In a prayer service on Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of Holy Angels, Bishop Hying will ceremonially accept each parish’s Synod Action Plan.
I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have peeked at many of your plans. Over forty percent of parishes selected the ecclesial area Young Catholics as one of their top three priorities. That is at once inspiring, exciting, and admittedly a bit overwhelming for your diocesan director of youth and young adult ministry.
Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and start to strategize effective plans to evangelize the Gospel to two generations of young Catholics who aren’t predisposed to organized religion.
As I have sifted through the pile of PDF documents, many of our parishes have proposed goals that seek to draw more young people back to Mass, to engage them in parish ministries, and to increase the number of church activities available for them. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is no small task, because our audience isn’t asking for what we’re trying to sell them.
Fortunately we have the greatest product ever made—salvation!—but now more than ever we need outside sales associates ready to pound the pavement, cold call, and follow up with every prospect we can.
Invariably a parish will ask, “Should we hire a youth minister?”
My response: “No. Hire a youth ministry coordinator.” The most successful Catholic youth ministries don’t have a youth minister, they have lots of them.
It would be absurd to ask the Principal of a Catholic School to teach every class. It would be absurd to ask a Director of Religious Education to teach every grade level. Yet too many Catholics have been conditioned to see the role of a primary youth ministry leader at a parish as one person who forms the hearts and minds of as many teens as possible who show up.
Youth ministry programs are struggling to attract teens in every town in America, in every socioeconomic situation, in every denomination, even under the leadership of degreed, full time professional lay ecclesial youth ministry leaders. If a parish hopes to have any success in evangelizing teens—and necessarily convincing parents that Catholicism is a priority—then we must rethink what successful youth ministry looks like.
We have to challenge our faithful to think beyond a youth group. One adult volunteer can lead a small youth group. But that model is largely failing, and in most cases won’t generate the kind of impact our Synod hopes to achieve.
In my twenty years of youth ministry, I have yet to see a successful youth ministry that doesn’t have a team of passionate adult leaders, united in mission. They are most often joined by a small group of teens who are empowered and often trained for leadership roles in not only youth ministry, but in other areas of the parish as well. The team utilizes the Spirit-given charisms of its members to both lead youth activities and ensure that youth are engaged in many areas of parish life. The team establishes compassionate, personal, and inviting mentor relationships with teens and their parents.
The team spends thankless hours on the phone planning service projects, texts teens about breakups at 10pm on a Tuesday night, and makes certain that the teens do more than just fold tables for the parish picnic. The successful youth ministry team effectively utilizes the parish priest, too. Because while a priest doesn’t have to be young, hip, or Tweet and Snap, it is absolutely necessary to have a priest who simply loves teens and supports the youth ministry team.
The successful parish youth ministry team is most often led by a dynamic, patient, and talented youth ministry coordinator. This coordinator will always minister directly to youth, but the best ones also know how to build a team, and to allow that team of youth ministers to be disciples. The coordinator knows how to work with Father, the parish staff, the Pastoral Council, and parish ministry leaders. The coordinator also knows and upholds the Magisterial teachings of the Church.
If your parish is considering enhancing youth ministry by hiring a youth minister, I salute you. It is an important first step. The next step is to ensure that you hire someone who is more principal than teacher, more D.R.E. than catechist. Hire a coach, but insist that the coach immediately hire a coaching staff. A good sales staff needs an effective and motivating sales manager.
Okay, I’m out of analogies. Teamwork, you get it!