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  • Eric Gallagher

    The Cure for the Retreat High

    By Eric Gallagher

    One of the most common struggles that I hear about from youth (and that I have experienced many times myself) is the after-effect of what is known as a retreat “high.” If you have never heard of it before, the retreat high is that time during and shortly after a retreat when someone is experiencing a great consolation in their faith. It’s known as a retreat high because not long afterward, they are hit with a great struggle in staying motivated in their faith (a “low”). Time after time when I speak with youth who have had retreat highs repeatedly, it seems like they have become so dependent on them that these moments have become harmful to the way they practice their faith. The reality is that these types of retreat experiences are extraordinary. Like an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, they may be helpful, and it is certainly acceptable to utilize them. However, the preferred minister is the ordinary minister of the Eucharist, the priest or deacon. The life that we are called to live most of the time is the ordinary life. Extraordinary experiences in the faith should deepen our love for and the practice of the ordinary life. The “feeling” of a retreat high is not bad, just like the attraction between a couple on their wedding day and honeymoon is not bad, but the daily stability, foundation, and practice of love is the way in which we are called to live. Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on the need for Initiatory Catechesis following these conversion-focused retreat opportunities. Initiatory Catechesis is that essential moment in the life of a Christian after they have said yes to Christ. It’s a period in their walk with Christ where they become “initiated” in the faith. The General Directory of Catechesis describes it in these ways: an essential moment a comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith includes more than instruction: it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life, it is a complete Christian initiation, which promotes an authentic following of Christ it looks at what is “common” for the Christian See full description of Initiatory Catechesis in the GDC here (paragraphs 67-68) This is the cure for dependence on the “retreat high.” This is the way in which the youth with whom we work with able to adjust and grow into mature disciples. I experienced this recently as I have been walking with a few youth from my own parish. I find it to be a common experience that many of these youth have encountered Christ and are excited about what Christ has done and can continue to do in their lives, but they struggle knowing how to do it. They struggle connecting this awesome reality of God’s love with their daily life. This is where Initiatory Catechesis comes into play and really where discipleship begins and why discipleship is so important. The cure for the retreat high is NOT more retreats, but it is the process of discipleship which helps a youth give up their life and take up a new. While retreats are a helpful and important part of growing in our relationship with Christ, they exist to enhance, not replace, the ordinary life of a Christian. What does this look like? Well, it looks different depending on the individual, but for everyone it is discipleship in some form. “Want to learn more?” Check out our new Discipleship Leader Boot Camp Course, in which we cover the fundamentals of discipleship.”  
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  • Eric Gallagher

    My Top 8 Youth Ministry Purchases from Amazon

    By Eric Gallagher

    I’ve been an Amazon customer since 2002 when pretty much the only thing that people used it for was to avoid going to the University bookstore and paying full price for college textbooks.  Now Amazon seems to be the first place I look whenever I have need for anything! To start off this new Catholic Youth Ministry Blog I’ve decided that for my first post I would go through the last 16 years of my Amazon orders and share with you the top 8 things I’ve purchased for youth ministry.  Also, please note that if I were to give a true top 8, it would likely include 5-6 books. I’ve decided that I’ll stick to games, resources, supplies, etc. and I’ll devote another post to my favorite books.  So here we go: Please note: these are affiliate links that allow us to receive a portion of any sales made when you purchase these items by clicking through on our site.  This "kickback" goes to support the work of the Catholic Youth Ministry Hub. Games Supplies Poof Soccer Balls We tried out three or four types of balls to use for dodge ball in our gym.  These were by far the best ones we could find. They are soft enough, they last a long time, and more importantly it feels great when you zing that youth with one of them! See it here. Spike Ball An excellent game to have sitting around in a youth room, at camp, etc.  It’s a very common game that most know how to play and it can serve as an excellent ice breaker.  It’s also extremely affordable and is great quality! See it here. Kan Jam This was another well known game that I discovered later on than most.  Similar to Spike Ball (above) this is affordable, it’ll last forever, and most people can just pick it up and play it.   See it here. Board/Party Games Pharisees - The Party Game This is the "Christian" version of the popular youth ministry game "Mafia".   I often tell people it's the perfected version of the game. See it here. Curses Game This is an older game but it’s one of those go-to games that is great for small groups.  In larger groups it’s entertaining enough that observers have no problem just watching! See it here. Exploding Kittens Game I have officially ordered 25 of these from Amazon.  It is an awesome game that can be played in 3-5 minutes and rarely gets old.  It’s another one of those games that observers enjoy watching. It can be expanded to take more players as well. See it here. Other Sleeping Cot I got tired of air mattresses and these have been an excellent replacement for when we need additional beds at camp or on retreat.  They are durable, long lasting, and fairly inexpensive. They aren’t the most comfortable to sleep on but those who have them are usually grateful to have anything! See it here. Pope Francis Bobble Head Definitely the coolest affordable prize that I have bought so far! See it here.     I hope you've enjoyed this list!  If you have other items you'd like to mention, please comment below!
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  • Eric Gallagher

    A CRAZY Youth Ministry Proposal

    By Eric Gallagher

    A couple of years ago, I spoke with a mom in a local parish who was interested in leading a small discipleship group. She was excited because the parish was encouraging discipleship groups to begin as naturally as possible, so she immediately saw her daughter, her daughter’s friends, and a couple other youth as a great group to lead. This mom asked a friend to lead the group with her, and they began meeting in the fall. About two months into leading the group, the pastor caught wind that this group was having a sleepover at the leader’s house and immediately put an end to it. His reasoning was that according to diocesan policy, sleepovers were not allowed. What bothered me about this situation is that two months prior, the pastor would’ve agreed that there really wasn’t anything wrong with this mother having a sleepover, and to be blunt, it wouldn’t really have been any concern of his. In fact, when talking with him later, he readily admitted this, and we agreed about how frustrating it is that the policy at times can actually inhibit us from just living life as a parish family. Let me propose something a little crazy. What would happen if as a Church, the “program” we offered was not “discipleship groups” but the formation of the discipleship leaders? How would this impact this specific situation, and how would it play out overall with regard to discipleship focused youth ministry? Let me offer a few thoughts. Evangelization would be lived rather than programmed In some ways, this mother didn’t see her “sleepover” as an act of evangelization because she was simply being “mom,” and in simply being “mom” she was living out her call to “go and make more disciples.” We should begin to recognize that this sort of community and intentionality is an evangelizing activity that goes outside the walls of the Church (which is the goal, isn’t it?). The idea of this intentionality being recognized by the parish was attractive to her, but was it really necessary? In this situation, we recognize that by formalizing it, much of the freedoms she would have had before were stripped away. Formalizing a “lived evangelization” increases risk and liability to the parish I’m only looking at this one situation, but in this case, by formalizing this “group” as a parish group, the activities that they could previously have engaged in as a normal part of their life now have increased the liability of the parish, the diocese, etc., which is why they couldn’t have the sleepover. I understand that at the same time, bringing something under the umbrella of the parish will provide protections and assistance that someone like this mother might desire. For example, if she were to take her group on a trip or to a conference, she might appreciate the coverage that a diocese or parish could offer as far as insurance, legal protections, etc. In this specific situation, though, the mother would’ve rather taken on the liability of the sleepover than lose the ability to have the sleepover altogether. Parishes could focus more on formation and less of administration The greatest desire I hear from priests who want to be more pastoral is that they would not have to be so concerned about the administrative aspects of running a parish so that they could be more of a shepherd for their people in the spiritual life. This proposal would be along the same lines. If we focused more of our time on helping others do the work of evangelization (and administration), we would be focusing more on formation, which over time would build a stronger church family. If the discipleship group mentioned above were merely a project or effort of the mother (which is was before it was ever a discipleship group) and the parish “programs” existed to help that mother grow in her ability to lead these young women, the parish wouldn’t have to be so concerned about the details of the group. It would create a culture where parents and adults felt empowered to view their daily life as an opportunity to evangelize and would cling to the parish in order to receive the support and formation they needed to do it well. I’m not proposing that all programs are bad. As indicated earlier, a parish leading a trip or an opportunity when it would be difficult or impossible for a group to do on their own would assist adults like this mom in their mission. I’m also not proposing that we do this simply to reduce the risk of liability to the parish. The mom mentioned above has a heart for the Church and a desire for her daughter and her daughter’s friends to be connected to the Church. I’m proposing that the systems that we have in place in order for that to happen can sometimes do more harm than good. I’m proposing that the programs we offer in our parishes be more focused on forming disciples to “go make disciples” and then send them to do so rather than thinking we also need to coordinate and micromanage the ways in which they do.  
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  • Eric Gallagher

    Should We Be Training or Forming Our Leaders?

    By Eric Gallagher

    For the past 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the evolution of youth ministry. During that time, people have been searching for the right resource that is going to respond to the needs of young people. Today, we have top notch resources that can be used in just about any setting, for any sized group of people, with the best speakers in the world, and some of the best production available. Still…there seems to be a desire or an understanding that we can do even better. Over the past five years, there has been a huge emphasis on training. People will often say that you can have the best resource in the world, but without a well-trained catechist, the resource will mean nothing. This is true…or is it? Perhaps, but I think we need to be clear about the difference between training and formation. Feel free to look up the definitions for training and formation for yourself, but in short, training is the action of teaching someone a skill or behavior and formation is to make or fashion into a certain shape or form. Or, another way to put it is that training is teaching someone to do something, and formation is helping someone to become someone. Now to start, I have to say that in many respects, training and formation are very connected. An example that comes to mind is when I asked my priest if I could start a prayer group in high school. I was amazed at his immediate yes. He didn’t ask many questions about what I was going to do or how, but he saw it as an opportunity to lead and form me. He knew that as I followed the Lord’s promptings in my life, those experiences would bear fruit, and they did in so many ways. The “program” itself maybe didn’t look so great at times, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t be where I am today without that formation: the formation that came from his support, his mentorship, and his trust in what the Lord was doing in me. To the extent that I have been able, this is how I have run youth programs for years. In fact, this is what it means to be “discipleship focused.” We must recognize that in order for a program to be run well, our focus must be on the conduits through which that program is run. While it may be important or even necessary to train someone to do a task, we must understand that it will be through their experiences (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) that they will be formed. Having made that distinction, I want to share just a few tips with you on how you can accomplish this type of formation in your efforts: Focus on a leader’s experience rather than their results When you meet with your leaders, either individually or as a group, focus your conversation around their experience. Instead of asking, “What do you think went well?” ask, “Where did you see God working?” Instead of asking, “Where could we improve?” ask, “What was most difficult for you?” This alone will take attention off of the program and put the emphasis on the leader. Their answers will also give you insight into which leaders are attentive to what’s happening in them and which may be too focused on the “program.” Be patient with the lacking in order for growth to occur Taking your eyes off the program will seem like an adult taking their eyes off their two year-old for ten seconds…a lot can happen in that time. Again, we have to ask the question: do we care more about the program than the people? Having patience with an adult desiring to grow in their role will pay huge dividends. Keep the work simple and easy to understand Strive to keep roles simple and easy to understand. This does not mean you should simply dumb things down. Asking someone to “assist in leading a young person to Christian maturity” is a straightforward and clear directive, but it will require a depth of understanding and attentiveness to do it well. The point here is that at any time, you could sit down with that person and ask if they believe that they are doing what they’ve been asked to do. As growth occurs, encourage deeper thought and leadership Continuing from the last point, pay attention to whether your adults understand their task well, and, if so, be ready to invite them into the deeper vision and mission of discipleship. If someone has been leading a small group for some time and desires to take things even deeper, be ready to journey with them in that. Focus on the person as opposed to the program As an adult begins to grab hold of the deeper vision, remain focused on them. It may mean that as they grow in wisdom, discernment, and insight into their gifts and charisms, they will move on and participate in other areas of parish ministry. If you remain focused only on the program, your volunteers will continue to be limited in where and how they are capable of helping out and the degree to which they will be formed. Be willing to sacrifice your best leaders. Remember, your goal is formation, NOT the program. Formation will never end, and if someone leaves your program because they’ve been formed well and feel called to assist in another, you have done your job! To be clear, I understand that these suggestions apply more directly to people who are in roles that are more formative in nature (leading small groups or bible studies, mentoring an individual, teaching, etc. ) and less important for the more menial tasks (bringing cookies, simply being a chaperone, etc.). My hope is not that you set out to create the perfect formation program, nor do I mean to imply that we should focus all of our efforts on formation to the exclusion of anything else. But I do hope that we begin to accept God’s invitation to us and to all of those in our parish to participate in his work, and through that, to receive more of Him. Our role as leaders is simply to allow that to happen and cultivate a culture where we are all becoming more aware of it. And when we do, our work in ministry will be less about what we are doing and more about who we are becoming. We will be changed!
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  • Eric Gallagher

    Ninja Game

    By Eric Gallagher

    You may have seen this game before and not really understood what was going on.  The game is called Ninja.  It is an extremely easy game to figure out and explain but can take a lifetime to master.  Youth Ministers like it simply because they will play and analyze it more than anyone else, ensuring that they could beat any youngster up for the challenge. Here are the instructions: Size of Group:  You can play two people but I would recommend starting with at least four.  If you have more than 20 people, it may be good to split them in to small groups of ten. Goal of the game:  To hit/touch someone else’s hand with your hand.  This eliminates them from the game. Directions:  Have everyone stand in a circle, take a bow (like on the Karate Kid), and strike a pose like a Ninja.  One person will move at a time and you will go in clock-wise motion.  Basically the person whose turn it is will try to touch/hit the hand of another person with their hand with ONE motion.  The person they are trying to attack can make ONE motion to move out of the way.  Both people stay where the end of their motion ends and are frozen until it is either their turn again or they are attacked. How to Win:  You play until one person is left in the game and they are declared the winner. Things to Know: You always go after the person who started to your right at the beginning of the game.  The circle will eventually collapse and people may get out of order.  Always remember who you go after. If someone goes out of turn, have them return to where they were. Can set a rule that your hands must visible (recommended) A role, jump, or spin is considered one motion. Once your youth start to understand the strategy to this game it can become extremely competitive.  It is a great game that most enjoy (especially the volunteers!)
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Screaming Toes

You will need at least 5 people to play.  If you have more than 25 people, it may be good to split them in to two groups. First have everyone shake each others hand and introduce themselves to each other. Then have everyone stand in a circle. Directions: Everyone will look down at their feet. When the leader yells “SCREAMING TOES” everyone will look up and look at one other person.  They should have this person in mind before the leader yells "SCREAMING TOES".   If the person they are looking at is not looking at them, then they say nothing. If the person they are looking at is looking at them also, then the first person to yell the first name of the other person wins and the other person is out. Play until you are down to two people and both of those people are the winners.

Hunter, Gorilla, Woman

This game is like rock, paper, scissors. We play it with individuals, if you browse around there is a group/team version of this game. Have everyone grab a partner and stand back to back. Count to three and have them turn around and do an action. You can create your own actions for the three characters or have the youth create them before you start. It is in an elimination game so the loser of the two is out. The winners take on other winners until you are down to one. As an icebreaker, be sure to come up with some clever things to have them get to know their partners a bit in between in each round. Use random “get to know you” questions or have them share stories. Who Wins? Gorilla beats the Woman Woman beats the Man Hunter beats the Gorilla

Discipleship – Preparing for the “Game”

One of the biggest struggles I am finding in leading a discipleship group is that I have a group of young men that I know want to go deeper, but it seems like I never have the time or when I do attempt to ask the deeper questions, they are not prepared to answer them. In the last couple of weeks it has been helpful to me to view our group meetings like a huddle in a football game. I don’t have much time, we have a game to play, and everyone should leave knowing not only what they are going to do but what everyone else is going to do as well. The goal of a discipleship should be to equip young disciples to go and live out their faith with courage, a very serious “game” that is incredibly challenging. Here are a few things I think are helpful in establishing group meeting times that are productive, challenging, and prepare everyone for the game. Be Playing the Same Game Be sure to take time to get everyone on the same page about why you are meeting. Every youth should know that the purpose of coming together is to help them grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. If this is not happening, it’s not worth meeting. Talk About What It Looks Like Be sure everyone in the group understands what it actually means to grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This should include a daily commitment to prayer, commitment to regular reception of the Sacraments, reading of Scripture, and striving to love those around us. Set a Level of Commitment I think it’s a good idea to come up with a playbook for your group. Set some standards for what is expected of all members of the group. Make very simple commitments that are measurable (15 minutes of daily prayer, monthly confession, etc.). Check In Often Just like in a football game, the game changes, and plays may need to be adjusted. Check in each week to ask how each person is doing on their commitments, and make sure everyone leaves knowing the game plan for the next week. These are just few things I have started doing that have been extremely helpful to create a culture for growth in the limited time we have together. I have seen major steps in the right direction and am seeing a much more invested group of young men as a result.

7 Tips I Learned From The Mega Church About Ministry

A couple years ago I had the opportunity to visit a service at one of the mega Church’s in our town.  A couple of friends joined my wife and I as we just went to see what the big deal was.  It was a great experience and an incredible blessing to see what is in place in their church to recruit, entertain, and educate their visitors. I want to start by ensuring that this was not a visit because I am “searching” for another church to attend or that I have doubts about my Catholic faith.  I have always been one that is open to learning from others.  I knew one thing, this church was great at evangelizing and people who went their were excited about it.  I went to learn.  These are seven things I saw that were great. I should also note that I am not intending to compare this service to the Catholic Mass.  I do not believe we need to change the Mass.  I believe though, that the way we educate and minister, especially through our youth ministry programs, needs a lot of work.  Why not look at those who do it well and learn from them? 1. Hospitality Was Off The Charts I sort of laughed because when we were walking in the doors there were people outside greeting, they had a sound system outside blaring loud music, and people were talking before they even got in the door.  I realized later that I wasn’t sure why I was laughing, it was actually pretty cool. While we there, we were greeted by about 10 different people who knew that we were not typical attendees, even by high school youth.  The gift of welcoming others was deeply rooted in many of them. 2. Families Attend As Families For the teaching they separated the children, youth, and adults.  It just makes sense, time-wise, to have everyone there at the same time.  It also sends a great message to the children about their parents. 3. The Welcome Packet I did sign up to be on their mailing lists and receive their latest news.  When I did they gave me a free packet with a worship CD done by their Church and much more.  The welcome packet is a great way to welcome people and let them know that they have been waiting for you! 4. They Stayed Connected How many times do we follow up with those youth that are interested in more?  They took my home address and my email address and I receive stuff from them all the time.  How many times do we have someone who shows up for youth group once and we never reach out to them again? 5. They Had A Coffee Shop People go where the good coffee is.  You want people to come to Church, be the place where the good coffee is.  Oh, our welcoming packet included a coupon for a free Latte as well. 6. Their Teaching Was Systematic We walked in on week 3 of 4 from their series that they were in.   Doing so, kept people coming back for the rest series, but also brought excitement each time there was a new series. 7. Their Teaching Was Dynamic Their preacher was very dynamic.  He used media, he was organized, and was clearly a learner.  Are we using the most dynamic speakers we can find to teach our youth?  How can we help them be more dynamic? What are some other simple and obvious ways we can grow in educating and ministering to the youth and families in our parishes?  Please comment below.
 

Johnny Whoop

Johnny Whoop is a game that involves having the youth ‘figure out’ the rules.  You start by showing them the way to do it and then having them learn how. I’ve found a great video explaining the game. Great, especially because the gal that recorded was clearly the subject of the game at some point!  

Should We Be Training or Forming Our Leaders?

For the past 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the evolution of youth ministry. During that time, people have been searching for the right resource that is going to respond to the needs of young people. Today, we have top notch resources that can be used in just about any setting, for any sized group of people, with the best speakers in the world, and some of the best production available. Still…there seems to be a desire or an understanding that we can do even better. Over the past five years, there has been a huge emphasis on training. People will often say that you can have the best resource in the world, but without a well-trained catechist, the resource will mean nothing. This is true…or is it? Perhaps, but I think we need to be clear about the difference between training and formation. Feel free to look up the definitions for training and formation for yourself, but in short, training is the action of teaching someone a skill or behavior and formation is to make or fashion into a certain shape or form. Or, another way to put it is that training is teaching someone to do something, and formation is helping someone to become someone. Now to start, I have to say that in many respects, training and formation are very connected. An example that comes to mind is when I asked my priest if I could start a prayer group in high school. I was amazed at his immediate yes. He didn’t ask many questions about what I was going to do or how, but he saw it as an opportunity to lead and form me. He knew that as I followed the Lord’s promptings in my life, those experiences would bear fruit, and they did in so many ways. The “program” itself maybe didn’t look so great at times, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t be where I am today without that formation: the formation that came from his support, his mentorship, and his trust in what the Lord was doing in me. To the extent that I have been able, this is how I have run youth programs for years. In fact, this is what it means to be “discipleship focused.” We must recognize that in order for a program to be run well, our focus must be on the conduits through which that program is run. While it may be important or even necessary to train someone to do a task, we must understand that it will be through their experiences (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) that they will be formed. Having made that distinction, I want to share just a few tips with you on how you can accomplish this type of formation in your efforts: Focus on a leader’s experience rather than their results When you meet with your leaders, either individually or as a group, focus your conversation around their experience. Instead of asking, “What do you think went well?” ask, “Where did you see God working?” Instead of asking, “Where could we improve?” ask, “What was most difficult for you?” This alone will take attention off of the program and put the emphasis on the leader. Their answers will also give you insight into which leaders are attentive to what’s happening in them and which may be too focused on the “program.” Be patient with the lacking in order for growth to occur Taking your eyes off the program will seem like an adult taking their eyes off their two year-old for ten seconds…a lot can happen in that time. Again, we have to ask the question: do we care more about the program than the people? Having patience with an adult desiring to grow in their role will pay huge dividends. Keep the work simple and easy to understand Strive to keep roles simple and easy to understand. This does not mean you should simply dumb things down. Asking someone to “assist in leading a young person to Christian maturity” is a straightforward and clear directive, but it will require a depth of understanding and attentiveness to do it well. The point here is that at any time, you could sit down with that person and ask if they believe that they are doing what they’ve been asked to do. As growth occurs, encourage deeper thought and leadership Continuing from the last point, pay attention to whether your adults understand their task well, and, if so, be ready to invite them into the deeper vision and mission of discipleship. If someone has been leading a small group for some time and desires to take things even deeper, be ready to journey with them in that. Focus on the person as opposed to the program As an adult begins to grab hold of the deeper vision, remain focused on them. It may mean that as they grow in wisdom, discernment, and insight into their gifts and charisms, they will move on and participate in other areas of parish ministry. If you remain focused only on the program, your volunteers will continue to be limited in where and how they are capable of helping out and the degree to which they will be formed. Be willing to sacrifice your best leaders. Remember, your goal is formation, NOT the program. Formation will never end, and if someone leaves your program because they’ve been formed well and feel called to assist in another, you have done your job! To be clear, I understand that these suggestions apply more directly to people who are in roles that are more formative in nature (leading small groups or bible studies, mentoring an individual, teaching, etc. ) and less important for the more menial tasks (bringing cookies, simply being a chaperone, etc.). My hope is not that you set out to create the perfect formation program, nor do I mean to imply that we should focus all of our efforts on formation to the exclusion of anything else. But I do hope that we begin to accept God’s invitation to us and to all of those in our parish to participate in his work, and through that, to receive more of Him. Our role as leaders is simply to allow that to happen and cultivate a culture where we are all becoming more aware of it. And when we do, our work in ministry will be less about what we are doing and more about who we are becoming. We will be changed!

Shoe Game

Materials Needed Music (music must be loud, game gets loud and people need to hear it stop) Directions This is probably one of the greatest games for retreat type atmosphere when you need to lighten things up a little bit.  To start have group of between 6-8 people form a circle.  You can just have one or two groups.  They do not compete against the other groups and there really is not a winner. This game is played like ‘Hot Potato’ with a twist.  Have one person volunteer to use their shoe as the hot potato.  Start off by playing one round like hot potato and start the music.  When the music stops, have the person holding the show stand.  You will give this person an action that must be done every time they are given the shoe from now on.  You start the music again and when you stop have the person who ended up with the shoe do a different action.  If it was the same person as the first round, they must now do both actions before they can pass the shoe. Here are some examples of actions. Yell ‘I HAVE THE SHOE’ Give everyone in your group a high five. Sing “It’s fun to sing at the Y.M.C.A. while doing the actions. Do the chicken dance Do the Macarena Blow Kisses to everyone in your group Skip around the group once Say two words that rhyme. Do the entire head, shoulders, knees, and toes Flex like a professional body builder (must do different flex each time) Usually this is enough actions.  Keep a look out for people who have several actions and those that think it is a little too funny and be sure ‘accidentally’ stop the music on them.

Spoons – The Youth Group Game of All Time

I often have friends in ministry who ask me for directions on games I play and I typically just point them to the site.  When a friend asked me about Spoons and I realized I had never mentioned it on this site, I immediately realized how incomplete the game library on here is.   So, for those who don’t know, here are the instructions to the youth group game that I take much too seriously! Supplies Needed Spoons (one for every person) Playing Cards Directions This game is very simple.  It is played like musical chairs where everyone is competing for a spoon and the one person who does not get one is out.  You play the game until only one person is left. It is ideal to play with no more than 8-10 people.  If you have more than this, break it in to several games and have a championship table when each group is down to only a few. Have everyone sit around a table and put one spoon for each person in the middle of the table.  Take one spoon out so there is one less spoon than the number of people.   Have one person deal four cards to each player.  The goal with the cards is to get four of a kind (4 Aces, 4 Kings, etc.)  To start the game the dealer will take one card from the remaining deck.  They must decide if they want to swap the card out with one of theirs or pass it to the left.  If they swap it out, they must pass one of their previous cards to the left, leaving them always with four cards.  The person to the left does the same thing with the passed cards and the cards continuously go around the table. When someone has four of a kind they can grab a spoon.  Once one person has four of a kind everyone else can grab a spoon at the same time. That’s it.  Shuffle and deal again, removing one spoon each time and a eliminating a new player! Video Example Here is video I found online of a group playing spoons.  

Evangelization – Where Are We Going Wrong?

For some time now, I’ve been trying to put my finger on the “missing piece” in our current efforts at evangelization. I’ve written a post about how evangelization shouldn’t be so hard and shared my experience of watching evangelization happen through people not necessarily because THEY did something extreme. It’s not hard to find writings and inspiration encouraging the Church to evangelize. It’s also not hard to find writings describing how different individuals or groups evangelize. The problem is that just because someone is called to evangelize one way does not necessarily mean that everyone should do the same thing. This is especially true when it comes to the situations we encounter in excellent books like Divine Renovation and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples. We read these books and are inspired by what the Lord is doing in these communities, but too often I come across people who are simply trying to replicate what they did. What are we missing? Wilfrid Stinissen in his book Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us, has a beautiful explanation (much of what he borrowed from the book Abandonment to Divine Providence) in which he lays out three types of “duties”: What we must do because of the commands of God and the Church What God’s providence allows to happen and which we must accept All that the Holy Spirit inspires us to do I want to look at these through the lens of discipleship and my experience in the Church. The Commands of God and the Church Lay people are used to responding to the call to discipleship by simply “doing what they are asked to do” (the proverbial “pray, pay, and obey”). This “minimalist” mentality is reinforced by the fact that the roles available to them in parishes are usually limited to what can be enumerated on a stewardship form. These typically require only a one-time commitment or a set amount of time on a regular basis. What God Allows We as Christians have a duty to discover what God is doing when he allows things like suffering and disappointment in our lives. God allows these things to happen so that we might draw close to Him. Ideally, the opportunities offered in our parishes should help people understand and fulfill this duty more completely. Things like small groups or bible studies can do this, but often do so very minimally. All That the Holy Spirit Inspires Us To Do This area is where I believe we are going wrong in regard to evangelization, and this is precisely why I believe authentic discipleship is such a great need in the Church today. The inspiration we receive from reading the books mentioned above is not necessarily because of what these people did, but because we see what happens when someone is aware of God calling them to do something big and they respond generously to it. I am reminded of the witness of the Blessed Mother in the Annunciation as the model of being open and receptive to God’s plan in our lives and saying yes, in faith, when we are called. It will be through that “yes” and God’s presence dwelling in us that effective evangelization will happen. As I see the efforts to do effective discipleship taking root and multiplying, I am becoming more convinced that the greatest needs in the Church today are teaching and inspiring people to become more aware of all that the Holy Spirit inspires them to do and ensuring they have the freedom to carry those things to completion. These are the ingredients that make evangelization “successful”. Once we as a Church begin to view our role as helping people live this way, we will start to see evangelization happen through them in ways that only God could have inspired. These efforts will be better and more effective than any well-polished, thought-out evangelization plan that any one of us could think up. The author does say that this third duty is something that should eventually fill our entire life.  May God grant us the grace to do so!  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

A CRAZY Youth Ministry Proposal

A couple of years ago, I spoke with a mom in a local parish who was interested in leading a small discipleship group. She was excited because the parish was encouraging discipleship groups to begin as naturally as possible, so she immediately saw her daughter, her daughter’s friends, and a couple other youth as a great group to lead. This mom asked a friend to lead the group with her, and they began meeting in the fall. About two months into leading the group, the pastor caught wind that this group was having a sleepover at the leader’s house and immediately put an end to it. His reasoning was that according to diocesan policy, sleepovers were not allowed. What bothered me about this situation is that two months prior, the pastor would’ve agreed that there really wasn’t anything wrong with this mother having a sleepover, and to be blunt, it wouldn’t really have been any concern of his. In fact, when talking with him later, he readily admitted this, and we agreed about how frustrating it is that the policy at times can actually inhibit us from just living life as a parish family. Let me propose something a little crazy. What would happen if as a Church, the “program” we offered was not “discipleship groups” but the formation of the discipleship leaders? How would this impact this specific situation, and how would it play out overall with regard to discipleship focused youth ministry? Let me offer a few thoughts. Evangelization would be lived rather than programmed In some ways, this mother didn’t see her “sleepover” as an act of evangelization because she was simply being “mom,” and in simply being “mom” she was living out her call to “go and make more disciples.” We should begin to recognize that this sort of community and intentionality is an evangelizing activity that goes outside the walls of the Church (which is the goal, isn’t it?). The idea of this intentionality being recognized by the parish was attractive to her, but was it really necessary? In this situation, we recognize that by formalizing it, much of the freedoms she would have had before were stripped away. Formalizing a “lived evangelization” increases risk and liability to the parish I’m only looking at this one situation, but in this case, by formalizing this “group” as a parish group, the activities that they could previously have engaged in as a normal part of their life now have increased the liability of the parish, the diocese, etc., which is why they couldn’t have the sleepover. I understand that at the same time, bringing something under the umbrella of the parish will provide protections and assistance that someone like this mother might desire. For example, if she were to take her group on a trip or to a conference, she might appreciate the coverage that a diocese or parish could offer as far as insurance, legal protections, etc. In this specific situation, though, the mother would’ve rather taken on the liability of the sleepover than lose the ability to have the sleepover altogether. Parishes could focus more on formation and less of administration The greatest desire I hear from priests who want to be more pastoral is that they would not have to be so concerned about the administrative aspects of running a parish so that they could be more of a shepherd for their people in the spiritual life. This proposal would be along the same lines. If we focused more of our time on helping others do the work of evangelization (and administration), we would be focusing more on formation, which over time would build a stronger church family. If the discipleship group mentioned above were merely a project or effort of the mother (which is was before it was ever a discipleship group) and the parish “programs” existed to help that mother grow in her ability to lead these young women, the parish wouldn’t have to be so concerned about the details of the group. It would create a culture where parents and adults felt empowered to view their daily life as an opportunity to evangelize and would cling to the parish in order to receive the support and formation they needed to do it well. I’m not proposing that all programs are bad. As indicated earlier, a parish leading a trip or an opportunity when it would be difficult or impossible for a group to do on their own would assist adults like this mom in their mission. I’m also not proposing that we do this simply to reduce the risk of liability to the parish. The mom mentioned above has a heart for the Church and a desire for her daughter and her daughter’s friends to be connected to the Church. I’m proposing that the systems that we have in place in order for that to happen can sometimes do more harm than good. I’m proposing that the programs we offer in our parishes be more focused on forming disciples to “go make disciples” and then send them to do so rather than thinking we also need to coordinate and micromanage the ways in which they do.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

6 Youth Ministry “Anti-Programs” That Will Enhance Your Current Programming

In my last post, I was rather critical of programs. It’s not really programs that I struggle with but rather the inability of people to think outside of their programs. I struggle with this myself. It’s easy to fall into the falsehood that we will be able to meet all of the needs of the youth within a single or maybe even a few different programs. When I say program, I mean a regularly offered event (youth group, bible study, discipleship group, etc.) that is planned and available to anyone interested. The shift that Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry aims to make is to look first at the needs of the youth instead of setting out to create the perfect program. In fact, the perfect program only exists when these ever-changing needs are understood, and the “program” responds to those needs. “Ever-changing” is the key phrase here. The problem is that often a youth leader’s job description and the direction given to them from their pastor is very program-driven as opposed to expecting the leader to observe the needs in a parish and do whatever it takes to respond to those needs. The reality is that one program will never suffice, especially when the needs of youth are so diverse. I’m not really suggesting that all our programs need to change. The youth group in your parish may be just what many of the youth in your parish need at this point in their life. I’m suggesting that we begin to discover new ways to reach the youth where they are at and create the margin in the structures of our programming that will allow us to point and to direct the youth to all the different – and perhaps previously overlooked or unconsidered – opportunities in the parish. To help explain this a bit, I thought I would share six “anti-programs” that are probably easier to pull off than you thought. These anti-programs actually are programs if viewed through a certain lens. In fact, you may already be doing these things without considering them in this light. Here they are: Coffee I have to start with this one because I believe using it as an example will help my point make the most sense. If you are someone who “goes out for coffee” regularly with a specific person or group of people, “going out for coffee” is a program. You understand that going out for coffee helps you meet a need in the relationship or situation in a way that other things cannot. This example helps make the point that people who really do understand ministry naturally do things outside of programs (like going out for coffee) and do not even think about it. Monthly Dodgeball If a discipleship group wanted to host a monthly dodgeball night in your parish hall or school gym, it might be an excellent, effective program. It’s the type of activity you could invite people to attend if you believed that whatever dodgeball does (builds community, makes competitive, athletic people feel more included, etc.) fills a specific need for ministry in your parish. Temporary Studies I truly believe that “temporary” programs are going to have a strong place in the future of youth ministry. If a group of youth are fired up about something specific at a certain point in their involvement of the parish, why not offer gasoline to fuel the fire? Imagine a young person desiring to grow in prayer and wanting to dive deeply into it with their friends. Why not offer a temporary program, maybe 4-5 sessions, just for that small group of people (although anyone who is interested could be invited) and fuel the flame? Embracing the concept of temporary programs makes addressing any relevant or timely area of formation possible if it can be done/taught over a short period of time. Spiritual Mentorship This is something I have found myself wanting to do more of in my own parish. For those youth desiring to grow deeper in their spiritual life, having someone help them to do it is vital. It’s very difficult to offer what’s needed in this sort of mentorship through any program or even a small group. Having people who are available to assist young people in deepening their life of prayer and discernment is another “program” you can rely upon if needed but is not something that’s necessarily “organized” or even planned but is available as needed. Monthly Adoration & Confessions Setting up a consistent time each month for the youth to gather for a holy hour and confessions has truly been a success in the parishes I have seen try it. It’s not really a program, but again, it’s an organized activity that corresponds to the desires and needs of individual youth. The “After Program” Program Think about the hour after youth group. In my experience, many youth typically look forward to and engage more deeply in what’s available after youth group than youth group itself. Take advantage of this opportunity. With these examples, I have just two final points to make. First, my intent is to help identify ways that youth ministry may already be happening in your parish “outside of programs.” Second, these examples are provided to inspire youth leaders to be more creative in looking at what types of “anti-programs” can exist in your parish. This is not necessarily at the cost of what your current programs already offer, but as a response to needs and desires that cannot be met within those programs. I’d love to hear more ideas of what you might currently be doing or some ideas you have of other “anti-programs” that could be utilized in a parish. 

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Are Youth Leaders Ready to Think Outside of Programs?

When I was in high school, we had one “program” in our parish for youth: Religious Education. I was placed in a class based on my age and was run through a system that had been going long before I was ever even alive. I’m grateful for all of the adults who over the years were involved in teaching me the faith through this program, but looking back, it really wasn’t what sparked my deeper commitment to the faith. A missionary who I recently interviewed described her parish programming and the efforts of her parents as “kindling for the fire” that when she was taught how to pray “burst into flames.” This was my experience as well. After encountering Christ through an outside event in the diocese, I came home and spoke to my priest about starting a prayer group. The priest gave me keys to the parish hall and said, “Meet whenever you want.” So, for three years I invited my friends and others to join us on Sunday evenings to pray and be together. Reflecting on this experience, I am amazed at the openness of this priest and his awareness that God was doing something in me. Over those three years, he and my father watched and supported me as I struggled and learned much in my efforts to invite others into the faith. Neither one of them seemed too concerned about what we were doing, but they must’ve been confident that the Lord was doing something in it. In short, they were willing to let me look outside of the “program” in the parish and respond to the specific workings of the Lord in my life. Both of them took risks on me. Looking back, though, I don’t necessarily think it was the prayer group or religious education “programs” that opened me to the call to do what I do now. It was understanding that I was called to witness and lead in the faith, and that even though I will screw things up sometimes, I am still loved and supported. I desired to receive more of what the Lord had given me at that event, and I knew that the way I was called to receive more of this grace was through sharing what I had received and inviting others to receive it as well. There was no “program” in the parish that gave me this opportunity. Youth Group is a program. Even setting up discipleship groups in a parish is a program. Rarely have I found that when we respond to real, specific needs and the calling of individuals in the Church does it look like or become a program. Programs, by their very nature, only make sense to develop if the time it takes to develop them is worth it, which is often determined by the number of people they will reach or impact. Discipleship in a sense is a program, but to do discipleship well, you must begin by recognizing the needs of the individuals, which might mean simply following whatever specific desires arise from what the Lord is doing in their hearts. This makes it sort of an anti-program, meaning it is one thing (discipling) until it needs to become another thing (a discipleship program). Discipleship is ever-changing and requires a certain mindset and method in order to adapt as the disciple continues to grow. It also changes as the teacher becomes more aware of what the Lord is doing in his or her own life and in the discipleship relationships of which they are called to be a part. One of my greatest concerns as I dialogue with parishes, begin to dissect the programming they offer, and determine how best to lead them towards Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is that the parish wouldn’t really be ready or receptive if the high school version of me showed up and said the Lord was doing something, and I wanted help in responding to it. I will close with a few questions that I often consider in order to be more open and receptive to what the Lord is doing and so that discipleship may truly be the focus of the ministry in which I’m involved: Do I have the margin in the my schedule to respond to the promptings that occur in my own life and in the lives of those I serve? If someone came to me and said, “Youth group isn’t enough,” do I have the humility that will lead me to see the deeper ways the Lord may be desiring to work, either through or outside of the ministry I’m involved in? Am I willing to put myself out there and take risks on others who are desiring to follow what the Lord is doing in their lives, even if they don’t appear “ready” or “qualified” to do so? Do I believe that God could do more through a youth or adult desiring to lead something in the parish than in a program that I’ve lead and that has been around for years? Are my “youth programs” designed to help the adults in the parish become aware of the deeper needs of the youth in the parish, and are those adults encouraged to discern how best to respond to those needs? In closing, Youth Groups and Discipleship Groups are great ways to engage young people and draw them into the community within the parish. I actually feel that these sorts of programs are also a necessary part of good formation for a young person. But after being involved in youth ministry for so many years, I have learned the simple truth that too often, these programs are not enough. Asking these questions has helped me remain open to the pastoral formation needs of those I serve, and through this openness, my own eyes have begun to see so many new and awesome ways that the Lord can and does work through the Church.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

It’s Impossible to “Form Young People” In Two Hours a Week

I recently read through about 80 evaluations from a day of formation offered on discipleship. One of the questions on the participant evaluation asked about specific struggles people had experienced in their discipleship efforts thus far . The most common responses had something to do with the busyness of individuals in the group or lack of commitment from group members. By far, the most popular comment described a tension between the desire of the discipleship leader to form the group members and the reality that this is impossible to do in the context of a one or two hour-long meeting each week. I believe that one of the greatest misconceptions people have about discipleship groups is the idea that our responsibility is to form the youth as best we can in the context of that group, and only in the context of that group. Too often, leaders create extremely busy group schedules with a night of prayer here, a social night there, and “oh, don’t forget that we have to have at least one night where the parents are invited.” Especially for those who may be new to discipleship, it can be easy to conclude that as long we include something from each of the Four Areas of Formation in the planning, we have done all we can. To clarify the point I want to make in this post, I’d like to give an example of a situation described in one of the reviews. On the question regarding struggles in discipleship, this person notes that she leads a group of 12th grade young women who are distracted by future graduation plans, and therefore not listening as closely to the content of the group studies as they should be. I can totally understand this comment. I have led many groups where I felt like the youth were very distracted by other things. What I have come to learn, though, is that it is precisely these things (college discernment) that create the opportunities for real formation in a young person’s life. The irony of this situation is that I have spent the last six months actually discipling a youth through the process of discerning college. Viewing this as an opportunity to help her grow in prayer (spiritual formation), I was able teach (intellectual formation) on two great saints, St. Francis De Sales and St. Ignatius of Loyola, and their teachings on discernment and prayer. Throughout the discernment process, and in the tension of deadlines and peer pressure (human formation), this young person grew much in her relationship with Christ and her ability to listen and be guided by His voice, and the freedom she experienced in it has become something very attractive to others (pastoral formation). I didn’t get through a curriculum, and if someone asked what this youth actually learned, it might not be the most concrete, “packaged” program, but in fourteen years of youth ministry, I’m confident that this way of thinking and the approach that flows from it is how formation most effectively takes place. Here are a few additional tips I’ve learned that I hope will be helpful for you: Learn to Observe Any professional coach will tell you that in order to coach well, you must know your students well. Start by getting to know your group and discovering what it is that God may be wanting to do in their lives before deciding what you want to teach them. Practice Getting Rid of the Resource Resources are good but can actually hinder a leader from being able to lead well. Could you imagine a football coach relying solely on a resource to tell him what his team needs? A good resource should flow from good observation and good coaching and really be supplemental to what knowledge and experience you as a leader can provide. Do Not Be Afraid to Go Slow I truly believe that the reason a lot of discipleship leaders live in this tension is because some pressure (coming either from the parish or from their own self-expectations) causes them to think that they have to “get through” a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time. God is desiring to do much in the lives of the youth that you work with and in you as well. Only when we begin to surrender our preconceived ideas and sometimes even the traditions that we are used to will we become aware of the things God desires to do in us and in those we serve.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

How I Have Seen Discipleship Changing the Church

I have been assisting parishes in moving towards a discipleship focused youth ministry approach for the last four years. It was really what I was seeing happen with FOCUS on our university campuses that first got my attention, and DFYM was the result. As it has taken shape, I have drawn a lot from FOCUS, dived deep into the teachings of the Church on Evangelization and Catechesis, and even taken graduate courses on discipleship. Much of what I have learned through experience has been reproduced for you here on the site. One of the most common things people are asking me, though, is “Does it work?” I guess that’s a valid question (insert smiley face). To be honest, I’m guessing my response to this question is not what people would expect, but it would sound something like, “It depends on who you ask.” If they are willing to hear me out, they will learn that I believe that those who have committed to making the paradigm shifts and have been willing to walk with me – even through the confusing and difficult times – will all say that it has been worth it. I do not claim to know what needs to be done in every parish I work with. I will claim that I have made numerous mistakes in my attempts to help. But I thought it would be helpful here to lay out some proofs of how I have seen a shift towards discipleship focused youth ministry making an impact in the Church. Reality Has Set In One of the greatest fears expressed by many of the pastors and youth leaders I’ve worked with prior to their move towards discipleship focused ministry is whether or not youth will attend if they are given the choice. When shifting to a more discipleship focused approach, there has to be a letting go of the idea that “we have to please everyone” and a willingness to “invest in a few” with the faith that this investment will bear greater fruit long-term. Just as Jesus asked for a commitment with a willingness to let others walk away, so are these parishes. The result: a deeper level of commitment to Christ among those who respond and facing the reality that some people might not be where you think they are. Parents are More Engaged Being more focused on the needs of the youth has clearly made an impact on parents. Discipleship focused ministry offers ample opportunities for parents to be more involved in, integrated into, and responsible for the formation plan for their child, which is often making parents more aware of their need for formation as well! Leaders and Volunteers in the Church are Being Stretched This is one of my favorites. I am in regular conversation with three or four other people who are truly invested in all this discipleship stuff. The one thing they (and me) have in common? We truly have no idea what we are doing! The reality of discipleship is that when we think we are the ones helping others discover the beauty of Christ, it’s actually the inverse: Christ is working on us. Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry calls each person involved (especially the youth minister and the adult volunteers) to respond in ways that the Church has not typically been accustomed to, which stretches and grows us in ways that are difficult but truly transformative and life-giving. I can’t get into this more in this post, but the fact that people are not comfortable, yet still joy-filled, is proof to me that God is at work! People Are Talking If discipleship focused ministry has done anything, it has gotten people talking. The hard part is that it’s really difficult to explain what discipleship focused ministry actually is (see previous point)! I belong to a parish that has no youth group and no classroom religious education for high school-aged youth, but yet it is truly one of the most active and fruitful youth ministry models I have ever seen. How can this be? That is an excellent question! People are talking about it because they are being changed! The Church is Waking Up I have run into many very faithful, vibrant Catholic adults in the last few years who were not engaged in parish evangelization activities until recently. I heard one say they wouldn’t be a catechist because they felt it was not a good use of their time (or the students’). Another shared that they didn’t appreciate the youth group model because it was always so focused on the personality and gifts of the youth minister. Parishes using the discipleship focused youth ministry approach are finding that adults who truly have gifts of prayer, fellowship, etc. become able to use them effectively in ways that they couldn’t or didn’t feel comfortable doing before. Or even more simply put, people who weren’t able to commit to Wednesdays and/or Sundays (or who didn’t fit into the mould of the traditional approaches) but had the gifts to share with the youth can use them now that we aren’t stuck to a single weekly opportunity or structure in the parish. Responsibilities are Placed Where They Should Be One of the greatest fruits I have seen in parishes doing discipleship is that people are stepping up to take on the responsibilities necessary to enable the parish to continue to grow. Too often, I find that parishes limit opportunities for involvement to simple tasks that any volunteer can do. Too often, when something big needs to be done, they hire someone to do it. Discipleship and Youth Ministry are not the job of the paid staff person in the parish, but are rather the job of the parish family. When a family member is in need, someone needs to step up and take care of them. I could write another thousand words on the beauty of how I have seen this work, but I will save that for another time. The reality is that in most parishes I see “doing discipleship,” you will not find anything extravagant, and you may not even necessarily be able to point to anything concrete that sticks out as “amazing.” But if you talk to the people involved, you will find stories and a beautiful witness of the love of Christ spreading throughout their parish. To me, this constitutes greater fruit than any successful program appears to produce anyday.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Youth Group Leader, Youth Minister, or Coordinator of Youth Ministry?

This question – are you a Youth Group Leader, a Youth Minister, or a Coordinator of Youth Ministry? – has been one of the most important questions I have found myself asking parish staff and pastors. A person’s title lays the foundation for how a they (as well as others around them) think about their role in the parish,what their responsibilities truly are, and how they go about carrying them out. Before I get into the specific distinctions, though, and what implications this has for youth ministry, I want to begin by explaining why I started asking this question in the first place. It all started with someone who I know is involved in ministry but who wasn’t interested in some of the new and different opportunities available in the area because they couldn’t go themselves. Not only that, they knew that if they sent youth to one of these different programs, it would likely negatively affect the number of youth that were attending the events that they organized. Because of these two reasons, they choose not to even mention these different opportunities to the youth they are responsible for forming. If you have followed my blog at all in the last couple years, you will hopefully know that this type of mentality in youth ministry gives me chills. Because of the pressure of growing successful programs (whether it is self-inflicted or coming from an outside source) this person has little interest in offering a diversity of programming and opportunities that can meet the different needs of the youth in the parish and/or community because it may have an effect on the programs they are responsible for running. You may have noticed that I slipped in the dilemma we face with our language in youth ministry. Are we responsible for running programs, or are we responsible for forming the youth? I believe we can answer this question through carefully choosing the title that is given to the person who serves as the leader for youth ministry in the parish. Let me break down these three different titles and offer insights into each. Youth Group Leader This sounds like a title you would give to a volunteer who is leading a youth group in parish, and rightly so. A youth group leader is responsible for “leading youth group.” This implies that they take little to no responsibility for what happens outside of youth group, and their role is simply to make youth group as awesome as possible. Youth Minister Technically, only an ordained person can serve as a minister in the Church. Lay people who are hired as “youth ministers” have been called upon to share in this responsibility of ministry. The title “youth minister” implies that the person should be ministering to the youth, for which Renewing the Vision does a good job of laying out goals and providing some framework to follow. The problem that I have found in having a youth minister is that it implies that this person is the one who should be doing the youth ministry, which can also imply that others are not, should not, or maybe even do not know how (because they are not youth ministers themselves). Coordinator of Youth Ministry A coordinator is simply responsible for coordinating the details involved in making youth ministry happen in the parish. This is actually the title I have come to prefer because it implies that the actual ministry is done by someone else and this person’s job is simply to “coordinate” and support the efforts of others. The one problem with reducing the position to what may seem like only a secretarial or logistical role is that people don’t have the youth ministry “expert” to rely upon to do the work for them. The beauty of a position like this is that it requires parents and other adults to step up and be more directly involved in leading the youth ministry efforts in the parish, but now they have someone to support those efforts. This title also seems to provide some margin within the coordinator’s role to accommodate and make available opportunities that are most fitting for the youth, which would base their success on truly serving the youth as opposed to increasing numbers in a youth group. Ideally, a Coordinator of Youth Ministry would not only be good at coordinating the various aspects of youth ministry in the parish but would be very experienced in youth ministry as well. In this regard, they would essentially be taking a step back from working directly with the youth and using their experience and wisdom would instead focus on forming adults to do what they have learned through their experience. Doing so would allow the freedom for the adults to be the youth ministers but would also give them the support and mentorship that is often essential for them to have a confidence in what they are doing. Each of these titles serves a purpose, but having a single person serving in only one of these roles may leave a rather big void in a parish’s youth ministry efforts. Depending on the vision of your pastor, though, one of these roles may be a perfect fit. If this post is making you take a look at your role in the parish, I’d encourage you to share it with your pastor. Begin the conversation in order to help you know what your responsibilities are, which will also help you understand areas of freedom to move and grow.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

The Problem With Putting Youth in Leadership

One of the most common scenarios I observe in youth ministry today (and one that I have been guilty of fostering as well) happens when a youth encounters Christ at a retreat, comes back excited about their experience, and the youth minister or DRE feels the need to put them in some form of leadership position. In these same circumstances, however, I often find that when a youth comes home excited about their experience at a camp or retreat, their parents peg it as “temporary” and don’t get nearly as excited as I do. I am beginning to understand why these two very different reactions exist and have come to realize that both are appropriate. Let me explain. The faith life of an individual can be compared to the growth of a plant. The reality is that when a youth first encounters Christ at a retreat or camp, the seeds of faith have just been planted. The problem is that we often mistake these “planted seeds” for “fruit,” and we jump right into wanting these youth to share that fruit with others when they really do not yet have anything to give. Parents understand this because they see their children excited about many things that often do not turn into much of anything. They have the patience to let it develop over time and the understanding that it must be the youth that takes ownership of it for it to grow authentically. This is where discipleship comes in. If you look at the process of evangelization, excitedly throwing a youth who has just become interested in the faith into a leadership position is making them jump from Initial Conversion right into Missionary Initiative. In my experience, this helps explain why some of these youth that were so interested in their faith in high school so easily left the faith in college. When a plant has no roots or those roots are not planted in fertile soil, it will too easily be blown away. The problem with putting youth in leadership roles so quickly is that they do not yet have the foundation in and disciplines of the faith to truly be able to lead. It tends to feed the ego more than actually bringing about authentic growth. The USCCB document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord says, “The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of formation” (52). Our goal if we are to truly help youth become leaders in the faith is to help them “cultivate a special devotion and complete openness to the Holy Spirit,” so that “the power of Pentecost will be alive in their hearts” and work through them in their leadership role. In order to do this fruitfully, faithfully, and with true discernment, they must learn how to pray. I recently interviewed a young woman for a summer missionary position, and I can’t stop thinking about the analogy she used in regard to her experience of being taught to pray in high school. She said that all of the events and classes she was able to participate in throughout those years were like kindling which served as preparation for a fire. It wasn’t until she learned to pray that the fire was lit and her faith began to explode. In order to be well formed in pastoral formation, we must be well formed in spiritual formation. A good leader must not only know how to pray but must also pray. Let us be as excited as youth ministers but as patient as parents. Let us learn to cultivate an atmosphere of discipleship in our parishes so that when seeds of faith are planted, they have a place to sink their roots into the ground and grow deeply. It is then that we can focus on how to live and distribute the fruits (leadership formation) that are flowing from this life in Christ.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Four Qualities of a Good Discipleship Leader

One of the most difficult aspects of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is finding good leaders who are intentional disciples themselves. If you are already a discipleship leader, one of the greatest struggles is likely believing that you are or can be a good leader as well (don’t get discouraged, I’m sure you are!). When I was first becoming familiar with a discipleship approach, I spent a lot of time seeking out people who were already in the business of discipleship. One of the questions I always asked was, “How do you know someone is ready to be a disciple-maker?” It seems each person has their own methods of discernment, but at least three people mentioned an acronym that I really appreciated. The acronym is F.A.C.T. (I believe it is commonly used by FOCUS) and it stands for: F = Faithful Is the person faithful to prayer and to the Sacraments? Is he or she faithful to the teachings of the Church and obedient to the vision of the parish and the expectations of the pastor? A = Available Does the person have the time to be a discipleship leader? Will the person have the time to be available to those whom he or she is investing in? Will the person be able to plan and communicate well? C = Contagious Is this someone whose joy in the faith is contagious? Is he or she able to create an atmosphere where the faith can be transmitted joyfully to those they are responsible for leading? T = Teachable Will this person take the time to learn from others? Will this person be able to attend the training and formation opportunities available to them? Can this person humbly accept criticism and be open to what the Lord may be doing in them through the discipleship process? There is much more to being a discipleship leader than these four acronyms can articulate, but I believe they are core elements that can help any person understand what it takes to get started in discipleship.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Pope Francis on Finding Quality Discipleship Leaders (sort of)

Recently, I read an “off-the-cuff” address that Pope Francis gave to an audience of consecrated men and women. He spoke about a few different things, but the one that really struck me was the importance of identifying true vocations as opposed to simply letting anyone enter an order, join the seminary, etc. I thought about this in light of a parish finding discipleship leaders, and it really seems to make sense to me. So, I’d like to take an excerpt from his address and adapt it for our use as we consider the process for finding strong discipleship leaders. Here is my adaptation (the bold text is what I changed from vocation/consecrated terms to discipleship/parish terms): One of the most common fears and frustrations of parish leaders who are desiring to cultivate an atmosphere of discipleship in their parish comes from the inability to find good discipleship leaders. Similar to a vocational calling, being a discipleship leader should be a calling. If we simply search for warm bodies to fill in spots in order to gain numbers, we are missing the point, and it is then that “problems begin to exist inside.” Let us apply this patience and discipline that Pope Francis is asking of consecrated communities to our efforts in discipleship and pray with intensity. We are so trained to be in “program success” mode that we often forget that we should instead be in “person success” mode. May our work in the Church be focused on helping individuals discover the beauty of the spiritual life and growing in their ability to truly discern God’s will, and may we be willing to sacrifice the attractiveness of “successful” programming and the “security” of high attendance in order to do so.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

I’m a Youth Minister Who “Can’t”

My last blog post titled Stop Trying So Hard to Evangelize was a challenge to people like me who find it difficult at times to trust that God has things under control and realize that our role in evangelization may actually need to be minimized in order to be most effective. In light of this, I want to share a list I made a few years ago that keeps me focused on the more important aspects of ministry. In my desire and prayer for humility, this list of things that “I Can’t” do help me to be free to concentrate on the things that I should be doing. Here’s the list: I Can’t Effectively Pass on the Faith Without Being an Intentional Disciple Myself. In the book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell writes: Each day, let us recommit ourselves first to being a disciple of Christ so that we can be more effective in transmitting it to others. I Can’t Pass on the Faith Effectively to Everyone All at Once. This is a point that has been made repeatedly on this blog. Using a large group model as the only means of leading young people to Christ can be extremely ineffective. The youth of today are desiring authentic relationships and friendships. Each day, I come to realize more and more the need to invest in a few, which may sometimes require less energy and attention on pleasing others. I Can’t Lead Without Being a Learner. It seems everyday I find myself using the recent knowledge and understanding I have gained of Christ in my life, youth ministry, discipleship, etc. to help others in their faith as well. It has taken time, but I realize now more than ever the importance of being a learner first and a leader second. I Can’t Continue Doing Everything. In order to truly grow in my own faith…In order to truly grow ministry initiatives in the parishes that I work with…In order to truly grow in my own family life…I have learned the importance of saying “NO.” For a tree or a plant to be able to grow, it needs room both above the ground and below. Over the past few years, I have made huge strides in my willingness to say “No” to people and things not only in my schedule, but also in those things that consume my thoughts, in order to make room for depth and growth in the things that are most important. I Can’t Please Everyone. It has taken me time, having some tough conversations, and facing some harsh realities to begin to understand that not everyone is going to like me. Being someone who is willing to question the way things have always been done puts a target on my back in so many ways. Although I tend to believe I am always right (my wife might argue that), I have learned that no matter how hard I try or do not try, someone will have something to say about it. Each of these statements reflects a humble admittance of my own lacking and need for growth. They are hard things to swallow for those people who think they “can.” I pray that we can be a Church that recognizes our need for Christ to act in and through our efforts, making room for Him to be able by recognizing that we “can’t.”  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Stop Trying So Hard to Evangelize

I have been struck recently by the moments in which God is revealing to me how easy evangelization can actually be. In my work of discipleship and evangelization, it seems that too often, I am focused on “doing” things that I believe will make in an impact on others as I attempt to “fix” or “help” them to know Christ better. Over the last two weeks, I have been struck by three different experiences that appear to be challenging me in this mindset. The Visitation It all started with the Gospel reading from the Fourth Sunday of Advent: Christ, living in Mary, was enough to fill Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit. So much so that she “cried out in a loud voice”. Mary simply went where Elizabeth was and greeted her. That seems pretty easy to me! Ss. Perpetua and Felicity The second instance that stood out to me comes from the Passions of Ss. Perpetua and Felicity. I had read it before but recently gave it to a youth I am mentoring, and so I wanted to refresh. In section 16.4 it reads: Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, early martyrs of the Church, were so singularly focused on Christ and so eagerly gave their lives for Him that “even the warden” became a believer. It didn’t happen through their explicit preaching of the gospel message but rather through faithfully following Christ and being radical witnesses of His love. Discipleship The final experience hit me hard. It took place when I was meeting with the youth I mentioned earlier and her two sisters. I had asked them to share the most pivotal moments over the last few years that have helped them grow in their faith. One of them answered that it was a summer camp experience in the diocese. Another responded that it was the way in which she has seen her sister (the one I have been walking with for a couple of months) grow in her faith recently. By way of follow-up, I asked her, “What was it that your sister did that made such an impact?” The beauty of her response was that she didn’t know; it was something to the effect of “she seems joy-filled and free.” Simply witnessing a change in her sister over the last few months had inspired her to want to know and love Christ more intimately as well. And her sister did nothing but witness to that love by dying to herself and taking on more of Christ! The thing that strikes me about each of these situations is how it was not some valiant effort on the part of an individual to evangelize someone that made such an impact; it was the way in which they lived their lives. We can give all of the training in the world on evangelization, but in the end, it must all be so that Christ, living in us, can evangelize. May we truly come to believe that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” May we believe that Christ, living in us, is enough, and may we learn to follow Christ with such confidence that only God knows the ways in which our “yes” to Him sets the world on fire.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

My Desires (Goals) for 2016 in Discipleship

For anyone who follows this blog regularly, you have probably picked up on the fact that I don’t usually choose the theme or content based on the fads or trends of the season. To be blunt, I am ordinarily inspired more by conversations and experiences I have than the perennial rituals and practices of modern American culture. That being said, I have recently been given the opportunity to re-think what I am doing and re-prioritize the ways in which I structure the flow of my own daily efforts in discipleship. Conveniently, it falls right during the New Year, which may doubly inspire you to accompany me as I strive to realize these desires for discipleship in 2016. To “Be With” Others I want to get out of the office more. I desire to spend more time with those that I serve. More specifically, I desire to “be with” them in their ministry. I desire to spend more time getting to know them as people, not through email or even simply conversation, but through experiences together. Also, not just to lead or guide, but simply to “be with.” Be Busy Only In Response I’ve made this commitment before. I’m a creative at heart, so I have a ton of ideas and could spend all day by myself creating things that I believe will be helpful. But, I must admit that those things that are not as easy for me are usually what will actually be more helpful (i.e. getting out my office and engaging in relationship with other people). Help Individuals Rather Than Build Programs or Initiatives Since I have been focusing specifically on discipleship, the Lord has made very clear to me how much He desires to work in each of us as a part of the journey. The initiatives and programs that I promote are good, but I often miss out on what the Lord is doing in the moment because I am more focused on the success of the programs than what they are doing in me and in those that I serve. And obviously, truly being there to support and help and individuals will hopefully expand their capacity to receive Christ and lead others. Become More Aware of Reality Another one of my deep desires is to be more in touch with the realities that exist in the parishes with which I work. Their struggles are real, and the situations are complex. In “being with” them and not hesitating to care enough to learn and ask questions, it will help everyone be more in tune with the realities we are facing, which will provide greater clarity about what the Lord may be desiring to do in and through each of us. Live With Common Mind and Mission Philippians 2:12 says “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” One of my greatest desires is to be more unified in mission and love with those whom I serve. Oftentimes, this gets obscured because an individual agenda becomes a roadblock to true unity (admittedly, too often on my own part). I hope over the next year that I can do much better in surrendering my own plans and timelines in order to more effectively unite my desires and life with those with whom I work. I pray that as I share my hopes for 2016 and beyond, you will find them helpful for your own reflection. I believe that all of these “resolutions” will help me to grow in discipleship and become more aware of the ways in which Christ is desiring to give himself to me, and through me, to others.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Your Pastor Should Be Worried About Numbers

Just about anyone involved in youth ministry has had the discussion about the importance of numbers in evaluating our efforts. Like a teacher, we can claim that much of the fruit of our labors will not be visible until many years later. We can also spend time talking about how many of the results that we are striving for will take time and that some of the programs we lead may not produce immediate results, but they have their place. The reality is that a pastor, finance council, and parish council are responsible for being good stewards of the gifts that have been given to the parish, especially the financial gifts that have been made to support its various ministries. When push comes to shove, in any business model, areas that are not producing results will be cut. This often puts youth ministry in a tough situation, especially if a youth minister (frequently paid full-time) is perceived to be working with only a small percentage of the youth in the parish in what can appear from the outside to be a social club of sorts. The powers that be are looking for numbers, and they have a right to. The difficulty is that they are often looking at the wrong numbers, and the person in charge of youth ministry is unsure of how to communicate the right numbers. So, what numbers should we be measuring? Here are a few questions I wouldn’t hesitate to ask my youth minister if I were a pastor: How many adults have you helped to get involved in youth ministry this past year? How many youth are currently engaged in intentional discipleship with adults from the parish community? How many youth are engaged in deeper study of the Christian faith? How many youth involved in the programs and youth ministry efforts in the parish are committed to daily prayer, Sunday Mass, regular Confession, and involvement in the parish community? When there is a need in the parish, how often is it that the youth step up to help? In what ways are the youth in our parish sharing their experience of the faith with others? What percentage of youth that graduate from our parish remain committed to their faith after high school? What are some of the biggest needs of our youth today, and how are we responding to them as a parish? These are just a few ideas. As we look ahead to the next year and set goals for 2016, I would recommend looking at some of these questions and beginning to shape your efforts in a way that will bring about improvements in these different areas.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

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