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.
After our discussion about the realities present in ministry today, how the current models of youth ministry in the Church are not meeting the needs of youth, and the shift in mentality necessary in order to be open to doing things differently, my next question to Everett was “What’s the first step if you decide you want to try and change how youth ministry is being done in your parish?”
“Train the ministers first.”
Everett was emphatic in his response, especially as he then shared that this belief in the necessity to train the ministers, was the prompting for founding his current ministry, St Andrew Missionaries in 2016. The focus of this ministry is assisting parishes and even dioceses in their efforts to shift from a large group focus to small group ministry.
I asked Everett why he saw this as being absolutely critical for changing youth ministry, and he said:
“If you are going to ask someone to change their behavior, you have to show what you want them to do. They have to see something different. Once they have the experience of doing something different, then they can begin to teach others to do the same.” (emphases mine)
He went on, “Discipleship requires intentional and consistent relationships. A mentor must be invested in the same group of young people for a long period of time in order to have a real impact. The relationships have to be cultivated, and the mentors need to know and see and have that experience themselves in order to truly be successful at sharing that experience with others. It’s the old adage of ‘You can’t give what you don’t have.’”
I then asked Everett, how can we find people who can be trained to serve as small group mentors?
“Look for some holy men and women in your parish who love the Eucharist; are lifelong followers of Christ; are contagious and attractive witnesses of the faith; and who are open to spending time mentoring a handful of teenagers each week.”
These are the kind of people that youth ministers need to approach and ask to enter into relationship with the next generation. And then the youth coordinators need to focus on empowering these people to be in relationship with a small group of teens as they share and model what it is to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus.
“Simplify the ministry approach and focus on what is most effective. Think small, in order to grow big.”
The conclusion of our series will focus on how this “think small, to grow big” methodology and mentality can not only stem the tide of our current reality of hemorrhaging young people, but also has proven to produce lifelong disciples of Jesus.