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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!)
In leading 100’s of games over about 16 years this has been one of the favorites.
a marked off area (either a square in a gym or made with cones)
dodge balls (softer is better)
Set up the boundaries. Have each person find a partner. One of them will be blindfolded and the other will not. Place a good number balls scattered around within the boundary. The blindfolded person will be in the boundary area and their teammate will be on the outside. To start, no one should be holding any balls and it works well to move the person around a bit so they don’t know exactly where they are at or which way they are facing when the game starts.
When the leader says “GO” the teammates on the outside of the play area will guide their teammates to grab a ball and throw it at the other within in the play area. When a person gets hit by a ball or goes outside of the boundary, they are out. Play until only one person is remaining.
I found many versions of this on YouTube. I’ve included a video I found of the version we played below.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the story Shawshank Redemption, there is a character by the name of Brooks Hatlen. Brooks is well-known, well-liked, and has a great gig (relatively speaking) in the prison system. He has been there for so long that it has become his home. To help jog your memory, he is the one who is let out of prison part way through the movie and says, “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” Long story short, he has such a difficult time facing the world when he is released that he ends up hanging himself. The world outside of prison is more of a punishment to him than prison itself.
As youth ministry begins to shift, I am seeing more and more tension in the role of the youth minister in a parish. Whether it be the pastor, the youth minister, or even the parish itself, many people take great comfort in the life, structure, and discipline we have established in the Church today. Those who have not really thought too much about what it would be like outside of the box and have been living in it for so long struggle with the realities when change begins to hit. At the same time, we have people who have been engaging in discipleship for some time, and when they look at the walls of the common youth ministry structure in the Church (the jail), they are able to much more readily see the lack of freedom one has in them.
It is going to take a new breed of youth minister to be able to shift youth ministry in the Church today. We need to be able to get comfortable outside of the walls and experience the great joy and freedom in doing youth ministry in a way that is truly NEW in order to fully enter into the New Evangelization.
I am fortunate enough to be a part of youth ministry programs that are going outside of these walls. Here are some examples of what is working and how things are different on the “outside”:
The Days of One Youth Group are Over
The issue I found in having one large youth group is that it was nearly impossible to craft a plan that really met the needs of every youth that came. The parish youth group must become a community of communities in the parish – each community distinct and able to grow and shift as needed.
A Greater Expectation of the Laity is Key
I have heard some call youth ministry the “welfare system” of the Church. For too long, we have provided a crutch for parents and families without really having a plan for helping them get on their own feet. It is time to expect those who are able to step up and take on bigger roles in the Church. This doesn’t necessarily mean more time commitment, but definitely a greater responsibility in the formation of our youth.
Formation of Leaders is Essential
When volunteers are given a big responsibility and are truly being fed through their involvement in the Church, it will naturally draw out a deep desire to give even more. It’s time to start making the Church a place where volunteers are formed and can grow in the gifts that God has given them, feeding them in ways no one else can, instead of simply looking for people who can do things for us.
Depth Wins Over Hype
Immediately when we began small group discipleship in our parish, the walls of Catholic School vs. Public Schools were broken down. We have to believe and show that what the Church has to offer is more fulfilling than any other school commitment a youth can make. It’s not about how big or fun your programs are; it is about the depth they can reach. The reason sports and school activities are becoming so competitive is because of the depth of commitment expected from those involved. If our desire is greater results, why wouldn’t we expect a greater commitment and depth as well?
We Have to be Ok If People Don’t Like Us
For too long, our programs and ministries have been built to make everyone happy. The expectations are minimal and the teachings are vague. This doesn’t sound much like how Jesus did it at all. Jesus spoke the truth, invited people to “cast into the deep,” and did not make everyone happy. While his message is for everyone, he doesn’t force people to follow him but makes it well worth it for those who do.
A Fruit of Discipleship is Evangelization
When discipleship happens as it should, the result is a missionary heart. As youth enter into a discipleship setting where they are growing in their faith, they are willing to get out of their comfort zone and evangelize others. This is how we will reach those who are not yet engaged. It will not be through some production or fancy offering, but rather through the gentle invitation of their peers who are being changed because of their active relationship with Jesus Christ.
These are just a few examples of the life outside of the walls that I am experiencing. It is a very exciting time in the Church. May the vision of the New Evangelization guide you as you break free and trust in the life that exists outside of the walls!
One of my favorite blogs to follow on Catholic Youth Ministry is written by Christopher Wesley, the director of student ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. I was privileged to meet Chris for the first time this last December and learn about his new book which was published on March 9th.
Before I talk about the book, I must mention that Ave Maria Press is actually sponsoring a little giveaway of this book through our website.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got the review copy of the book. I don’t know a lot about Chris, and I have only skimmed through the Rebuilt books. I am familiar with Chris’ writing through his blog, but that is about it. Most of what I have heard about what Church of the Nativity is doing is through online forums and such, which typically don’t speak about the youth ministry there. In short, I was very curious.
As the title of the book implies, the content covers ten strategies for youth ministry in parishes. It is broken into three sections: Answering the Call, Building a Foundation, and Planning for the Long Haul. Chris does an excellent job of taking a look at youth ministry through the lens of leadership, strategy, vision, etc. I strongly believe that one of the biggest holes we have in the Church today is a lack of leadership and strategic planning, and Chris gives a ton of practical insights for how to set up a youth ministry model that is structurally healthy and provides balance to the position of the youth minister.
My favorite part of the book was Chapter 9 where Chris writes about how to ask the right questions. The first question that he proposes we ask is “How Does The Parish See Youth Ministry?” He goes on to talk about the tension that may exist because of a perception some have and how the perception alone may be cause for a lack of interest from the youth and the parents in the parish. We must strive to be aware of how the youth ministry in our parishes is perceived so that we can more appropriately engage each person in the parish where they are. This, along with strategies for finding and supporting volunteers, creating an atmosphere that is attractive to youth, and learning to build a trusting and valuable relationship with your pastor and other parish staff are all greats components for anyone in youth ministry. Chris tackles each one of these in this book.
On the flip side, if we are really looking at “rebuilding” something, it’s essential to make sure our foundation is strong. While this book is probably one of the best I have read regarding good structures and balance in ministry, it doesn’t really give much insight into what direction the Church gives about our aim and approach for achieving it. The Church is the foundation and the rock from which we must build our ministries. This foundation and mission are given to us through the Church, the Holy Father, and the local bishop and are articulated well in the great treasury of documents we find in the Church today. If we are to rebuild youth ministry, we must be actively listening to and engaging in what the Church, especially through the Holy Father and the local Bishop, are asking us to do. The only mention of the Diocese in the book is regarding Safe Environment or other policies. When rebuilding anything, everyone should take the time to ensure the proper foundation is set in place first.
I am not implying that I think Church of the Nativity has not done this already, but I wish I would’ve seen it articulated in the book (and maybe it’s in the other books that I haven’t read yet!).
Overall, I think it’s a good read for anyone involved in or wanting to get involved in starting a youth ministry program. As the title states, it is really ten strategies that you can do with what you want. In regard to how it aligns with Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry, I just didn’t see much in the book that reflects the vision laid out in our site, but that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is not effective. Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is one model for building a youth ministry…there are many!
On a scale of 1-10, I recommend you buy it and read it (yes that was intentional!), especially if you are new to youth ministry or you are using a traditional youth group model and are looking for ways to improve it.
If you would like to buy a copy of the book, you can get it on Amazon here.
So you have been coaxed into invited to lead a discipleship group in your parish. When a good leader is just getting started with a new group, there can be some very frustrating moments. Perhaps you have no idea where to begin. Perhaps you have already encountered some obstacles and are thinking to yourself, “I was promised that this whole discipleship thing was going to be easier and better because I would be working with youth who had a desire to be there and a desire to grow in their faith. It should be easy, right?” The correct answer is NO! Starting a new discipleship group in any situation comes with its struggles. Here are ten tips for you to consider as you begin.
Strive for the Four Earmarks First
The Four Earmarks are the way you will know you have created a good atmosphere for discipleship. Be ok with doing less learning and study and spend time building intimacy in your group.
Make Every Meeting Worth Their Time
New groups often go through a “settling” time where youth are not extremely committed. One of the biggest mistakes is when a leader believes they can’t follow through with what they planned because one or two people couldn’t be there. Go into each meeting with a goal that you can achieve no matter how many people come, and if only some of them show up, meet that goal with them.
Set a Strategic First Goal
For new groups, a common first goal is to have a bigger faith experience together, something that can help bond and gel the group, as well as foster conversion. Find an event or an opportunity that you can look towards getting your entire group to attend. This could be your Diocesan Youth Conference, a summer mission trip, or even a lock-in.
Get Feedback from the Committed Ones
Discern who in your group is invested long-term, and find time to get their feedback. They will likely have a different perception of things and be able to give you some ideas as well.
Start as Naturally as Possible
Sometimes this is out of your control, but ideally every small group would develop naturally through already established friendships and common circles (This applies to both the teens with one another and the leaders with the teens.) If you were assigned a group and some of the members don’t know each other already, be sure to spend time breaking down those walls first.
Get Their Families Involved
Having the parents of your group members on board will make a huge impact on the commitment level and investment of the youth involved. Consider having a group potluck with all of the families in your group, be sure you have all of the parents included in your regular communication, and make sure they have access to you (phone, email, etc).
Cling to Your Parish Coordinator
If discipleship groups have been going on for some time in your parish, cling to your parish coordinator and other group leaders. Get feedback and share with them some of the things you are seeing and desiring, and they will be a wealth of wisdom for you.
Learn About Your Group Before Teaching Your Group
The goal of a discipleship leader is to form each young person in the Four Areas of Formation. Before you can do this, you must know where they are at. It’s sort of like a music teacher wanting to teach a lesson without first hearing what their musicians can do.
As much as possible, be consistent with meeting times and places, especially in the beginning. Doing so will make it much easier for the youth and their parents to get comfortable and adjust their regular schedules to accommodate their new group.
Youth need fun and YOU need fun. Leading a discipleship group can be one of the most joyful experiences for an adult. If you are stressing out too much, something is out of balance, and it may be good to take a step back and look at things from the outside. Let your first goal be that the youth in your group develop meaningful memories of their discipleship group that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I’d like to leave you with a few final practical ideas for new groups. Obviously, remain a person of prayer and have a great trust in our Lord. Remember that your investment and sacrifice is a gift to these youth and to their parents. Good luck with your new group and may God richly bless your gift of self to these young people.
As I continue to deepen my understanding of what discipleship is, I am also growing in my awareness that this approach is significantly different than what I have known of youth ministry in the past. As a youth minister, I was able to do what every youth minister dreams of doing…build a successful youth program. After being in the same parish for seven years, I really believed I had made major progress toward being successful and doing the things a youth minister should do. The one thing that has changed in me, and one of the biggest things I believe needs to be changed in order for youth ministry to be more effective, is that we must make ministry less about what we can do and more about what we can enable others to do.
When a rabbi calls someone to be his disciple, what it really means is that he believes that the one he is calling can do what he does. The relationship between the rabbi and the disciple exists in order to help the disciple do what the rabbi did. It doesn’t take long for a Christian to see this correlation to how Jesus taught and worked with the twelve and why he even had disciples. His plan all along was to equip and form his apostles to do what he was doing.
But what is it that we must strive to help others “do” when we are involved in youth ministry and discipleship is the focus? Here are a couple of ideas:
Others Should Become More Aware of God’s Loving Presence in Their Lives and Learn to Articulate That to Others
This is becoming more and more the primary goal I have with my own discipleship group. Every time we gather, I strive to make our time together a time to reflect on what God is doing in their lives and give them an opportunity to share it. Not only is it a good little nudge for them to be aware so that they have something to share, but when people share what God is doing, it changes those who hear it as well.
Practice the Disciplines of a Disciple
YDisciple has done a great job of articulating some good disciplines necessary to being a disciple of Christ (find them here). We use these in our group as a good starting point for how to grow each day in building the spiritual muscles necessary to follow Christ. Ironically, these all seem to be ways in which we can be more aware of and participate in what God calls us to do as well!
I have nothing against doing video studies or using a curriculum of sorts, but one thing that must change is that youth begin to understand that things like these are the reasons we get together and the purpose for which we exist. We must start worrying less about what materials we need to get through, how many times we have to meet, how many people are there, etc. and we must be more concerned with how they are doing and what God is doing in their lives. Besides, anytime I have these conversations with anyone it seems to change me more than anything else I could possibly come up with on my own.
One of my favorite testimonies about building a Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry comes from a parish I work with. They have two different discipleship group leaders who, since beginning to lead their group, have had spouses also express interest in joining a group. This is a beautiful sign of fruit being born in the lives of leaders in that parish. The joy and growth that they are experiencing through discipling teens is something that their spouses see and desire as well. It’s not like it’s an easy task for both spouses to lead a group (trust me, my wife and I know!), but the sacrifice brings great rewards.
I can remember teaching a religious education class many years back. I am confident that the only thing my wife would’ve seen after an average class was me throwing the teacher’s book in the corner and not wanting to think about class again until the next week. What is it about the experience of these adults that makes Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry different than other approaches? What is it that’s so inviting and seems to draw out a deeper commitment of time to the parish and its efforts to disciple young people? Here are three areas upon which to focus that will leave your adults wanting more and make volunteering for youth ministry attractive to new volunteers as well.
Your Ministry Provides Community for the Adults Involved
One of the best things you can do for your adults is to provide opportunities that will build community among them, giving them a place to be with other leaders who desire to grow as well. Learning from others and facing challenges together creates an intimacy that makes it very difficult to leave even if you wanted to.
Your Adults are Growing Spiritually as a Result of Being Involved
If you can cultivate an atmosphere where adults understand the importance of being a disciple first and commit to growing as a disciple, it will not take long for them to see that God has them leading a group not just for the youth involved, but to form and grow themselves as well.
Your Adults are Seeing the Fruit of Discipleship
Anyone who has been involved in youth ministry for some time knows the feeling of seeing a youth encounter Christ for the first time or take that next step in their relationship with Him. It reminds us of the many graces that God has given us over our lifetime and fills us personally in a profound way. When you enable your volunteers to effectively foster discipleship within the teens of your parish, they will see this and it will change them.
Accomplishing these things is not easy, but it is possible. I truly believe that establishing a Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry model in a parish helps to properly orient the ministries toward providing these types of opportunities for adults. I’m certain that this is why I have seen more fruit born in the lives of the adults involved in Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry than in the youth, which is exactly what we need!
Think about the first time you went to an amazing restaurant. After you went, was it your desire to go back alone and just relive the same experience again? I am willing to bet not. Or remember when you started watching that new series on Netflix and you got really excited about it. What was your natural next step? For me, the only thing I want to do is tell my wife and friends about these types of experiences. I want to take them to that restaurant so I can witness their first experience of it. I want them to watch the series on Netflix and tell me what they thought about it. My point is that when we experience something that is good, we have a natural desire to share it. Experiencing the Gospel is no different.
Default ministry is NOT a good thing. When we use the word default, it really means to leave things as they came. For example, when you set up a new account online, you may be assigned a default password. You can either continue using that password or change it to something more unique and personal. Default ministry leaves things be. The opposite of default ministry would sound something like Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium when he says “To go out of ourselves and to join others.” (EG, 87)
Before I get into the signs that you may be doing default ministry I’m going to quickly put a stake in the ground and say that bulletin announcements, newsletters, calendars, etc. are not making an effort to get to those who wouldn’t be there otherwise (see our YouTube video here). These are great ways to communicate and remind those who would be there anyway, but they are NOT effective ways to engage and reach out to new people in your ministry.
Yes, our goal is to make disciples of the youth so that they will go and get others, but this must first be modeled by our own leadership and efforts to “go out of ourselves.” Here are three strategies that can be used to ensure you are looking beyond default ministry and encouraging a Church that goes outside itself.
1. Have Clear Goals
Instead of waiting to see how many people register for an upcoming event or show up to your parish outreach events, set goals for numbers and take responsibility for achieving those goals. Instead of going week-to-week in your planning, create a semester or year long plan showing you where you want to be at the end of the year and how you are going to get there. Others will follow a plan if they know they are headed somewhere.
2. Think Outside of the Box
This is very common in youth ministry. “We weren’t able to get a lot of youth to go to this event because of the football game” said every youth leader at one time. Maybe this event wasn’t intended for those who love football or are on the team. Start looking at opportunities like this to reach those that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Instead of making excuses, practice being more creative in reaching a wider circle.
3. Have Confidence That Fruit Will Come From Discipleship
The best way to go and get more youth is to have their own peers invite them. If youth are not bringing their friends, it likely means that they are not having the experiences like the examples I gave above. They must be experiencing something great and understand that there is enough to go around. Begin doing things that those youth in your ministry will want their school friends to experience as well and hold them accountable to being missionary disciples.
In a sense, what this all means is that we must be more proactive in our ministry than reactive. We must move from being a Church that caters only to those that are interested and would be there anyway to a Church that goes and gets those who wouldn’t be there otherwise. We must become a Church that has a vision that reaches beyond the Church walls and into our families, communities, and the entire world. Discipleship is important because it gives us the capacity to do so. It is important for the youth we work with to learn how to “go out of ourselves.” The difficult part is that this must be modeled by the leaders in their lives first.
In order for a discipleship group to be a discipleship group, it requires the commitment of a disciple. I think it’s crazy the commitments that things like sports, clubs, and music require of the youth these days. What’s sad is that for some reason, when it comes to seeking a commitment from youth in the Church, we tend to think that “it’s too much to ask” or “they are already too busy.” This is a challenge that, while true, is one that I tend to lean in to more than anything else. I believe that this greater level of commitment is what is necessary for real growth and success. Isn’t that why these other organizations demand it? Because they want to succeed and want the youth to succeed?
The challenge that we face then is: how do we get youth to make a greater commitment to a discipleship group? I have created a system in my own discipleship that protects the integrity and the disciplines that we have in place, while still being inviting to those that are interested in joining.
Strategy #1 – Set The Standard
The young men in my group have set their own standards that they are striving for. They have commitments to prayer, the Sacramental life, being Christ to their family, and witnessing to the other youth and families in the parish and in the community. This is a strategy in and of itself because now they have a group that is attractive to others who desire the same things. It’s like being on the winning team (humbly speaking of course).
Strategy #2 – Make The Invitation Open
Since we have made it clear what the goal of our group is, the guys know that no one can take that away from them. All of the guys know that they are free to invite others to the group, but because of the standards we have set, they are not going to invite anyone unless they can “hack it” (for lack of a better term). If they have a friend whom they know desires to have what the group offers, they invite them.
Strategy #3 – Have an Interview Process
I’m not sure interview is the right word, but in our group, we have a simple process that doesn’t judge a person desiring to be a part of our group, but gives them ways to step out if they find that it’s not what they are looking for. First, I invite them to come and meet the group (one meeting). Then, I ask them to commit to two months. This commitment gives them time to get to know the group more and be involved in more of what they do. After the two months, I check in with them and see if they would like to commit to the group. By committing to the group, they commit to striving towards the standards the rest of the group has set.
All of this can take some time to develop in your own discipleship group, but I can assure you that it’s worth it.
Back in 2012, a friend introduced me to a book by Sherry Weddell titled Forming Intentional Disciples (FID for short). This book has gone on to become one of the most popular Catholic books on ministry and evangelization in recent years and has sparked conversation on many different levels. Beginning with the ugly truth of where the Church stands in regard to participation and engagement and leading the reader through how one becomes an intentional disciple, the book is a must read for any Catholic. My only issue with the book was that I felt it was mis-titled. I have been working in my own ministry to help create an atmosphere where those who were already “intentional disciples” had a place to be fed and formed as a disciple. This book covered only how to get them to the point of becoming an intentional disciple, not how to form them once they are there.
So, since 2012 I have been awaiting the sequel, and it is finally here. Published on January 23, 2015 the follow-up book titled Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples is making its way around world to the avid FID fans who have waited anxiously for far too long. I read the book in just a couple of days and am excited because just as Forming Intentional Disciples did, the book is articulated in a way that resonates so well with what I believe to be true and needs to be heard by so many.
To start, the book is a bit different than FID in that Sherry Weddell authored only one of the chapters while also being editor of the book. Each of the seven chapters is written by a different person, each of whom has a great deal of wisdom to share from his or her experiences implementing Intentional Discipleship in the Church.
The first chapter of the book, written by Sherry Weddell, gives an inspiring and brief look into some lives of the saints. Looking at their stories through the lens of discipleship, we find numerous examples of how an encounter with Christ, shared through personal witness and testimony, can create a wave of impact on large communities simply through investing in a few at a time.
Chapter Two, the first chapter that begins to give instruction, focuses on prayer. While it may seem cliche, Keith Strom articulates the need for and the “why” of intercessory prayer in a way that is truly inspiring. It has changed the way I look at prayer in my own ministry in a very powerful way.
My favorite chapter in the book is Chapter Three, which is written by Father Michael Fones, O.P., a former co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute. This chapter focuses on the “Co-Responsibility for the Church’s Mission.” Father Fones focuses his chapter on the relationship between the laity and the pastor in a parish. If we could give one chapter to our priests, this would be it. A great read on how a pastor should engage with and support the laity in the work of the New Evangelization.
The following chapters are helpful in bringing out an understanding of how to build a culture of discipleship that lasts, how to find the first leaders in a parish to begin building a vision of intentional discipleship, and how to form communities that make the efforts of discipleship extend far beyond what a single priest can do on his own.
The final chapter is written by my good friend Jim Beckman. Much of what I have learned about discipleship has come from him. Jim does what he can in a single chapter of this book to give a good starting manual for bringing about discipleship in a youth ministry setting.
In a nutshell, I loved this book. It is inspiring, it hits the nail on the head as far as what needs to be done to further bring about the New Evangelization in the Church.
The greatest disappointment is one that I find almost everywhere I speak about discipleship. As Father Chas Canoy says in Chapter Six, “There is no one answer because the particular pastoral needs of a given people will inform that pastoral structure.” If you are looking for a step-by-step process, you are out of luck. This book will give you the inspiration and a vision. It will also give you tons of great stories and experiences of people who are moving the needle in the Church. But the plan that God has for your parish is unique. This book is not THE answer, but I will say it is likely one of the best tools you can have in your toolbelt for 2015! For those working to further discipleship on the Diocesan or parish level, I would encourage you to order in bulk today and get it in the hands of your leaders.
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