Totally Catholic Youth Ministers Lounge

Are you in youth ministry and you've had it with crazed parents? Rollin' your eyes at the pastoral council? Tired of administration work? Love youth? Love the Church? Appalled at parish politics? Looking for some good games? For a creative ways to teach a lesson for Religious Ed? Just need a place to veg out and say "phew! Someone outside of the parish to talk to!"? Grab y'r Starbucks, turn the computer away from the staff's eyes, grab a seat on a donated dusty couch and let it all go.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's a PROCESS not a PROGRAM!!!


Youth Ministry is NOT a Sunday Night Event from 7-9pm or LifeTeen Mass at 6, pizza at 7, Lifenight at 7:30, done by 10. It's not even going to their games. It's not just hangin' out after their school hours. It's not planning a fun Friday night social.

I was chatting with some friends, one of whom is going into Youth Ministry. And God love her, she really knows how to relate to the young people and is taking courses in Catechetics. But because youth ministry is so narrow, still, in the United States, people keep talking about Sunday Night Youth Group.

When I was a teen, I did not fit into the group that went to Sunday Night Youth Group (SNYG). I didn't know the kids, I never felt comfortable or reached out too. I was visible in the Church, in that I cantored and was an EM, and I went through Confirmation. People knew I was there, but I never was invited to join and when I did show up on my own it was awful!

Ok, so my experience is several years old. But in some churches not much has changed.

This friend and I were talking about LifeTeen. Now, I love LifeTeen for what it is. I'm annoyed by it for what it isn't.

That is why I always bring up the 8 Components of Youth Ministry. This is THE BEST way that I have found to bring about a comprehensive formative process in which to engage teens in nearly any way just as unique as each kid. But it also goes hand in hand with the "Bosconian" (really, I should say Salesian, I guess) approach to youth ministry. It's about reaching out, it's about laying down your fears, it's about talking to kids that don't know you, it's about being intentional when looking at their lives and finding a place for them in your ministry plans.

I don't even care if a parish does LifeTeen. I will say that their Confirmation and classsroom material is THE BEST I have seen out there. It is user friendly for teachers and is a solid balanced mix of teen culture and Church teaching (most are either too teen friendly and have pablum for Church teaching or are mega-heavy on Church teaching and leave the kids in the dust). But I care little for what program they are "using". I want to know that youth ministers are thinking comprehensively and sacrificially. That they are going outside of their comfort zone to bring kids in. That they are making plans that will invite kids of all shapes, sizes and interests into the life of the Church.

Am I making ANY sense here???

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Blogger Whiteboy said...

First point - you may have the retreat topic you were asking for previously. ;-)

Second, and more importantly, you're 100% correct. The problem is, from what I've seen, the "program" mentality is the prevailing method for youth ministry in the country today (As an aside, from an LT perspective, I don't think that's the fault of the model as much as the fault of the implementation). I think there's a few (some unforunate) reasons for this.

For a Church built around mysteries unseen, our parish structure has evolved into a "need to see something to know it's working" mentality. So we implement a "program." Now, whatever else happens, the program must have concrete standards to be measured. So now we get into the numbers game - because clearly if you don't have more kids wanting to come, it's not an effective "program." Which means that the youth minister and his/her likely limited group of Core members throw everything into a Sunday night. The thinking is always the same - let's get something solid for the teens established, and we'll add more stuff on later. But the "more stuff" either never comes, or if it does, it's implemented half-heartedly. Plus, it's being implemented for the kids that are already there, and hooked on to what is already being offered. Oh, we have the youth ministry "clique" phenomenon, that is VERY difficult to break through. Which now reinforces the "program" - well hey, nobody is turing out for offering x, so let's just keep doing what we're doing that they turn out for. Parish sees a decent turnout, often with the mentality "well, at least if they're here they're not getting into trouble" and offers limited support. It creates a massive feedback loop, where everyone is locked into Sunday night, some other extra stuff, but that's the extent of youth ministry.

OK, so maybe that's a worst case/overly cynical approach (I've been fighting that over the last year), but there's not one YM out there who hasn't seen at least some parts of that.

So how do you break the the "program/numbers" mentality? Obviously, it's almost impossible for the YM to change the scene on the ground on their own. It has to be a leadership thing - mainly from priests. In every case, where a parish has had large success in youth ministry, the key ingredient has been having at least one priest that gets what real youth ministry looks like. In those parishes, youth ministers are free to be youth ministers, not youth program coordinators. While it's getting somewhat better, in your one-priest parishes, where the pastor is juggling everything, a prevailing mentality is that the reason the YM is there is so that the priest can not have to worry about it.

And it's not just the priest. Parents have a responsibility to the process too. You've discussed this phenomenon here too - too many parents expect to drop the kids off for an hour or so and have them come home as little Super Catholics[tm], while offering little support either at home or with what the parish is offering (and as an aside, little personal rant here - the next time I hear that, as punishment, a parent is grounding a kid from coming to church, I'm going to go strangle that parent. What we do is not just a "social offering," and being lumped in with something like "going to the movies on Friday night" really goes to show just how seriously parents take the events offered).

So what sucks is that both you and your friend are right in a way. For better or worse, she is prepared for the reality that she's likely to encounter - a parish program mentality that allows things to be compartmentalized in order to maximize the available group of volunteers in order to offer something yet not completely burn out. On the other hand, you know it can be so much more, that reaching out to even just one kid that has some sort of conversion experience because you brought Christ to them should be valued higher than 300+ teens attending a program.

And I'm grasping just as much to figure out how to get there from here.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Yet, it is so incredibly easy to fall into the SNYG model. Oh wait, thats what I spend hours and hours trying to figure out every week- how to make the best of the 2 hours I have to work with on Sundays.
What does youth ministry look like beyond SNYG? I'll be honest- I've never seen it. Catholic campus ministry (at least at Michigan State)runs completely sans SNYG. But, that is to the annoyance of the pastor that the students are too gosh-darned busy to fit into such a mold.
Hold the phone, the majority of my highschoolers are too busy for SNYG too!
How do you move out of a very standardized, clique-prone, program and move into process? I've never seen it. As much as "Renewing the Vision" hints at it, I haven't made heads nor tails of it.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous cammie said...

I totally agree with what seems to be a problem; process vs, program mentality. And, I can even follow along with the observation of how the problem, "program mentality" came to be. Where I get distracted is at the point where we start to assess how it would be better if only they, "the priests" would be more supportive or if they, "the parents" would only understand our vision better. We could be so much more effective.
Would that be with our programs or with our process?

The eight componants of ministry also include the areas that our ministry takes place. It can be in the family,parish,community or world-wide. If we have a problem with parents that do not "get it" then aren't we supposed to help them also. I know where I would prefer to spend my time, ministering to the kids, but I am also called to be their advocate and voice when they do not have a voice.
I feel we are simply, or not so simply, called to do the best we can, always, for all those we encounter.
I know how frustrating it is to have a parent with hold ministry with the teens over them as a punishment. I have had parents say that to their kids, but really, what the parents see is that the relationship with the group is of such a value to the young people that it matters to them if they can't attend. In a strange way, I find it kind of a compliment.

I think it is important to recognize whatever reality you are working in, name it, and then get back to work at what you can be responsible for. And even if that is just getting more people to hear it's the value of the process not just the program then that's what you gotta do.

11:06 PM  
Blogger TCYM Lounge said...

Cammie, you are right on.

Christopher, the 8 Components in short need to be the skeletal frame of youth ministry. Evaluate your ministry by them. Are you Advocating for youth? Are you involving them in acts of Service and Justice? Are you forming them in the ways of Prayer and Worship? How are you incorporating Evangelization? What is your plan for Catechesis?

Let me say also, that these rarely work alone. Most often you will find that you are doing several at once.

For instance, I've done Communion calls to nursing homes with kids. So, we call it our service night, in that we are visiting the elderly but also Prayer and Worship, because I involve the kids in the Communion Service-they do the reading, they do the prayers of the faithful, those who are EM's assist with Communion, etc. It is also Leadership Development, in that they need to take the intiative to reach out to the elderly and take care of them while we are there. Sometimes Leadership Development occurs when some of our regular kids will take a new kid with them to show them "how it's done". In some ways you can also say it's Evangelistic because we could walk to one of the homes from the Church and I'd be sure to check in with kids I hadn't seen for awhile, or kids who had to be there because it was part of the Confirmation process. (Yes, we did make Service a requirement of Confirmation, and it had to be with the group. Oh, I just found another of the 8 to add: Community!!)

It means deliberately using those tools to form young people. A Friday night social is not merely a fun time for the kids. It is Community, it is Leadership Devp (if you have older kids leading the events), it is Evangelistic- you and the adults should never be in a corner talking together, you should be finding kids to talk to.

It is a very again, deliberate way of forming youth. It's making the most of every second you have with them. No amount of time should be wasted with them. They are far to busy. You may never get that chance again. You have to make the most of ever chance you have, but you must make it deliberate.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this blog-alogue was interesting about process vs. program mentality check out, The mess we're in and the Culpability of Youth Specialties, article by Marko. Ran into this link on Just some interesting thoughts shared on this same issue.

3:00 PM  

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