State of the Youth

As we enter into this new calendar year, this is a time when we typically reflect on where we have been and where we are going. I also find this to be an appropriate time to reflect on these same questions in terms of Youth Ministry—both here in Bloomington and in America at large. In 2016, Barna Research came out with a study that interviewed pastors and youth ministers about the priorities, challenges and trends in Youth Ministry. My hope is to summarize their findings and compare it to our parish.

First, let’s start with what we know. We know that millenials (those born roughly between 1980 and 1995) are leaving the church faster than any previous generation—and we know it is not just a “Catholic” problem nor is it a Bloomington problem. A full 59% of millenials who grew up in the church have walked away. Using past behavior as a predictor for future behavior, we must do something. We have the responsibility as disciples to respond in a way that makes disciples in the future. The church must adapt in a way that welcomes in and gives value to youth and young adults. This isn’t a job for a “youth minister,” but instead a call for a movement within a community. This leads us to the important question: how do we (as a church) value our youth?

Is “Youth Ministry” a top priority? According to 61% of churches polled, “Youth Ministry” is one of the top priorities in their church. Interestingly, the higher the attendance at weekly youth groups, the more likely that individual church will rate “Youth Ministry” as a top priority. Over the past few years, our parish leaders have published lists of the top priorities that they hope to focus on for the coming years. “Youth Ministry” has remained one of the top priorities at our parish.

What are the top priorities of youth ministry? Overwhelmingly, 75% of churches cited “discipleship / spiritual instruction” as the top priority for youth ministry; 41% of churches cited “building relationships” as a top priority. It seems clear that as a nation, many of our churches have the same goal. Within the context of the Catholic Church, “discipleship” has widely been the goal of youth ministry since the publishing of “Renewing the Vision” (USCCB 1997). At this parish, we’ve held both of these priorities as important.

In the Barna article, youth ministry leaders were also asked about the importance of non-weekly programming and events in youth ministry. A full 74% of leaders cited mission trips as “very important” to youth ministry. Youth ministry leaders also said that overnight retreats (45%) and week-long camps (43%) were “very important” to youth ministry. The Church of St. Edward has a long history of supporting mission trips, overnight retreats and VBS (Vacation Bible School)—what will these opportunities look like for us in the future?

The article closed by listing some of the common “Challenges of Youth Ministry.” The greatest challenge that youth ministry leaders today face is the “Busyness of Youth” (86%). This should come as no surprise to parents of youth, but how do we all work together to address this issue? Of the other commonly listed challenges, “Lack of Interest from Parents” (41%) and the “Breakdown of Families” (31%) were the second and third most common.

What does this research mean? As our world is rapidly changing, our youth are growing up in a time period that brings challenges many of us never saw coming. As we expand our ways of communicating with each other through social media, youth are often not learning appropriate face-to-face skills for which previous generations were reliant. As we build a church for all generations, we must be mindful of our differences and patient as we try to bridge the gap before our youth sail away from the church altogether. As we enter into this new year and prepare our budgets and our calendars for our 50th year as a parish, what a great opportunity for us to reflect on our priorities as we enter into a new era of youth ministry.

Patrick Smalley
Director of Youth and Adult Ministry

For more info, see the full Barna article at https://www.barna.com/research/the-priorities-challenges-and-trends-in-youth-ministry/#