It’s about relationships! Youth Ministers work to help young people deepen their relationship with Jesus through the ministry we know as the Church. Whether this relationship is developed through involvement in a Youth Group, going on a Mission Trip, or from a profound experience at Mass, Youth Ministers serve as an Advocate and Link in the mission of the parish.
Relationships can seem a little abstract so let me illustrate how relations can look in a parish. Most people are familiar with churches having a Youth Group. Gathering young people for a religious purpose is certainly one way of helping young people deepen their relationship with Christ. A Youth Minister is challenged to keep the Youth Group active in meaningful faith-based experiences by constantly keeping in touch with the needs of the group as well as the goals of the parish.
A vibrant Youth Group can often be interpreted as an effective Youth Ministry. But here is where a Youth Minister steps up as an Advocate and challenges the parish to look deeper. Any program that a Youth Minister runs will have limitations. A vibrant Youth Group may work well for those who come on a regular basis but it leaves behind those who don’t (or won’t!) come at all. A Youth Minister works to find ways to connect every young people is some way to the life of the parish.
When I was the Youth Minister at a parish in Belleville, there was an active CYO. Statistically, only 5% of the high school teens in the parish were involved. My challenge was to connect the other 95% in some way with the Church. That did not mean getting everyone involved in the CYO as there are many reasons why a young people will not want to join (don’t want to, school commitments, job, personality, or simply never invited). A Youth Minister reaches out to all the young people and learns about their needs so that the Church can respond to those needs.
Early in my career in Belleville, there were a number of talented young musicians and singers. A “youth choir” was formed to be in charge of music for the Sunday evening Mass every week. My job as the Youth Minister was to make sure this group had the materials needed to be successful.
In another example, a young lady wanted to start a junior high retreat program called Luke 18 at St. Teresa. I learned everything I could about the program and helped her succeed in making this retreat a reality in the parish.
Youth Ministers also reach out to support families. Parents are the most important element in the faith formation of young people. Youth Ministry celebrates that role by connecting moms and dads with resources that support parents. One of the ways I did this was through regular mailings such as newsletters and materials that I got from national ministry organizations.
Not all youth activities needed to involve gathered activities, either. I’m sure most of us are busy and might appreciate not having one more meeting to go to or one more trip to chaperone over the weekend. One of my non-gathered outreach plans was to prepare care packages for students during their exam weeks at school. Another was to send birthday cards or cards on other significant occasions such as Confirmation or Graduation.
A Youth Ministry also calls for other adults to get involved. Any youth activity should have broad support so that a youth minister doesn’t feel like a “Lone Ranger.” With all the activities I described above, I had support from many people to make these things happen. A talented musician led the Youth Choir. I recruited some retired folks to help with sending the birthday cards. Groups of parents would help with the Luke 18 retreat.
I want to conclude by saying that Youth Ministry is an endless list of opportunities. There is more to the work of a Youth Minister than leading a Youth Group. A Youth Minister looks at all the opportunities a parish is already offering and helps make them “youth friendly.” A Youth Minister also listens to young people to hear their needs so that the Church can learn new ways to respond. The more the Church responds to young people, the deeper the relationship young people will have with the Church.