Youth Ministry Update
As pastor of our local parishes, I have now been heavily involved in youth ministry here for about 6 to 7 years. We have had some definite successes, but we have also learned some lessons by making some mistakes. Here are some lessons I have learned about high school youth ministry:
1) It is harder to be a high school student today than it was when I was in high school. The biggest reason is, of course, Social Media. Many of the students know it too. They understand how it is messing with their brains and can explain it better than most adults. It puts so much pressure on them to think and act in certain ways. I don't envy our high school students and I'm happy that Social media was not around when I was in high school.
For some students, this does create a lot of openness to what we are teaching at Youth Ministry. Many of them know that they have kind of a raw deal in that the world they are growing up in isn't as peaceful as previous generations enjoyed. This provides an opportunity to preach some good news and there are many students who are very open to it.
2) The Mental and Spiritual health of students is a serious issue. Students today have very high levels of anxiety and depression and do not have the sense of their own dignity that many of us grew up with. A lot of this has to do with family issues as well as the aforementioned Social Media. They are also facing issues that are much bigger than their young minds can often handle. What they see on their phones is traumatic. A couple years ago I started the year by talking about these issues and we had very successful engagement. To be able to talk about these issues from a faith perspective was very helpful.
3) The Biggest Problem we are dealing with in terms of the spiritual development of youth is apathy. Most people think that the biggest threats to the Catholic faith of our youth are atheism and or non-Catholic Churches, or just the run of the mill sinful life. I'm not sure this is the case. I think apathy is the biggest obstacle we need to overcome. Many of the students just don't really care all that much.
Students who do care tend to be at Mass with their families every Sunday. In fact, and I will re-emphasize this point later on, youth ministry just doesn't make much of an impact on students who do not attend Mass with their family regularly. For those who do attend Mass with their families, however, I see a lot of progress and growth.
4) Students don't have enough adult role models, both in the faith and outside the faith. I asked our confirmation students to think of an adult who was authentically happy. Many of them could not do it at all. That is troubling. I knew many happy adults when I was in high school. On a global scale within the faith, we had Saints like John Paul II and Mother Teresa who were respected by many outside the Church as well as inside the Church. Our students today do not have anyone like that to look up to, and it shows.
But, those students who have those role models tend to do very well and tend to be the most engaged with the material we teach. They are the ones who are more open to prayer and who are more eager to listen to what our Church teaches.
5) The most important youth ministry in our parishes happens at Mass every weekend. I told you I would bring this up again, because it needs to be said. In a negative sense, students who do not attend Mass on Sunday with their families do not get much out of youth ministry. They just don't care that much and are victims of the apathy I mentioned above.
In a positive sense, however, those students who do attend Mass with their family take in a lot more of the material we present and they have the spiritual background to integrated it into their life. The difference is stark, and it is obvious which kids attend Mass on Sunday with their families and which ones don't.
High School Youth MInistry will be starting on September 29th at 6:30pm in the parish center. This is for anyone in 8th grade through High School. Especially as we continue to suffer through this pandemic, this is a moment to help our students cope with all of the struggles they have had. It has not been a good time for the average high school student.
If you have a high school student or an 8th grader, I believe that youth ministry can help them, but I especially want you to bring your student to Mass on Sunday. Yes, the pandemic is still something we need to be concerned about, but I want to point out that across the entire Archdiocese (which includes hundreds if not thousands of Masses by now), there have only been two transmissions of COVID at Mass and both of them involved choirs with minimal social distancing. Mass has proven to be a safe place to gather, and as you reintegrate into the world, Mass should be a priority.
We also are always in need of joyful adults who like High School students to volunteer as leaders. If you have a student who wants to participate in youth ministry, please consider attending with them as a volunteer. At this time, I'm not completely sure if the Archdiocese will require vaccines for our volunteers, but I think it is likely heading in that direction so please take that into consideration if you want to help us or not.
Please pray for me and our students as we start another year of youth ministry!