I’ve heard of recent surveys of “non practicing” Catholics tell an alarming statistic regarding the future involvement in the Catholic faith for current teens who are not involved in their parish during high school. Surveys are saying that only 3 to 10 percent of high school aged Catholic teens who are not active in some way with their parishes will become active Catholics in later years. In other words, for parishes that are waiting for people to get involved when they are older, the chances of that plan working are quickly fading. While youth ministry is not the only outreach parishes offer – I can’t think of one other parish ministry that is more important than youth ministry.
The reality is that vibrant youth ministry equals a vibrant parish! Name a parish in your area that is categorized as “vibrant”? I would bet that parish has vibrant youth ministry in place. It’s not the only factor but these parishes see the value of teens not being only the future, but being an integral part of the Church today. Parishes that make an investment in youth ministry are seeing growth in teen attendance at Mass, attending religious education offerings, considering religious vocations, participating in liturgical ministries, and other youth groups activities offered at the parish. Vibrant parishes have a dedicated youth leader and a team of teens and adult leaders who are on fire for the Church and acting as disciples who lead teens closer to Christ through living a vibrant Catholic life. These parishes know that teens are seeking community and they have relational ministry as a bedrock to all their teen outreach.
An alarming trend we are watching is that many parishes are considering cutting back or have already cut back youth ministry efforts due to budget concerns and in some cases out of fear based on recent scandals. I recently attended the Beatification of arguably the most vibrant youth focused Pope in the history of our Church – Blessed John Paul II. His first words as Pope were “Be Not Afraid – Open Wide The Doors to Christ”. I couldn’t help but think about parishes that are not focusing on vibrant youth ministry these days and drew encouragement to keep asking parish leaders to stay committed to middle school and high school teens. Parishes take a big risk by ignoring youth today and hoping that some day they will return. Youth ministry is not about ice breakers, skits, hand motions or burlap banners, it’s about souls and we need to strive to have every Catholic parish have vibrant youth ministry.
Would other parishes in your area view your youth ministry as vibrant? More importantly would the teens at your parish say they belong there?