Brandon Vogt

7 Steps to Bring Any Young Person Back to the Church


Over the last several years, I’ve spoken with thousands of Catholics around the country at large conferences, small parish groups and everything in between. After each talk I give, there’s usually a time for questions and answers, and inevitably, no matter the topic of my talk, the most common question I hear is some version of “My child has left the Faith, and I’m devastated. What should I do?”

The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging young people.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that half of young Americans (50 percent exactly) who were raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic today. Think about what that means: Over the last 20-30 years, half of the babies you’ve seen baptized, half of the children you’ve seen confirmed and half of the young people you’ve seen married have probably left the Church.

The Pew study also found that four out of five Catholics who left the Church did so before age 23. These aren’t disgruntled middle-aged adults, fed up with the changes of Vatican II. These are our own sons and daughters, and they’re leaving the Church in high school, college or as young adults.

Most of us know this from experience. We know parents in our parish who grieve their fallen-away children. Maybe our own sons or daughters have drifted away.

Whenever I talk to parents facing this problem, they often use the words “helpless” and “hopeless.” They feel helpless because their children tune them out or ignore them whenever they bring up religious topics, and they feel hopeless because they think it’s impossible their children would ever come back. These parents are desperate to do something — they just don’t know what to do.

I’m convinced what they most need is a plan, for as the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It’s not enough to just sit back and hope our children will return. We need a proven road map.

That’s why I spent several months researching the problem, talking with experts and those who have left and returned, all to determine what really works to draw young people back. The result was a 16-part video course and book that pulls together the best tips, tools and strategies, titled RETURN: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church.

But here are seven simple strategies you can use right now to draw your child back. This isn’t a “convert your child quick” scheme, because these steps can take months or years to complete. But they are proven signposts on the road back to faith.

1. Pray, fast and sacrifice

If you aren’t doing these three things, the other steps won’t matter. Commit right now to praying 5-10 minutes each day for your child’s return. Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow (Lk 18:1-8) confirms that God loves tireless prayer — even if you pray for the same need every day. Don’t give up, and don’t think your prayer is unheeded or pointless. Look at what St. Monica’s prayers did for St. Augustine.

Also, fast and sacrifice for your child. Skip a meal, give up Facebook or Netflix for a week or willingly bear a small pain. Then offer your sufferings to God on behalf of your child. Unite them to the cross and ask that he send new grace into your child’s life.

2. Equip yourself

You can’t give what you don’t have. You may be excited about sharing the Faith, but enthusiasm and goodwill won’t get you far. You need to know your faith. The two go-to sources are the Bible and the catechism. Become familiar with them and read them each day, in small doses.

Then find good Catholic books that will help you explain and defend the Faith so you’re ready when your child reveals his main hang-ups with the Church.

3. Plant the seeds

You should also begin planting “seed gifts” in his life. These are DVDs, books or CDs that can lead him to reconsider the Church. Many people who come back to the Church point to a resource like this that sparked their return. Leave a booklet on his desk, mail him a DVD or drop a CD in his car.Even before you start discussing God or the Church with your child, you need to plant small seeds of faith and trust in his life. One seed is unconditional love. Your child needs to know that you’ll love him no matter what — no matter his moral choices or whether he stays away from the Church. He must know that you totally will his good. Only then will he listen to you.

BONUS: Want the 12 best seed gifts? The 12 best books, DVDs, and CDs to give a fallen-away young person? I’ve pulled them all together for you in the RETURN Complete Game Plan.

4. Start the conversation

At some point, you need to open a dialogue about God and the Church. You might say, “Can I ask you something? I wonder if you’d be up for talking about spiritual things some time. I know you have a mixed relationship with the Church, but would you be open to chatting about it with me? I just want to listen.”

Then do just that: listen. Your goal is to detect why your child has drifted from the Church. Note that the reasons he gives may be different than what you expect. Ask him what he believes and why, and what pushed or pulled him away.

Don’t respond to the objections or criticisms just yet — just absorb them. This may involve biting your tongue, but the scar tissue will be worth it!

5. Move the dialogue forward

RETURN-Sidebar1You’ve now identified why your child left the Church. Maybe he drifted away unintentionally. Maybe he switched religions. Maybe he disagrees with the Church’s moral teachings. Or maybe he no longer believes in God. Whatever the case, now’s the time to start discussing those factors.

Speaking with joy and positivity, clear up any misconceptions he has. For example, if he says, “I was never spiritually fed as a Catholic,” it’s likely he never fully understood the Eucharist or was exposed to the great spiritual masters of our tradition. Gently propose those to him and encourage him to reconsider.

6. Invite and connect

Once your child expresses curiosity and openness to returning, invite him to a parish event. This might be a weekend retreat, such as Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo, or perhaps a parish small-group study or community event. Your goal is to usher him into the life of the parish, which will re-establish the communal bonds of faith.

If your child is in college, connect him with the local Catholic campus ministry, such as FOCUS or the Newman Center. Leaders there will be thrilled to talk with him and help him on his journey.

Don’t move too fast, though. Only extend these invitations after he’s expressed openness to returning, otherwise you may push him away.

7. Close the loop

Finally, you need to help your child formally reconcile with the Church. Lots of people get stuck here. A priest once told me about a lady who left the Church as a teenager and stayed away for over 30 years. Her reason? She simply didn’t know how to come back.

Don’t let that happen. Once your child is ready to return, talk with your pastor and determine the right steps to close the loop. Maybe he just needs a good confession, or perhaps the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is more appropriate. A good priest will assess the situation and determine the best next steps.

Obviously, we’ve only scratched the surface of this road map. To go much deeper, check out the tips and strategies in the RETURN Video Course and book.

The key is to never give up hope. Hopelessness is not a word in God’s vocabulary. As long as your child still has breath, there is always hope. God loves your child even more than you do. As much as you yearn for your child to come home, God desires his return infinitely more and is continually working to make that happen, even when things appear dire.

So trust God, beg him to keep moving in your child’s life, and be confident that he will bring your child home.


  • RoverSerton

    Step 5: You picked a very easy one and quite deep. Not fed spiritually. The more difficult ones. I don’t like the way my gay friends are treated (or the way I am), I don’t think touching myself is a sin, I don’t think women that have an abortion should be excommunicated, I think women priests would be fine, I think women should be able to contracept. I don’t believe the host becomes Jesus/God. People can’t walk on water or turn water into wine. I don’t see any evidence for God/Jesus.

    Step 6: Reconcile these tougher ones.

    My kids left the Methodist faith and it is an easy church to belong to. They just didn’t see any evidence of God or good the church was really doing. They found even it judgmental to “others”

  • KatrinaVan

    Brandon, this list is perfect. It’s guided me so much in dealing with older kids who have fallen away and my toddler who I want to stay….

  • sorrows

    Say the Rosary everyday, even if the children will not join in as Sr Lucia one of the Fatima Visionaries said
    “The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no .

  • Anne McCambridge

    I read recently that people find it easier to discuss things on a car journey, when they are looking ahead and not directly at each other. Also, putting on music can help or doing things together, such as going for a walk or cooking a meal.

  • Alicia Summers

    I’m in Ireland…can you post a link to an ebook format?

  • Brett Page

    We need to be very careful when using phrases like ‘leaving the Church’ or ‘abandoning the faith’. If all we are talking about is the fact that the young person no longer attends Mass for one hour a week, we need to look at the bigger picture because that train left the station a long time ago. They are gone and their kids will never be part of it. But the big question is are they abandoning the fundamental teachings of Jesus in their daily lives? That is, do they share their material wealth with others as Christ commanded? Do they embrace forgiveness, justice, mercy and compassion for others? Do they place the interests of others ahead of their own? Are they humble? Do they reject leaders who utter divisive and malevolent statements about minorities? If they do these things, fear not. They have not abandoned the faith. They are living it. For without good works, formal worship is meaningless. If they do good, they do God. Blessings to all.

    • Mike17

      Well, the Creed starts off by saying, “I believe in God the Father..” so if you no longer believe in that then you have abandoned the faith. You can’t just pick and choose which bits of Jesus’s teachings to believe. To follow Jesus you have to believe everything he taught, by faith. And one of the things he taught was that he established a group of people whose task it was to pass on the faith. If we don’t believe everything that their successors teach then we no longer have faith.

      • Vernon Demerest

        Stick to the words of Jesus in the New Testament, friend. That’s all we need. The words of God, incarnate as man through Christ. Not the words of fallible men who came after. The words of God. Jesus was pretty specific about how we should worship God. The Apostles ask him in Matthew 6 how to pray and not only does He tell us how to pray (in private – ‘go to your room and close the door’ – but also how NOT to pray. ‘Do not be like the hypocrites who stand in the houses of worship and mouth their long and meaningless prayers…; God’s own words, as recorded by Matthew. Don’t party in the public houses. Pray alone in your room to your Heavenly Father who is unseen but who already knows what you need. No need for any other prayer than the Lord’s Prayer. As given directly to us by God.

        • Mike17

          Do you accept the books of the Old Testament as the word of God? If so do you accept the Psalms as the word of God? If so do you agree that we can say (pray!) the words of the Psalms?
          Can you give me the reference in the New Testament where Jesus says, “The only prayer you are allowed to say is the Lord’s Prayer”?
          Do you accept the Gospel attributed to St Matthew as the word of God? If so, why do you accept it as the word of God? If you say, because it was written by an apostle then can you say what makes you believe that? Nowhere in the Gospel does it say that it was written by St Matthew. The only thing that tells us that it was written by St Matthew is the traditions of men.
          The words of the Lord’s Prayer as given in St Matthew’s Gospel are different from the words given in St Luke’s gospel. How do you explain that?
          Jesus said, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” What do you think that these two or three should be doing? Just sitting, looking at one another?
          And if Jesus says “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” does that mean that He won’t be with four people who are gathered together in His name?
          Jesus told His disciples, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22) Are we to only ask the words of the Lord’s Prayer? Jesus said, whatever you ask of God’. Did He limit the asking to the words in the Lord’s Prayer?

  • Yuan415

    Boy it’s a good day to see god’s word being spread for the low prices you are offering them at. People say one of the problems with this world is that everything seems to be for sale, and I’m glad to see the lord’s word and faith in the church is not exempt from this. Long live the flying-sky-zombie Jesus who was sacrificed for our sins. But not sacrificed like how the Aztecs used to sacrifice people, that way was wrong, even though they believed it was right. Our Christian form of sacrifice is different because we believe it’s right, and that’s all we really need. Long live our Christian form of vicarious human sacrifice! And if you don’t buy it, well, there will be plenty of room in hell for you, for the rest of eternity. Praise be his insane name!

  • TotaTua

    Brandon all I want is the e-book. Don’t wan the paper book. How can I get?

© 2019 Brandon Vogt