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“Can’t Judge Success By The Number of Warm Bodies”

Today I continue sharing insights from a conversation that I recently had with Everett Fritz, author of the recently released book, The Art of Forming Young Disciples: Why Youth Ministries Aren’t Working And What To Do About It.

Everett and I had spoken about the reality occurring in the Church regarding the loss of young adults, and why that was happening—primarily, because the pastoral needs of young people are not being met within the current structures and practices of the Church, especially in how the Good News is being shared in youth ministry and catechetical programs.

Religious education-based ministries—like a youth-activities approach where there are lots of “fun social activities,” or classroom-based religious education approach where teens are required to sit in a classroom with a volunteer catechist and receive systematic catechesis on Catholicism—don’t work. Why? Because the five needs of the teens are not being met.

They are not being understood or belong, are not able to be transparent or engage in critical thinking about faith or life, or receive one-on-one guidance in either of those approaches. If anything religious education is successful at driving teens away from the Church. (emphasis mine)

“Although there a lot of really great resources, activities, programs, conferences, retreats, and mission trips going on out there, formation, discipleship and mentorship are much more than activities or programs.”

To illustrate his point, Everett shared several problems with the “youth group mentality.” Primarily, that group meetings engage few teens, the reality that no teen wants to be in relationship with every other teen in the parish, youth groups tend to be superficial, expensive, and can actually hinder ministry in the long run. But short-term success, like 150 teens showing up for a service or retreat day, can often be mistaken for long-term effectiveness.

Everett stressed that it’s really about a mentality shift regarding the goal of youth ministry. The necessity of getting away from the “numbers game” where pastors, staff, youth ministers and others in the parish judge success by “the number of warm bodies” present at different activities to instead one of producing disciples.

“Success needs to be measured by whether they (high school students) become a life long follower of Christ and His Church.”

As we continued our discussion, I asked Everett what, in his experience of working with parishes and dioceses, he has seen to be the single biggest roadblock to people adopting this new mentality and taking the next steps in changing how they are ministering towards young people.

“Fear. Mostly it’s a fear of changing ‘what we have always done’ or ‘I don’t know if I am able to do this.’ And that’s why it’s so important for everyone, but especially those in ministry, to have a solid interior life. Because if you do, then you will always be changing, and are not afraid of any change that might present itself in your ministry.”

It will be what those first steps might look like if you incorporate this new mentality into your ministry that we will turn our attention to next.