Some time ago, I took a guided tour of a megachurch in Louisville, Ky., that welcomes approximately 20,000 people every weekend at its three huge worship services. The elderly gentleman who was my tour guide was full of admiration for this community, its preaching and its spiritual guidance. Responding to someone in my group, he explained that he was a former Catholic whose life in the Roman Catholic Church ended after his divorce.
Among all the other changes that divorce brought into his life, he said, “This made me a nobody in my Catholic parish — a failure, a bad guy, a loser.” In his new church home, however, he appears to be a winner — happy and eager to help, committed and feeling close to Christ. His is only one story, but one that symbolically represents hundreds of thousands of Catholics for whom divorce has made them feel like misfits in their church community.
In his new Christian community, holy Communion is not celebrated weekly but only occasionally. However, powerful preaching, weekly Bible study and weekly community service are essential parts of belonging to his congregation.
This is a very different world from your average Catholic parish, and one to which more and more Catholics find themselves attracted. Former Catholics make up the largest demographic of the growing number of evangelical churches in the United States and a large segment of the new megachurches.1 What have they discovered that Catholics have yet to learn? Is it that church is about life and not only about rituals? Is it the respect these churches give to study, faith sharing, community building and service? And why have so many Catholic refugees — the divorced and the disenchanted — found their way to these communities?
A good deal of research has been done on exactly these questions, and the overall answer, put very simply, is that they are longing for worship and community that touch their hearts.