The deficiencies of youth ministry

The deficiencies of youth ministry

Amy Welborn hits on the deficiencies of almost all current youth ministry, Catholic and Protestant, in her reflections on the National Catholic Youth Conference she attended in Atlanta last weekend. I found myself slapping the table and saying, “Yes, yes!” as she articulated all thqat has troubled me in even the most orthodox youth programs I’ve been involved with. Here is a good summary of her point.

In short, my questions about the current state of youth ministry can be reduced to one: I am not convinced that most current (read, for the past two decades) trends in Catholic youth ministry have the net effect of rooting young people in a faith that will take them through to mature Catholic faith. It is all very much about pandering to the Teen Moment, and frankly, the Teen Moment passes pretty quickly – usually by the end of the first semester of college. And, ironically, some of the most solid teens, faith-wise, are extremely skeptical of the Teen Moment from the get-go, and are turned off by it. This is not about music, activities, etc…it’s about something deeper. In fact, it’s not about what’s there,  but about what’s missing. Which is, in short, an explicit connection to the bigger, wider deeper Church that is 2000 years old, wise, rich and is the Body of Christ, for them, right now.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • When I was in high school, even a Catholic one, I had *no one* my own age who really shared my faith to the depth and understanding I had, and I was very much alone.  Pro-life?  Sure.
    But when it came to things like evangelization, liturgy, self-sacrifice adn the necessity of the sacraments, it was deaf ears.
    All I wanted was a group I could go to of people my own age who’d understand me.
    CYO wasn’t it.

  • Young people are hungry for love, belief and truth. They wanna love and believe in something/someone, and be certain it’s true.

    And they’re hungry for knowledge. Weren’t you smarter than your parents when you were 16?

    Teen Pop Culture is a manufactured culture, and the Church and Tradition shouldn’t have to compete with it. They should blow it away.

  • This is nothing that the Tridentine Mass, devotions, daily rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplet, weekly confession, litanies and Eucharistic Adoration cannot fix in one fell swoop.

    I’ve seen these proto-protestant, neo hippy, pop-psychology excercises in action and they give me the creeps.

    AmChurch has no solution for the youth.

    The problem strikes right at the heart pedagogy and catechetical work.

    Lesson #1 for teens should be: You are not the center of the universe, you are nothing without God, you deserve no applause for showing up at Mass, fear God as He knows even the number of hairs on your head, pray for Divine Mercy, honor your father and mother but do not repeat their immature self indulgences. And finally: The Roman Catholic Church was going strong centuries before you were born and will continue long after you and I are pushing up the daisys.

  • Having served as our parish YG director for 3 years, and worked in a Catholic HS for almost 5, I write with some experience.

    True, the Church in all her majesty *is* enough for these young ones. However, the way that we’ve recently (20 years?) brought that to them is lacking to say the least. We need to reach kids where they are and then challenge them to rise above that status quo. The Life Teen groups, the Protestant groups, etc. do a great job and getting the kids’ attention. They make real, full time efforts to do this. Most parish YG programs are hardly attractive: a Sunday or Wed night, in a flourescent-lit community room with a bag of chips and a bottle of Coke.

    Now, what the other groups MISS, what they fail to complete is bring those kids to the fullness of the Faith. That’s where Catholic YG ministers really can succeed.

    My other soapbox on this issue is this: we’ve assigned too many ‘non-habit-wearing, “let me be your friend”, and we’ll all just get high on Jesus’ religous to this work. We need solid, ordained priests to at least be part (if not the majority) of our YG efforts.

  • How about trying the Latin Mass on teens?  It is an awe-inspiring spectacle and a great place to build on the Catholic tradition, as well as delivering the sacraments.


  • “We need to reach kids where they are”

    Okay, this line is right out of the USCCB youth ministry handbook and I have no idea what it means but I think it’s a major part of the problem.

  • But he meant it in the right way.  We *do* need to meet kids “where they are.”  That includes the kids from broken homes with no self-esteem and little knowledge of the Faith.  That also includes the kids who are vying to be the next Dominic Savio.
    That’s why a “one-size fits all” youth ministry is lacking.
    My wife says she wouldn’t be the Catholic she is today if it weren’t for the experience she had at college CCM, but she also couldn’t go back to that kind of Catholic practice, either.

    One of her best friends from college married a guy who goes to an indult TLM parish.  She also said she loved the folk Mass in college, and it helped her to grow where she needed to be, but now taht she’d experienced the TLM liturgy, she couldn’t go back, either.

    When I was young(er), wiser people would warn me not to get stuck in one stage of spiritual development, and I never really understood how there *could* be growth.
    Now I understand what they were saying, and I tend to mistrust any movement that doesn’t encourage growth beyond the movement itself.

  • There is a book called something like Family Based Youth Ministry.  The author, a Protestant, points out ( using his observation and statistical research) that the adults who stay involved in a church do so when the whole family is involved.  Youth group meetings can set up kids to think religion is like entertainment with friends, and thus Sunday church becomes a big downer.  Teens need to be invited to participate in the whole church with people of all ages, instead of sequestered and entertained.

  • Teens need to be told the Truth about the Mass.  If Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy” is too heavy for them, then let them start with Scott Hahn’s, The Lamb’s Supper”, and work their way up.  My reaction after reading both was, “I’ve been gypped!-cheated out of what should be the FIRST thing taught in CCD- a true understanding of the Liturgy.” Of course, I did learn some important things: God is Love, God loves me, God loves you…Kumbaya.

  • I took some time and plowed through the comments at Amy’s blog yesterday.

    They were not as bleak as I imagined they would be.

    There were quite a few positive comments from youth ministers and survivors of teen groups. I was also surprised to learn that LifeTeen isn’t always implemented w/ crappy pop music. Good to know.

  • I just left my enthusiastic “rant” (what is the positive term?) on Amy’s site, but in short a few thoughts:
    1. I know it’s not your fav, Dom, but LifeTeen offers the best of both worlds as far as I’ve seen (and I’ve searched all over the place for good resources).  Many many of what’s out there is either too friendly or to Churchy, i.e. too fluffy or to heavy. It may not always be done well in a parish setting, but I’m going to put out there that this is because of the youth minister or pastor, not LifeTeen as a whole.

    My other point was that the document “Renewing The Vision” I believe is the best thing going: 8 Components that every youth minister should be implementing. Done well, any young person is invited, can grow, can be challenged, can go as deep or not as they want.  Alongside that is relationships with excellent members of their parish who SUPPORT the parents in the raising and forming of their teens.

    A note about “keeping parents out” I’d say, at least for me, is more about giving the teen room apart from the parent to discuss things that are on their mind but always with the mindset that anything is open to any parent and again, is alongside what the parents is doing to form their young person. Youth Ministry is a support to, not a usurper to parents.

    And just for those of you in Boston, I think Boston is miles and miles ahead of many dioceses in the country when it comes to great youth ministry.

  • Lifeteen recently got the big smack down for their outrageous liturgical antics.

    Perhaps teens should be shown just one TLM as a sort of CCD field trip.

    I would say to them this: This was the Mass of your grandparents, their grandparents and their grandparents. It was the Mass held on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Think about it

  • I dropped out of CCD in high school, right after 10th grade… the year before they did confirmation at my parish. Why? Because I couldn’t stand the other teens. We’d break up into the ubiquitous small groups supposedly to talk about something of importance, and I’d get an earful from the girls: “I don’t know =how= I got home last weekend, I was sooooo wasted!” It wasn’t until I got to grad school and could go to RCIA with adults that I got confirmed.

    So let’s say I’m not big on movements that cater to adolescents apart. I say throw them in with adults.  Adulthood is the stage you are in most of your life – adult society is what reigns at large, even if pop culture says otherwise.  Even in the best-intentioned teen groups, the kids can run off the rails because they have no perspective. There’s a bit too much in the way of hormones and not much in the way of sense.