unharmed, and they will be compelled to want to join us as well.

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