I asked the question last week, “What does the church have to offer to youth and their parents when they do make more of an effort to get involved in the life of a parish?” The typical answers are; our services, our church school, and any youth activities a parish may sponsor.
Yet, I think a key aspect to having our kids experience a greater connection to church life is best summed up in the idea of ownership. Kids have to experience their parish as their parish.I mean this in a good way. Do we empower our children in church life where they can take ownership and initiative in areas of youth ministry and service? Do we do too much for our youth instead of letting them step forward and take initiative? Can we allow them to fail so that they learn from their mistakes and encourage them to try again?
Can we allow our kids to take responsibility for planning a church service project? Can we encourage our kids to step forward in areas of music (especially the older ones) in learning how to lead a choir? Can we allow our older altar servers to be leaders in the altar and take responsibility for the duties that need to be done? We allow our kids to pass out bulletins in church, but how about teaching them to put a bulletin together, or maybe coming up with a youth page for the bulletin? This would be done by our youth and not by an adult. The more our youth are passive in their participation, the less likely they are to feel connected to their parish. The more active they are in their participation, the more connected they will be and the more likely to identify their parish as their parish.
When we pit the school calendar against the liturgical calendar, then it seems as if we are trying too much to “get” our kids to be more involved. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our kids chose to be in church because they love being there, as they are “Christ motivated” to be there? Then we no longer have to fight a battle. Perhaps my words are too simplistic. I realize many of our clergy, parents, and children are making efforts in walking this journey to be closer to their church. Thanks be to God for your efforts. I can only encourage all of you to act in a manner that encourages kids to take ownership of their life in their parish. If any of you have found ways to address this issue, please share your thoughts or ideas. Thanks for thinking about this.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul
Greetings Your Grace,
I look forward to hearing other ideas from other folks on this topic. I’d like to share the following:
Last year at our parish Youth Group leaders listened to what the teens wanted to participate in such as social events and outreach projects. We accomplished everything they asked for within the year. However, this was exhausting work!!
Ownership is a huge aspect in our Youth Group program this year. It does involve teens talking with parents about projects that would like to put together for the group, as well as social events they would like to participate in as a group. The ministry is a joint effort between parents, teens, and leaders. Most teens need parents to mentor them in how to put together an outreach project for a group, how to host a meeting, and how to plan a social event, so communication between Youth Group leaders, teens, and parents is essential in order to teach and lead our Youth on the path of ownership and leadership in ministry.
Personally, both of my kids are involved in ministry, but not necessarily interested in leadership roles. One teen serves as an acolyte and the other teen serves in the choir. My son volunteers to serve in extra services and is looking to expand his interest by joining the choir part time. My daughter loves the choir and pressures us each Sunday to make sure we’re at church on time, so that she can be the “page turner.” Apparently, a big deal to her. It’s the little things that bring them joy! As of right now, our battle is discussing scripture with them. They will do it in a group setting, but have a hard time adjusting to it at home. We’ll see where this new structure in Youth Group will lead them.
Again, I really look forward to hearing thoughts and suggestions. As always, your Grace, thank you for your continued support and inspiration in this area. Great questions for us!
Great points about youth taking ownership in Church Your Grace. This certainly helps our youth understand that the Church they belong to is their own home (which is crucial). Thankfully, I see this lived out regularly at our own St. Mark on many of the levels Your Grace points out and suggests. These things definitely help!
As another example, in our previous parish our young adults started a youth-led Church ministry they called the “St. Andrew Young Adult Association.” We helped them plan youth events called “Faith, Food and Fun.” These consisted of
 great food (pizza, subs, coneys, home-made treats),
 fun excursions (like low-competition sports volleyball, kickball, soccer, etc.), clean, great movies played in our Church hall (complete with popcorn!), or other fun activities (like having a bonfire and smores), and
 a short talk (10-15 minutes) aimed directly towards encouraging young adults to be courageous Christians in the challenges they face in today’s world. As their chaplain, I was asked to give a few talks and we also invited priests, other clergy, as well as professional teachers of the faith and theologians to speak to the youth (ages 15-29).
Finally,  we would end in a Reader’s Service of Compline, Vespers, or one of the Hours with the young adults leading all the beautiful and inspiring singing.
It was well received and helped the young adults to bond together in their common faith, almost like having camp at our own parish but much more accessible and regular (having an event at least quarterly).
Thanks again for Your Grace’s inspiring vision for our Youth!
Thank you Jennifer and Lazarus for your comments, this is very encouraging! The Lord’s blessing be upon you! +Paul