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.