If you judge youth ministry based on numbers, the Catholic Church is doing really well.
One of the largest gatherings of people in the history of mankind was the Papal Mass at World Youth Day in Manila, Phillipines. The Catholic Church had over 2 million young people at World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain this past year. In the United States, over 40,000 teenagers attend Steubenville Youth Conferences each summer, 25,000 teens attended NCYC, thousands more go to work camps each summer and 4,000 teens go to Life Teen camps.
The Catholic Church does not struggle to get teens to events. In fact, the Church might be one of the most successful entities in human history at drawing young people to her. These numbers do reflect significant success on some level, however, if we only look at the numbers, we are missing a bigger picture.
If we were consistently reaching every one of these teens with the Gospel, every person in the world would be Catholic within one decade. However, the world doesn’t look to be getting any more Catholic any time soon, which means that there has to be a large percentage of youth attending Catholic events who are leaving unaffected. Success cannot be measured exclusively by the amount of people that we draw in.
In our own parishes, it is easy to fall to the temptation of evaluating the success of our ministry based on the number of teens we have in our programs. I don’t believe this works. I grew up in a parish with over 5000 families and hundreds of teens in our Confirmation program in high school. I am willing to bet that I am one of the few people that came out of that program still practicing my faith 10 years later.
On the other hand, I have seen smaller parishes with about 20-30 teens in their youth ministries, but those teens are extremely holy, well catechized and have a desire to serve the Church. When you work in a field of evangelization and catechesis, developing saints is the only goal and it is the bar in which we measure success. We want teens to be equipped to become saints as they encounter the world. Therefore, it is important to assess your ministry and its success with this in mind.
Some questions to consider:
- Are teens remaining involved in your youth ministry from the beginning to the end of your program?
- Do you have a good number of high school upperclassman in your program?
- When your teens consider colleges, do they consider Catholic community, Catholic orthodoxy and other faith formation issues in their decision making process?
- How much of your parishes Confirmation classes remain involved in the parish life?
- Do your teens know how to pray?
- Do your teens regularly read their Bibles and know how to navigate it?
- When your teens go to college, do they continue to practice their faith and serve the Church or do they fall prey to the temptations of college?
- Do you have teens that grow into adults and serve the Church?
- If questioned, are your teens able to defend their faith, articulating intellectual responses to difficult questions?
Too often we stay on the surface without looking deeper in our catechesis and evangelization methods. The Church gives us the catechumenate – the model for effective evangelization- as a guide for our efforts.
In the catechumenate, there are five steps:
Getting teens to events and in the doors of our parish is effective pre-evangelization and evangelization. However, that is often where youth ministries stop. If we were successfully converting, catechizing and purifying the lives of our young people, we’d see a lot more fruit from the thousands of American teens and millions of international teens that attend our big Catholic events. To develop saints, we have to dive deeper and do more than get them in the door.
The next three blogs that I will write, focus on developing saints and diving deeper. I will evaluate how we measure conversion, how we bring teens through conversion and finally, I will discuss the discipleship model that Christ gave us for developing the last steps of the evangelization process.