Problems with Youth ministry part two

In my last post, I highlighted 4 aspects of healthy youth ministry. These were relational, proclaiming the gospel, discipleship building, and missional. I mentioned how programs such as lifeteen can incorporate all 4 aspects, most fail to do so. I think the ultimate reason is that most youth ministers become so because they want to interact with youth. While youth ministers do work with youth, the job is multi-faceted in that you are also an administrator, event planner, graphic designer, web designer, social media manager, volunteer coordinator, and whatever else your ministry needs. Because there are so many jobs to do, a youth ministry’s success is determined by the number of volunteers. Having worked with youth ministers in the past, I feel more effort needs to be spent on volunteer recruitment.
Christopher Wesley,  the founder of Marathon Youth Ministry Inc, echos this sentiment in his blog post, Let’s Play The Numbers Game: What You Should Be Measuring And What It All MeansHe says, “there is nothing wrong with wanting to reach a large number of teens, but to sustain those large numbers, you need volunteers. Once again, Lifeteen’s advice is very insightful regardless of what program you are running. They recommend having at least 2-3 volunteers per event. A semester of youth ministry typically has 8 events. Hence if volunteers serve on rotating bases then you are looking at 24 person team. Not to mention that there are other teams that need volunteers such as

  1. environmental team- a group of people responsible for decorating the room to fit the theme of the night and setting up equipment.
  2. hospitality team- a group of people, who check kids into youth night, greet them and provide snacks

Most of the teams I’ve served on consisted of only 4 people and our role was to facilitate small group discussion. The environmental aspects were neglected and the youth minister planned the activity and messages. I do believe that even a small team of 4 people could work; however, I think coordination and communication are needed. I think having weekly team meeting is important in that it gives volunteers an insight into the planning process and helps them contribute. I find it hard to lead a small group discussion when the questions are given to me the night off and sometimes right before the discussion is to take place. More importantly, I think regular volunteer meetings help with volunteer retention in that it helps volunteers to feel a part of something. I did have a youth minister, who did have regular meetings, these were not disclosed upfront and I had made other commitments. An active young adult ministry helps procure volunteers. Christ the King parish in Atlanta, Georgia is an example of a well-run youth ministry, where most of the volunteers come from the active young adult ministry. Sadly though, most youth ministers neglect young adults because they are busy with serving high school and sometimes middle school youth.
However, even if a youth minister is the best volunteer recruiter ever, there may be financial setbacks due to lack of support. Youth ministers are underpaid. I once assisted a youth minister, who was only paid part-time. The lack of a living wage means that there is a heavy turnaround. Even If the job does pay full time, there may be a distinct lack of resources. These can be seen in the Teen hangout space. Ideally, the youth room offers a place, where youth can hang out and want to hang out. The room should include minimalistic furniture and tables, speakers, microphones, and projector. However, these things are expensive. At my current parish, there have been budget cuts and the youth meet anywhere and everywhere that’s open. In addition, programs for youth catechist are not cheap. To run lifeteen for High schoolers and middle schoolers, it cost $1,395. While not enormous for what you get, it still may be too pricey for smaller parishes

There are excellent programs to help develop teenagers into disciples especially Journey to Emmaus and lifeteen. However, programs will only be as deep as the effort that you put into them. If you are forced to cut corners financially or you are short staffed due to lack of volunteers; the effort will be missing and you will not have the manpower or stamina to tackle all 4 aspects of youth ministry. Parishes can help by providing financial incentives or moderate budgets. Parishioners can help by volunteering their time and talent. Youth ministry is not an easy job and it encompasses much more than hanging out with youth.

The problem with Youth ministry

Having served under two youth ministers and as a middle school catechist, I have observed that youth ministry in the Catholic Chuch varies widely. Youth ministry suffers for three reasons: 1. over-reliance on outdated methods and 2. failure to focus on all aspects of ministry.

 Over-reliance on outdated methods

I find that in certain parishes; there still is a tendency to rely on old-school CCD methods of catechism. This is especially true of middle school age youth. Textbook catchism is problematic. First, it doesn’t help people fall in love with Jesus. Second, it creates students of religion rather than disciples. Disciples are people, who follow the example of a teacher. When Jesus formed the 12 disciples, he did not demand they learn about his life, but rather he invited them into a relationship. Third, it encourages memorization rather than practically doing. For my 7th-grade catechism class, the textbook had self-assessments and vocab words. For me personally, I’d rather my students know and be encouraged to pray than know the proper definition of the magisterium. Fourth, youth spend so much time in the classroom already that they don’t want to spend time in another. Fifth, youth especially males have so much energy; and I found it is easier to have them focus on an activity. Lastly, there is a disconnect between what is being learned and what is relevant to them and what is relevant in the Mass. In my 7th grade class, one kid had a peer, who had committed suicide; another kid whose parents were not religious, and a group of kids, who were debating whether to protest school shootings. My textbook was woefully tone-deaf. Also, it is disconnected from what they experience at Mass.

Failure to focus on all aspects of ministry

Edmund Mitchell, in his blog post, AN EVANGELISTIC MODEL FOR YOUTH MINISTRY, describes 4 aspects of youth ministry.  These 4 aspects include relational, KERYGMA, discipleship, and mission. Let’s unpack each one. Relational has to do with meeting kids where they are at and inviting them to form a trusting relationship with you. These may entail going to sporting events, high schools, and anything else the teen was involved in. The second is KERYGMA or proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ; this might be achieved at a life night. The third is discipleship, which describes the desired response such as growing deeper in prayer or attending a bible study. Lastly, mission entails equipping the individual to go out and spread the good news.
Most parishes in Hampton roads run a ministry known as Lifeteen. Lifeteen is a company that creates catechetical lesson plans to be used by a youth minister and a team of volunteers to help create a series of talks called life nights. These life nights form the basic catechetical component. Sadly for reasons I will get into in my next post, most parishes do not run it properly. Life nights by themselves are not meant to incorporate all 4 aspects of youth ministry; however, if you use all the resources Lifeteen can incorporate most. Here’s what a subscription includes:

  1. Life nights Designed to evangelize and catechize the youth; these nights have a theme that centers around what teens need to know
  2. Summit discipleship resource-Weekly bible study resource around the Sunday readings
  3. Unleashed Missionary Disciple resource- Takes teenagers deeper into aspects of faith and prepares them for leadership

Now I am not here to sell lifeteen nor do I think it is completely necessary, but I do think that a well-run youth ministry needs to encompass all 4 aspects. In my next blog post, I will talk about how a lack of volunteers, a lack of financial support, and a lack of engagement with the wider parish hinders the lifeteen model.

What is branding? Why is it important

This weekend I attended a worship, tech, and creative conference put on by The Church Collective. I attended workshops on video production, branding, and creative arts. These workshops were extremely helpful especially the branding one. I attended because I currently assist a Catholic Charismatic ministry in communications and outreach marketing. It seems like so many Catholic parishes and organizations don’t understand branding.
The real reason has to do with the difference between a parish and a church. According to the Catholic encyclopedia, a parish is created when a priest is given authority over a certain body of faithful, which is determined by geographical location. Hence, if a parish assumes to have authority over you by virtue of where you live then there is no incentive to market itself to the community. In light of travel and the consumer mindset of modern society, I don’t think the local parish can continue to assume that local Catholics will flock to local parishes. Now a common objection is that if people are traveling to other parishes because the ‘experience” is better, then they just don’t understand the point of Mass, which is not to be entertained but to receive Jesus in the sacraments. While I want to address this concern later, I will say that it is not an either, or choice. We can desire to want to have a definite identity that makes us feel like we belong and still acknowledges that the church is bigger than our one parish In other words, I think most Catholics leave, not because protestant services are more entertaining or because they don’t understand the Eucharist, but because it’s easier to feel like you belong.
On the other hand, Protestant churches do not receive authority based on geographic location. Anyone can start a protestant church simply because they feel called by God. We’ve seen streets with churches lined up back to back. This lack of authority over a group of people means that they must work to win your loyalty. Because they are working to win your loyalty, they pride themselves on offering an excellent experience. Not only that, but they must define who they are and what separates them from other organizations. The speaker on branding, Ethel Delacruz said something insightful; if we are not a good fit, we want to plug you into a church that is. This way of thinking is completely different than Catholic parish level, which typically tries to reach everyone.
As a Catholic convert, I hate how some Catholics will dismiss effective protestant practices under the guise that it is all done for the sake of entertainment. We don’t need to market ourselves or make people feel like they belong because the truth of the Catholic Church should be enough. I maintain that these people have never spent a large amount of time in a well-run protestant church. The difference between the Catholic parish experience is night and day. It is nice to be part of a well-oiled machine that knows what its job is then to be part of a church with 1,000 different non-connected ministries. When I was Protestant, I never had to lead anything; I was encouraged to and it was easy to do so. Attend a class and you can lead a small group. Need something designed; no problem submit it to the creative arts team that way you can focus on the relational aspect of your small group ministry. I feel bad for Catholic parish secretaries, who must design the bulletin announcements, maintain the website, maintain calendar, social media (if such exists), and answer the phone. Some parishes try to get around this by funneling everything into the parish council. However, if you’re trying to start something new, then you must not only get permission from the ministry head but then they’re responsible for everything. For example, my parish had 75 different ministries, and each ministry had a ministry head. The ministry head was responsible for all digital communications in addition to the duties of that ministries. This means that if I wanted something done for the Young adults, instead of doing it myself after it got approved, I would have to wait and hope that the youth minister would remember to do it.
A brand and mission statement can help because it helps to trim the fat so to speak. If our mission is to equip people to evangelize than we might put more emphasis on formation opportunities and less on knitting blankets (yes, my parish has a knitting ministry). Fr. James Mallon has a great example of how he tried to eliminate bridge playing ministry in order to make room for Alpha/discovering Christ courses. It helps all the ministries work together. If the parish’s mission is to equip others to evangelize, then all ministries work towards that mission. A brand embodies the story the particular church wants to tell.
Coincidentally, a person I follow twitted this:
https://twitter.com/schrenk/status/1005830212196687872?s=20
It is a fair point. If Catholic Church is universal then parishes should not have distinctive identities, but rather be uniformly Catholic. So what is the overarching mission of the Catholic Church and why in my opinion is it no longer adequate for parish activity.
Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christianfaithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
In order to understand why this is not sufficient, we must understand what a mission statement is. A mission statement describes the relevant and time bound goals of a parish. A parish, whose mission statement is something like: “A place where the Word of God is proclaimed, social justice is promoted, the youth are formed, and the gospel is sent out might be true; but it doesn’t tell me the practical goals that particular parish has. All parishes have to proclaim truth, but how does your parish do it. Maybe it’s through bible study, maybe it’s through studying the themes of the homily, maybe it’s through offering a particular program. Similarly social justice is a huge issue (one, where a lot of parishes break down in doing so much), and needs to be focused into issues for your location. Maybe there’s a high crime rate and prison ministry is better; however, maybe your parish is by an abortion clinic so pro-life is more important. The point is pretty clear, location effects the methods used to fulfill the mission of the church and we must tailor to the needs of the community while not forsaking the overall mission of all Catholic parishes.

What about the snakes? Worldliness part 2

Dear reader, This is part 2 of a series regarding what it means to be worldly. You can read part 1 here.
A discussion with my mother inspired me to write this post. The discussion began when I had made a comment regarding my 7th-grade religious education class. I had admitted my shock upon discovering that the whole class disagreed with the Church’s stance that marriage is between a man and women. My mom claimed that the kids were acting compassionately so of course, they would disagree. I expressed that I believe that if they continue to follow Christ and continue to be members of the Church, they need to understand and accept the Church’s teachings. My mom argued that one can follow Jesus and not accept everything the Church teaches. However, I pointed out that even Jesus defends the traditional notion of marriage in Mark 10:6-9,

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

I argued that even if you explain away what the Old Testament says about marriage or the writings of Paul, you cannot be a follower of Jesus and ignore what he says about marriage. My mom replies, “didn’t Jesus say that we should handle snakes and not die, we don’t follow that.” I must admit I was stumped.
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