The Center For Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) did a study recently on religious life and here are some of the reported findings:
The NRVC reports that religious are an aging population overall, with most communities reporting diminishing numbers. According to the institutional survey results, about 75 percent of finally professed men and 91 percent of finally professed women are aged 60 and over, while a majority of those under the age of 60 are in their 50s.However, some religious orders are attracting new members and a few are experiencing “significant growth.” “Men’s communities and women’s communities following more traditional practices have better success attracting younger members today,” the NRVC says.Looking at the big picture, the report finds that a majority of religious communities have at least one person in formation but only about 20 percent had more than five people in initial formation. Further, some responding institutes had recently merged, increasing the proportion of those institutes with postulants.The survey reports that most new religious members want to live, work and pray with other members of their community. New entrants prefer to live in large communities of eight or more, while institutes in which members live alone face challenges attracting new members.Older entrants to a community are drawn to its mission, while younger entrants look for an institute’s fidelity to the Church. Younger members also seek to wear a religious habit.
Here are some findings directly from the study (pdf) emphasis added:
• Younger respondents are more likely than older respondents to say they were attracted to religious life by a desire to be more committed to the Church and to their particular institute by its fidelity to the Church. Many also report that their decision to enter their institute was influenced by its practice regarding a religious habit. Significant generational gaps, especially between the Millennial Generation (born in 1982 or later) and the Vatican II Generation (born between 1943 and 1960), are evident throughout the study on questions involving the Church and the habit. Differences between the two generations also extend to questions about community life as well as styles and types of prayer.
Then there are the "Best Practices". Very interesting, because almost all orders do what is mentioned in the first bullet, so I don't know how it could be considered a "best practice" if it isn't working for many of them:
One point - wearing a habit does not equal fidelity. But, in most cases the religious who wear a habit are those who don't have issues with remaining faithful to Church teaching. But, as is the case with the Apostles of the Interior Life who work here at St. Mary's, there are exceptions to the rule. They are an extremely faithful and orthodox community, but they don't wear a habit, for several reasons - one is because in their work of evangelization a habit is off-putting for those who are not en-culturated into church life.
Best Practices in Vocation Ministry• The findings from the study suggest a number of “best practices” for vocation promotion. These include instilling a “culture of vocations” and involving membership and leadership in concerted vocation promotion efforts; having a full-time vocation director who is supported by a team and resources; using new media, especially websites and other online presence; offering discernment programs and other opportunities for potential candidates to meet members and learn about the institute; and targeting college students and young adults as well as elementary and high school students to expose them to the possibility of religious life and inform them about the institute.• Although these practices can have a positive impact on attracting and retaining new members, the research suggests that it is the example of members and the characteristics of the institute that have the most influence on the decision to enter a particular institute. The most successful institutes in terms of attracting and retaining new members at this time are those that follow a more traditional style of religious life in which members live together in community and participate in daily Eucharist, pray the Divine Office, and engage in devotional practices together. They also wear a religious habit, work together in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and the teachings of the Magisterium. All of these characteristics are especially attractive to the young people who are entering religious life today.