Three Steps for Coming Back to Church

I often run into people who, upon finding out that I’m a lay minister in the Catholic Church, inform me that they’ve been away from church for some time. Many aren’t angry with the Church (though some are and often have good reason for being so!), rather they’ve simply fallen out of practice. Many tell me that they’d really like to return but they’re “afraid the roof will cave in.” It can be quite anxiety-provoking to come back to church. Who knows what kind of feelings this might stir up? The truth is that relief, not anxiety, is the central emotion that many people feel upon “coming home” to the Catholic Church.

But how does one “come home”? Do you need a formal invitation? Is there a need to announce one’s absence and return? Here are three initial steps to take when you’ve made the decision to attend church once again.

1. Show up

Start by talking with your Catholic friends who attend church regularly. Back when I was in radio, many people I worked with knew I was a churchgoer and would tell me that they were looking for a place to attend but were too afraid to walk in on their own. I would always offer the invitation to attend with me. So ask around! Find someone you’d like to go to church with and then make a “church date” and attend with them. You can also investigate a local parish if you’re there for a wedding, baptism, funeral, or other event. You might take some extra time to pray and seek out the pastor or associate pastor afterwards for confession.

2. Reconcile

The sacrament of reconciliation is always a good option for those of us who have been away from church for some time. If you start out by attending Mass with friends or by yourself, pick up a church bulletin and find out what time the Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered in that parish, or if you’re lucky, the priest presiding at Mass might have some spare time to hear your confession that day. This sacrament reconciles us to both God and the community. The priest represents the community as well as our merciful God who forgives us. Like the Prodigal Son who came home after a long absence, God and the Church rejoice in our returning home again. So, we ritualize that celebration with the sacrament of reconciliation where we admit our faults and rejoice in the mercy of God. Nervous? Check out Busted Halo’s Sacraments 101 video about Reconciliation and walk with another young adult through her first confession in 10 years, captured in this video from World Youth Day.

3. Join

Some parishes call this “registering.” When you do this, you are saying that you wish to be a regular member of that particular parish community. You may be asked how you came to know the church, what you like about the parish, and what activities the church has that interest you. You may also be asked how you wish to contribute to the parish’s financial well-being. Remember, being part of the community means chipping in! Some parishes have a “New Parishioner Welcome Night” where you register and find out a bit more about the place. The parish, in turn, can find out more about you. Don’t be afraid of committing — putting your name down may just help you resist the temptation to drift away again after a while.

Looking for more help making the transition?

Some people prefer to take a little more time with their return to the church. Here are some programs designed to help with the transition back into the community:

  • Landings is an eight-week support group where people returning to the church get to tell their stories, discern a place in the Church, and find a way home.
  • Catholics Come Home is inspired by the call to a New Evangelization and is reaching out to inactive Catholics with inspiring media, which asks visitors to “open a door” and discover (or rediscover) the truth and depth of the Church.
  • Once Catholic will connect you with a community of Catholics as you sort through your issues with the Church.
  • Your local parish might also be doing something specifically for “returning Catholics,” so check out the parish bulletin or newsletter, or inquire with the priest.

The truth is that coming back to church isn’t as scary as it sounds. And there are lots of great resources that can help you as you continue your spiritual journey here at Busted Halo — podcasts, videos about Church teaching, answers to your questions of faith, engaging articles about faith and spirituality, and much more. So, with these three steps as your guide — get out there and go (back) to church!

Originally published February 12, 2013.