I answered the call to youth ministry from the pastor of my parish back in 1990. I tried to meet kids where they were at by organizing youth group meetings, planning fun events, holding retreats, and by just listening. At the time, Holy Hour, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Confession, and the Rosary were far from my planning worksheets. I was worried I would turn kids off and lose them if I threw that "holy" stuff at them. I didn't want them to get bored or tune out (in fact, these things were far from my own common practices - the real reason). In essence, I was trying to carve out some social time with youth away from their stressful lives with some caring adults in a church hall. Not a bad idea I suppose.
Later on, years later, in fact twenty years later, when researching for an evangelization effort for my last parish, I came across some very interesting information. The Dynamic Catholic Institute and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate released findings from their recent studies:
- 6.4 percent of registered parishioners contribute 80 percent of the volunteer hours in a parish.
- 6.8 percent of registered parishioners donate 80 percent of financial contributions.
- There is an 84 percent overlap between the previous two points.
- A little more than three in ten adult Catholics (31.4 percent) are estimated to be attending Mass in any given week.
- While a majority of adult Catholics, 57 percent, say their belief about the Eucharist is reflected best by the statement “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” There are still 43 percent who said their belief is best reflected in the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”
- Sixty-two percent of Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year” (33 percent agree “strongly”). Even 54 percent of weekly Mass attendees agree at least “somewhat” with this statement.
- About a third of respondents (34 percent) agree “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday.” More than two-thirds (68 percent) agree with this statement at least “somewhat.
- 80% of youth who are confirmed leave the church by the time they are 30. Yikes!
The adults among this data are the typical youth of my youth ministry days. At least for me, I concluded that what I was doing didn't work at some level. Isn't this what this means? I'm not saying that anything I did didn't work. I mean, I was following my youth ministry training as well as the advice of some of my favorite Catholic-industry youth ministry resources. What could go wrong with that? Saving one sheep for the sake of the ninety-nine - that's how the parable goes, right?
There are lots of contributing factors that have led to these statistics. But, how can we be happy with this current state and continue the path of icebreakers, barbecues, ice cream socials, and youth masses on mountain tops?
I've concluded that youth ministry has to be more evangelization than social time. Evangelization is what leads to life-long Catholics, not game nights. Youth ministry evangelization efforts need to be split (that's 50-50 of our time, planning, and resources) between youth and their parents.
But here's the thing: the primordial act of evangelization is answering a deep, deep call to holiness. Answering this call emerges from personal participation in prayer, the Eucharist, and Penance which are the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth of love that God has inscribed in the theology of our bodies.” The call to holiness extends to all – parishioners, staff, and volunteers. We must commit ourselves to immerse ourselves into a deeper relationship with God, Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, and the communion of saints through the Sacraments and prayer; it is only then that we can begin in total and complete earnest to gain Catholic families to join us.
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Catholic apologist (did you know this about him?) concluded “there exist three basic types of people: Those who seek God and find him, those who are seeking God but have not yet found him, and those who neither seek nor find.” Our social-infested means of catechizing to youth is producing adults that stop seeking and finding. Then later as adults, we can't come to terms about our sin. We may be filled with guilt; we may be bitter of those who have done us wrong; we may be enjoying our current sins too much to give them up. The data proves it and we need to take responsibility.
Let's remind ourselves that the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us "the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303), The long-last effects of youth ministry that we are seeking is rooted in the call to holiness. This call to holiness includes the ability to come to terms with our sins and formulate the uniqueness of Catholicism within Christianity and the ability to defend the Catholic Church from the great heresies of our time. How do we best prepare youth for this sacrament? Every event or retreat or meeting should do the following:
- Teach them to pray: the Rosary, the Divine Office, the Animus Christi, the Divine Mercy Chaplet just to name some of my favorites and the most important few.
- Study the lives of the saints: subscribe to The Catholic Company's Your Morning Offering to get a brief biography of the saint of the day - amazing, amazing people!
- Teach them to be silent and reflective: our Catholic faith is unique in its appeal to our intellect, instead of our emotions (the center of a Catholic Church is the altar; the center of a Protestant church is a stage). Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful means for teaching this.
- Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation: remember the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth"
How do we best evangelize to parents (and ourselves)? Either as a goal of a youth ministry program itself or a parish-wide effort:
- Remind them how to pray
- Help them pursue the adult study of Catholicism (Lighthouse Catholic Media's Formed.org, DynamicCatholic.com, ChurchMilitant.com serve as a few examples)
- Remind them how to be silent and reflective
- Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation
So let us press on toward the future God has envisioned for us and for the Church. It is time for us to become a people of possibility again. Too much of what we do is governed by a very limited way of thinking. We gravitate toward what is manageable, rather than imagining what is possible. We have lost touch with best practices and settle for the way things have always been done. Now is the time for us to reimagine what incredible things are possible if we walk with God. Now is the time for Catholics to become a people of possibility. Imagine what sixty-seven million American Catholics are capable of. Imagine what more than a billion Catholics worldwide are capable of.
One thing is certain: Whatever we do or do not do will determine the future of humanity and the world. - Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism.
 Compiled from research conducted by Dynamic Catholic appearing in The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, 2012, by Matthew Kelly and the 2008 USCCB-sponsored study conducted by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate “Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics” (http://cara.georgetown.edu/sacramentsreport.pdf).
 Blessed Pope John Paul II, TOB 126:5.