In his important 2005 analysis of the Catholic Church in America, Peter Steinfels observed that
in some respects, the future of lay parish ministry is assured. Catholics are willing. The church needs them. The parish of 2025 will employ them. What remains to be determined is who will be drawn to these positions and how they will be trained, appointed, promoted, retained, and supported in their work and their personal spiritual growth. With sufficient neglect and discouragement, of course, their numbers could level off…, turnover could increase, those with greatest potential for leadership could be driven away, or polarization that has injured other aspects of lay parish ministry could settle in here, too.
How will they be trained? Traditional university programs, of course, will continue to do the job for a relatively small body of professionals. But many potential lay ministers are not in a position to go to the universities that offer graduate degree programs in theology or religious education. There are financial and geographic obstacles facing many who are “willing” and who might possess great “potential for leadership.” They live in remote parts of the country or are stationed in military bases around the world, and the cost of spending years on a campus with a graduate theology program is not financially realistic. The local churches need their involvement in ministry; some of these potential leaders are now being trained in online programs.