Youth ministry is not perfect. Many blogs have recently pointed out the problems Youth Ministry has.
- It tries to be the primary catechist and takes Sunday nights away from families.
- It’s not mentioned in the bible and does not have a great retention rate.
- It cannot hold the same authority that the parents or pastors should hold.
The Product Life Cycle
Product Life Cycle is the cycle through which every product goes through from introduction, development, to withdraw and eventually demise. Model T’s are no longer on the road in the same way sedans are. Take the pager for example.
The telephone pager was developed in 1949, received FCC approval about 10 years later and by 1980 about 3.2 million pagers existed in spite of their limited range. Their primary use at this time was by hospitals. Pagers were still in the toddler stages of their product life cycle seeing very little change and growth since 1959. Nevertheless, they would age very quickly, which makes them perfect for our example.
In the 1980’s numeric pagers were introduced, then pagers that could display text messages. This was a huge development from the mere sound alerts that the pager from 1980 offered. Pagers were now in the adolescent phase of their life cycle. By the mid to late 1990’s pagers were in adulthood. Some pagers came equipped with a QWERTY keyboard so it could send and receive messages. Pagers were being used in both the business world as well as domestic life.
Then cell phones came on the scene during the 1990s and soon the cost difference closed and pagers became largely irrelevant. Now pagers are used for a variety of specific purposes, but cell phones have replaced the vast majority of their market share and relevance. It took pagers 40 years to reach adolescence and only 10 years to complete their adult product life cycle.
When a child shows you a drawing, you affirm them. Sure, it might not be inside the lines and the color scheme could use some work, but you affirm the child and applaud the effort. Places exist where youth ministry is treated like this. ‘At least the youth are having fun.’ Or ‘it keeps the teens out of trouble for at least a night.’ Youth ministry must be held to a higher standard…but that standard must be reasonable.
No one expects a teenager to be able to provide for a family, pay a mortgage, and the law protects them from entering into contracts. In its product life cycle, youth ministry is a teenager. Great expectations should be made, but this must be partnered with great investment. No, not every youth that goes through a youth ministry program will stay faithful, that is painful and improvements must be made. These improvements can only be made with the support of those who hunger for the greater vision that God shares. The virtue of magnanimity must be exercised.
Youth Ministry has been around in one form or another since 1930 with the boxing program started by Bishop Sheil in Chicago to get teenage boys off the streets. Since then it has evolved, developed, and grown. Today youth ministry finds itself more comprehensive than ever and hungering more for deeper fruits than traditional programming can offer. Yet, Youth Ministry is nothing more than an adolescent. Yes, youth ministry has a long way to go, but it is at a phase where learning, innovating, adapting and growing happens at a rapid pace. So much so that, just like teenagers, caution must be taken in how this growth happens.
Dream Big Dreams
In no way am I making excuses for the failures that Youth Ministry needs to own. Many of these failures and specific programs that give youth ministry as a whole a bad name… similar to how the news portrays teenagers. Youth ministry can do better, youth ministry should do better. Figuring out the ‘how’ in this process is part of the growing pains. Here are a few ways you can help Youth Ministry through the awkward years of adolescence.
Pray for Youth Ministry – Whether you are actively involved or simply an observer, ask God to continue to send the Holy Spirit into all aspects of youth ministry. Pray for your parish and the teens in your community, but also pray for youth ministry on a national scale.
Get Involved – When you see a challenge, offer to be an active part of the solution. This begins with talking to the person who is in charge of the Youth Ministry, but it may also involve talking to the person who is responsible for the souls of those involved in Youth Ministry, the Pastor. The millstone referenced in Matthew 18:6 is custom fit first for Pastors, this responsibility cannot be delegated. Do not be afraid of the conversation, Pastors are graced with the responsibility for the flock.
Invest – Encourage the community you are involved in to put resources toward youth ministry. This may mean advocating for a part-time or full-time hire, or for the new building project to keep the needs of the young people in mind. Advocating for youth ministry is advocating for youth.
Be Youth Ministry – Love teens where they are at. The ministry of hospitality is powerful. A simply affirmation of a teen who regularly attends Mass goes a long way. Sr. Thea Bowman says, ‘if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a parish to do youth ministry.’ Do not allow youth ministry to be an island or an offering at your parish, allow reaching out to youth to be a charism or movement at your parish. The transformation needed in youth ministry starts with you.
Zack Morris and his 1990’s cell phone. Photo courtesy of zomm.com.