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.


  1. Go for it, Padre! :) You have my vote, for what its worth! Prayers of support for all! Suzanne McConnell

  2. There is a group that founded a new, traditional Catholic school, and as part of that founded a youth group. Hopefully, it will become its own canonical association; the archbishop doesn't seem to mind, but our pastor might...anyways, the parish system wasn't getting it done.
    7th grade is the minimum, and college-aged siblings are welcome to hang out too. Typically we meet 2x per month, on Sundays from 2-6. We play sports and socialize til 3:30, then we get together for the main activity. The last half-hour to forty-five minutes are spent on games again. We met every week throughout July and August to do the Total Consecration, using 33 Days to Morning Glory which culminated in a pilgrimage to the Fathers of Mercy on the Assumption for the Mass of final profession of vows and making the consecration. Then we played, hung out, and ate. They also went to the Ignite Your Torch conference as well as a Steubenville conference.
    Normally we bring snacks, and the dad who started the group keeps the sodas and drinks stocked. Once a month or so he gets pizzas. He is blessed as he owns the local Little Caesars franchises, and so he has the ability to help pull this off, but I think it could-and should-be done elsewhere.

  3. Love it! I would be very interested to know how well this does in your parish. Prayers.

  4. My teens like the sound of it! Unfortunately, we're in Ohio.... :-(

  5. Oh wow. I so wish there was something like that around here (Connecticut) for my 8th grade son. My prayers are with you. Brazil's teens certainly need some hope.

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

    When I was a catechist, I met with all the parents and opened with a joke:

    A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar, order drinks, sit down and commiserate about each of their church's/temple's rat problems. The minister said they laid out traps, but they still have rats. The rabbi said they called an exterminator, but they still have rats. The priest said he solved the rat problem and has no more rats. When asked how he did it, he replied that they just confirmed all the rats, and they never saw them again.

  7. Have you heard of life teen? It's solidly Catholic and Eucharist-centered. There is room for various types of "life nights" as they are called. There can be a pizza social one night and a night explaining the sacraments the next. It's all about getting to know the kids so they be better ministered to. This project sounds great but consider looking into life teen.

    1. Actually, when I was a catechist, I helped implement LifeTeen in my former parish. While there were many good elements to LifeTeen, if I had to do it all over again, I would urged my pastor and co-workers to find something else.

      You are correct that the materials LifeTeen offers are solidly Catholic, and that there is an emphasis on the Eucharist. However, in my experience, this was the salesman's "foot in the door" so to speak. Once it's in however, it takes over like kudzu. Most disturbing was the pressure to transform the liturgy. Yes, LT advocates will insist that LT Masses are not obligatory and nothing can happen without the pastor's permission, but the fact is that there is a full-court press to implement a Life Teen Mass so to speak, and while LT doesn't mandate the flavor of this liturgy, the default is a very P&W, CCM, multi-media concert-style liturgy. To wit: Only a very stalwart parishioner or pastor with his head screwed on right could resist. In the end, the only people that participated were kids already hooked on that stuff and the kids we really needed to reach (anyone over 13 with a Y chromosome) stood together in a corner repulsed by all the youth pandering.

  8. Hi Fr
    Interesting idea. I like how you are using their gifts to bring Jesus to the world. If you have done any work with Sherry Weddell's Called and Gifted program (Siena.org) this could be a precurser to the idea of identifying and evangelizing in their charism. She doesn't recommend this for people til they are adults, but getting them to think about giving and using their gifts to do it is a great start. Makes them others focused.

    The problem I see with it, however, is that it only attracts or makes use of those whose gifts are artistic. Not everyone is. When I was doing youth ministry (15+ years, I'm now doing Evangelization and Discipleship for adults in a parish) I liked the 8 Components of youth ministry because I had kids who came in from every angle and in doing catechesis I worked to display the Gospel message to all kinds of learners.

    That being said, if you are working from a "gifts" angle, I think you might want to look at a broader list of charisms and gifts. Again, MS and HS is too young to adequetely discern their charism, but I think you could do it in a light way, promote many different gifts which gives them a chance to sample different ones and maybe discover that they are gifted in areas they hadn't thought of. The creative arts are just one area, I'd encourage you to expand.

    But again, I really like that you are using and forming their gifts to GIVE, because often, then, they'll be learning too!