I’m an eleven year veteran of youth ministry and there are a handful of practices that I commonly see that regularly make me cringe. Jesus taught us that a tree that bears no fruit should be cutdown. Here are 5 youth ministry practices that I believe need to be put out to pasture.
1. Hand motions during Worship
I’ll be the first to admit that I have hand motion sickness. I don’t like hand motions during worship songs. I believe that it distracts the group from entering into worship of God. Instead it places emphasis on the activity of the group instead of the encounter with God. Praise is an important prayer for young people to learn and a necessary part of maturing in the spiritual life.
At the Visitation of Mary enters into spontaneous praise with her Magnificat as do many of the other saints of the Scriptures. Their relationship with God is such that they do not hesitate to give Him praise and glory. Cross clapping, trading your sorrows and other silly motions are not mature in nature… in fact, they are quite juvenile. We teach motions to songs at VBS with little children as a way to engage them into the song. Teenagers don’t need that. I believe they do benefit more without the motions.
2. Multi-year Confirmation Programs
An unbaptized and un-catechized pagan can receive ALL of the Sacraments of Initiation after going through an 8 month RCIA process. Some diocese require 2-3 year programs for students seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation. For the life of me, I can’t understand why.
I believe candidates should be well prepared for sacraments, but Confirmation is not a complicated sacrament to teach. Frequently, these programs are treated as a last effort to keep our youth Catholic. There are all kinds of hoops that we make candidates jump through in order to receive Confirmation, most of which consists in trying to pack the entire teachings of our faith into a 2-3 year program. Sacramental formation is not supposed to be a cramming session for formation in the entire faith. Faith formation is a life-long journey and should be treated as such. In addition, grace and sacraments are not earned, they are supposed to be freely given by the Church.
There is little evidence to suggest that a lengthy preparation for Confirmation has positive long-term impact on young people becoming missionary disciples. We would be better served to keep sacramental formation simple and invest the majority of our time and resources into discipleship.
3. No budget for youth ministry
I do not believe that youth ministry needs to have a huge budget in order to be successful. That being said, if the majority of the youth ministry efforts are going into fundraising, then the youth of the parish are not being prioritized and ministerial needs are not being met. I know many youth ministers who spend the majority of their ministry time fundraising their operating budgets – which is the opposite of a parish operating on stewardship.
I recently spoke with a pastor who was in the process of hiring a full-time youth minister. His parish had always had volunteer or part-time help in youth ministry. He told me, “We put our money where it is most important. If we are not prioritizing ministry to our youth, then we are failing to consider the future of our parish.”
Youth ministry can be successful on a variety of budget levels, but any ministry will struggle to succeed without some level of financial support.
4. CCD and CYO
Youth Ministry is about meeting the needs of the young people. The most common methods employed in youth ministry continue to be the CCD model (classroom catechism classes) or the CYO approach (youth activities at the Church).
The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) was established in 1562 (!) in Rome as a way to catechize our young people. Believe it or not, youth have changed a lot over the last four centuries. In 2017, CCD commonly looks like classroom catechesis, with a volunteer catechist working their way through a curriculum. This is boring… and torture. It may be the worst model of youth ministry in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church. Young people have more pastoral needs to address than a lack of catechesis and it is ludicrous to believe that one hour a week with a volunteer is sufficient for passing on the faith. For youth ministry to be successful, relationships have to be developed and won, faith has to be inspired and caught, catechesis must be systematic and organic. This doesn’t happen in a classroom.
The other most common form of youth ministry is the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) “ministry.” The approach seeks to get teens participating in the Catholic Church by having a variety of fun activities at the church. I use the term “ministry,” loosely because there is very little “ministry,” that happens at CYO. Teens need more than socialization and participation. The Catholic faith has to be witnessed and pastoral needs met. This is difficult to accomplish in a method that is primarily focused on activities and participation.
Both of these approaches to youth ministry leave much to be desired in our young people and good youth ministry meets their intellectual, pastoral, spiritual and human needs.
5. Youth Ministry without Parents
Study after study reveals that the greatest determining factor for a young person’s religion is the faith of their parents. If the parents don’t live the faith in their home, the teenager has a very small chance of practicing a religion when they are an adult.
Too much of youth ministry has isolated teenagers from their parents. Parent engagement must move beyond asking parents to chaperone events or bake cupcakes for the youth group. Good youth ministry involves parents in the process of discipleship.