Now isn’t that an interesting question! It begs another: how do we measure growth or decline in any movement, let alone a faith movement which can involve individuals as well as small communities and larger gatherings.
I am aware, for instance that some of the Celebrate Conference weekends in the UK have struggled to receive sufficient bookings and cover their costs, but these are relatively new ventures and it takes time for the news to spread. Others, such as Bristol, are considering a change of venue as the numbers attending continue to grow each year.
We also live in a country full of people who are by their very nature ‘reserved’ and we are in a church which many consider ‘conservative’. So to expect large gatherings at weekend conferences of people who are solid in their faith and charismatic in character sufficient to involve them in vibrant, some may say extravagant forms of praise and worship is perhaps too much.
It may also be argued that the Catholic Church itself is at best in maintenance mode and at worse, managing decline. Dioceses are amalgamating parishes, closing others and parish priests now find themselves running two, three or more parishes.
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life also seem stagnant. In my own parish at Belmont Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery, there are a number of vocations though not all wish to be priests. On the other hand, Buckfast Abbey in Devon is struggling for vocations. Some seminaries are filling up, while others have closed.
Again, in my own parish, there is a very small group of Charismatics who have formed a music group which leads one of the parish Masses once a month. The prayer group folded after 8 or 9 years though some of them still meet regularly for Bible Study. Despite their best efforts, other members of the parish have absolutely no interest in Charismatic Renewal or attending a weekend conference, even though one was run in the city for 9 years. Attempts at encouraging people to attend Life in the Spirit seminars also failed. For the last two years the group has organised a Vigil for Pentecost advertised to all in the Deanery, again, few other than the ‘usual suspects’ attended.
It can be a real struggle when a small group of individuals is fired up for mission but no-one wants to follow! But this does not mean that CCR is in decline, it just means that the charisms of the Holy Spirit are in even greater need than ever, especially in a world full of secular distractions.
So what should we do?
We must all continue to pray, to praise and worship Jesus in song and in silent Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion regularly and on week days where possible; to confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; to read Scripture often and to practice self-denial through fasting, abstinence and alms-giving. We must continue to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, surrender our lives to God’s will; be obedient to the teachings of the Catholic Church and not to lose hope.
We must also learn to be patient and to be gentle to those other Catholics who appear to be passive in their faith. If we want to lose the often derisory label of being ‘happy clappy’, we have to show that we are also prayerful, contemplative and a quiet but determined force for mission; that we truly believe in all we profess to believe as Catholics and that by our lives we give glory to the Lord and go forth to announce the Good News.
Finally, we should remind ourselves that this is not our work, but the work of God who uses us through the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfil His plan that has not yet been revealed to us.