Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Re-envisioning Youth Ministry

I want to lay out what is getting ready to happen with "youth ministry" in my parish.  I think it might be a program that other parishes would be interested in, and I think it could be a big help in drawing more young people back to Church.

Youth ministry normally falls into one of two Categories:

1) Ridiculously drawn out and burdensome confirmation preparation - "Hi, welcome to our parish, confirmation prep here is 8 years, every Sunday night, plus a 30 day silent retreat at the local retreat center.  Please sign up after Church."

2) Non confirmation preparation (thus nothing to hold over the kid to make them come) so it is really just social time: "Hi, welcome to our youth group, we can't force you to be here (see scenario 1 above) so we just eat pizza, play video games, go skiing and hit up amusement parks, and, in order to call it ministry, we might, at some random point while you're snacking on pizza, essentially force you to violate some personal boundary of yours and share your "struggles" with the group.

#1 fails because:
a) it is not what the Church teaches.  The Church says the person receiving a sacrament has to understand what they are receiving IN THE SACRAMENT, not that they understand THE CATECHISM.  Any catechist worth anything can teach a kid what the sacrament of confirmation is in one hour.

b) when kids are done, they want to run as far away from Church as possible. 

#2 fails because:
a) most kids don't need a youth minister to buy them pizza and help them have fun.  The average kid can entertain themselves for weeks at a time.  Sure some kids will show up if you have pizza, but how many?
b) you can't get hardly any substance in terms of Church teaching while skiing or riding the log flume.

Instead of treating kids like they are spiritual infants that have to be spiritually nursed because they don't understand anything about God, what if we, as a Church, tapped their power and wisdom?

What wisdom?  Most teenagers can navigate the internet about 8,000 times faster than an adult, most kids can quickly learn how to be photographers, cinematographers, graphic designers, digital musicians, web designers, film editors, etc.

I say instead of treating them like infants it is time to tap their skills and let them show us old folks a thing or two.


We're forming an elite squad at my parish - all 7-12 graders are invited, I just haven't decided what to call it.  Something like the "New Evangelization Ninjas" or the "Holy Spirit Hit Squad" or something like that - they can come up with the name when we're rolling.

Here's how it is going to go - every kid is going to pick at least one area of expertise.  They can choose from:
1) photography
2) cinemtagropher
3) film editor
4) actor/actress
5) lighting and sound
6) graphic design
7) web design
8) musician
9) music editor/sound mixing
10) painting
11) writing
12) film direction

Instead of saying to them, "Okay, kiddies, this is a cloverleaf, and this is like the Trinity" I'm going to tell them "We NEED you desperately!"  There are people out there who are hungry for the Truth, especially young people, but people of all ages, and we are going to reach them.

Pope Benedict, in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, quoted Dostoevsky, who said "Beauty will change the world."

John Paul II called for a new evangelization.

I think our young people know how to evangelize in a new way, and I think they just need to be told that it is time.  They have the power, knowledge of the tools, and they have the spiritual capacity.

Is this youth ministry going to be free of doctrine and free of theology, much like the "pizza and amusement park" model above?  Absolutely not.

Our group will gather weekly, and we will come at it with the question - "what are issues young people are wrestling with, whether it is you or your friends?"  Is it sex?  Is it suicide?  Is it bullying?  Is it drugs?  Is it the questions like "who am I?"?

We have a discussion about that.  And then the question becomes, "Okay, how can we reach them?"

Is there a video we can put on YouTube?  Can we write poetry for the paper?  Can we paint a painting?  Is there some music some of you can work on?  Can we put all of our work together for these projects, or do we want to work on them from different artistic angles?

THEN AND ONLY THEN do we say, "Okay, what are we going to try to pass on to them?"  AND THEN the Catechism comes out and we look at what the Church has to say.  We might pull out the Bible and look for some relevant Scripture.  We kick it around and let it simmer as we start to put our heads together and figure out how to attack our mission together and in our groups.

Here are the ingredients:
1) minimal technological investment
2) bring in a parishioner who is an expert in one area once a month.  Bring in a photographer one week and have her show the whole group how to take good, beautiful pictures.  A month later, bring in a web designer and have him work with the techies in your group.  Then you'll have young and old in your parish interfacing.

There are several benefits:

1) the unchurched youth in your community might be reached through their peers.

2) the young people will actually show up because they'll hear you're doing interesting stuff as opposed to pizza and awkward, boundary violating forced faith sharing.

3) kids learn gobs and gobs about things they are interested in.

4) the kids will start to witness the POWER of God's Word and His Truth in the lives of the people they reach out to with their art, while at the same time experiencing conversion in their own hearts as well.

5) someday down the road, some of these kids will absolutely flourish and will become top-notch in their respective fields, and will always remember where they got their start, and we'll have produced a generation of "new-evangelization ninjas" whose work will echo and continue to ripple into a tidal wave of conversion on our world.

I end this with two videos that I think are relevant:

Dry Bones from danDifelice on Vimeo.

Save the Lost from Salomon on Vimeo.