Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What to do with The Youth

The Liturgy of the Hours group, which I mentioned earlier, got approved at the parish council meeting last night, so things should be moving along again soon on that front. However, I found myself also drawn into an area of responsibility that I feel less sure on.

Being the youngest member of the council by almost ten years (and this even as the parish council has got much younger in the last few years) I got assigned to help our with the "youth and family ministries" committee, and what should the topic of discussion be but the efforts to form a new youth group.

Our parish is very heavy on families with school age children, so a good youth group seems like a need. However, the last few attempts have always fizzled for one reason or another. Now we've got a brand new youth leader, 70 teens showed up to her first meeting, and everyone's hoping things will work out.

So I'm young, do I have any advice? Well frankly, I never liked youth groups. The plague of the church youth group is that it seeks to be both formation and recreation. The trap is always that it is either not that much fun, or not very good formation, or worst of all: neither fun nor formative. My experiences with youth groups as a youth fell in this last and worst category.

One of the other difficulties with such things is that a group of teenagers whose main point of similarity is that their families are all in the same parish will oftentimes be at radically different levels of formation, and have rather different ideas of fun. Being "youth" is not necessarily that much of a point of similarity.

MrsDarwin had a somewhat happier experience of youth groups than I did. The format she dealt with was a 1.5-2hr meeting which had 60min or so of religious content: prayer followed by a bible study or a short talk (I believe the term in certain circles is "witness", but I'm terribly squeamish about such things) and then fun activities afterwards. This seems like a basically sound idea, though it still leaves open the rather tricky point of what level to do your prayer/bible study/talks at.

The fact is, we are often rather less likable versions of ourselves as youth. And if I seem elitist and intolerant now, that's nothing to what I was as a youth. Since my own ideas of what constituted an interesting discussion of prayer life at the time were rather heavy on theory and abstraction (or else argumentation, which is always fun for the young) I have a feeling that thinking, "What would I have enjoyed?" is simply not a very good way of figuring these things out now. Looking back, it must be acknowledged: I was simply not a fun teen.

If anyone has details on successful teen church group formats they've enjoyed, I'd be glad to hear about them.


Kate said...

My advice - if there is a conflict between formation and recreation, formation has to win. The only youth group in my town turned into all recreation all the time pretty quickly. The problem is that, as you noted, being all teens doesn't guarantee that you'll have anything in common. Most teens have their own friends and their own idea of fun, and gathering in a church basement to do icebreakers and play games seems pretty lame in comparison. Keep it real, keep it Christo-centric, don't water Truth down. Teens want to be challenged and they will be attracted to the counter-cultural.

In my time doing youth evangelisation I traveled around to lots of youth groups. The best format I ever saw? A once a month group led by a young pastor that met, played games and horsed around for a bit, listened to a short meditation or talk (usually delivered by one of the teen leaders or a guest), broke into small discussion/prayer groups while the pastor set up to hear confessions, had some free social time (while people went for confession) and then crowned it all off with Mass. Afterwards, they had snacks. There were about 80 teens at this monthly meeting, in a VERY small town.

Also very good - service projects. Because Jesus says so, not for any long-winded social reason. Give them chances to put faith into action.

And if you continue to have a large group, there's no problem with trying to appeal to different 'levels' with different things. The youth conferences I went to as a teen ended up having two levels for some topics, and you could choose which one you wanted to go to. This is really great for retreats - you can have a few full-group events, and outside of that let them sign up for 'workshops' - smaller activities or talks.

My husband would ask you to do the older teens a favor and push for teens to be specifically invited into 'adult' parish events, retreats, formation, and service. The transition can be hard for some youth. My husband hated youth groups, wasn't all that impressed with LifeTeen, and just wanted to (from the age of 14) be a man in the parish. Now the parish men's retreat and women's retreats advertise to all adults in the parish, and young adults who have received the sacrament of confirmation. Teens can, and should, be lectors, cantors, ushers, sound board guys (and gals), EEMs, and all the rest of it. Avoid ghetto-izing them as the youth group grows!

CMinor said...

Having youth-group-aged kids, I'd like to see some kind of well-run program (preferably education/ service oriented)for the post-confirmation set at my church. As far as I'm concerned, the jury's still out on what's there now.

I had a fairly good high school CCD/youth group experience myself. The leaders were college and graduate students AND were reasonably orthodox Catholics as well. (You don't want the other kind. I've experienced that, too.) I think young adult leaders can be more approachable to teens. Plus, when some way cool grad student or young professional expresses strong religious convictions or moral views that reinforce the church (and hopefully their parents,) it carries extra weight.

Rick Lugari said...

It's been quite a few years since I was a teenager, but based on my memory I can say that a program based on the old penny catechism probably wouldn't be a very big draw. Perhaps a program called the Quarter Catechism would be more effective, you know, a spin-off of the time honored game of Quarter Bounce. You ask a kid a theological question and if he gets it right he gets to bounce the quarter into a glass of beer and make someone consume. That's what we would have found "relevant" anyway...

Patrick said...

The Dead Theologians Society seems like an excellent program for youth, but I haven't seen it for myself. Google it for more info.

bearing said...

I second the DTS that Patrick mentioned.

My thought is that teens will find a way to turn anything into recreation, so why bother planning the recreation part? Do the formation and then eat pizza, that should be good enough. Or do the pizza first. Whatever.

A dose of "we're countercultural because we're choosing to live the Christian faith" can't hurt.

bearing said...

BTW. Providing an opportunity for confession as a regular part of the youth group meeting is a spectactular idea. Maybe at the beginning, so that as the kids come out of the confessional they can join the fellowship part of the group, which can then segue into the formation part; or at the end, in which case you could close with a brief communal examination of conscience.

If you opt for a "mostly recreation" format, adding regular confession to that might well develop an extremely important habit as well as a good attitude of confession = joyful.

Daddio said...

1) Not LifeTeen.
2) I actually vote for more recreation and less formation. Stick to social events and service projects. Have a priest come in and talk about confession once in a while. But don't subject them to some lay person's version of catechesis. The most you can expect from youth group is that your kids make some nice friends and stay out of trouble. Real formation is the parents' job.