This blog is Part One of two pieces. Part Two will post on Saturday.
Like many Youth Ministers, I was hired in my early twenties and fresh out of college. Zealous, energetic, and immature, I was handed a floundering youth ministry program in a parish with over 450 high school students on the books. After nine years in that same suburban parish cluster, I still I loved my job. I loved putting on my weekly youth group that we had grown to reach over 100 teens. I loved working with my Core Team of young adults. The mission trips, the World Youth Day pilgrimages, the retreats—I loved it all. But after nine years of watching the vast majority of even our most engaged teens go off to college and stop practicing the faith, I had to honestly ask myself: “Is my work as a Youth Minister effective?”
100 teens at youth group might look like a successful event, but it is far from a successful outreach initiative when you realize that was hardly 20% of the teens I was charged with ministering to. Then when you account for the fact that only a fraction of that 20% stayed Catholic in their college years, the reality was even more dismal. Then one day, it hit me: We didn’t need a Youth Minister.
Young people today are navigating a world that has an ever-increasing amount of amazing opportunities and choices for them. It is also a world that is becoming increasingly indifferent and at times even hostile to religion. Ask any teenager you know – they aren’t that scary, trust me – and many will tell you that navigating this world, the good and the less than good, is often overwhelming and stressful. They feel alone. They need and desire guidance.
The question has come up in my own mind, “Can one Youth Minister truly be effective in reaching so many high school students, proposing the Gospel, and guiding them to Christian maturity?” The answer, quite simply, is “no.” One person cannot relate to every teen’s circumstances. One person cannot know the specific questions and spiritual needs of each specific teen. And one person cannot facilitate enough programs on enough days and enough times to meet the scheduling needs of every young person and family.
Your parish doesn’t need a Youth Minister or even two. Your parish needs five or ten or fifty. In order to get those fifty we needed buy-in from more than just those actively involved in youth ministry. We also needed to tap into the influential power of the parents of the teens themselves. The problem was clear. The solution, or any solution for that matter, was still elusive. Next week, I’ll tell you more about how we turned our parish youth ministry on its head.