Young adults are leaving the Catholic Church! Did that get your attention? If not, it should have.
According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 36 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as “no religious affiliation”. Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Studies), thinks that the Catholic Church is losing more than 90 percent of young Catholic people by the end of college.
Read more: 5 Things I Learned as a Youth Minister
These are just some of the sad statistics that Everett Fritz states in the beginning of his book, The Art of Forming Young Disciples. Fritz, a veteran youth minister, counted the number of the former teens he’d interacted with in youth groups. He wanted to know how many of them were still practicing Catholics. But what he found out was that almost all of them had left the faith. That realization inspired him to write his latest book.
Fritz offers an entirely different (and new!) way of forming young people in the faith. But it starts by looking at why today’s youth ministries aren’t working.
Here are some reasons why the old way of organizing youth groups aren’t working. But it’s not all bad news – here you’ll also find Fritz’s promising new techniques to engage with the youth of our Church and turn them into good and faithful servants.
1. Know your audience
Everett Fritz begins by saying that the problem with the current youth ministries is that “we don’t understand young people and how to meet their most basic needs.” The old formats of the youth ministry aren’t working, and we can’t just brush teens off as “anti-religious” or “That’s just part of being a teenager.”
After all, you can’t solve a problem you don’t understand – just ask my daughter when she’s working on algebra homework! While Church doctrine won’t change, the Church has to recognize and change to fit the way the modern teen thinks.
2. Begin by meeting the basic needs of teens
Fritz argues that the current youth ministry model isn’t meeting the basic needs of most teens. As Catholics we must first meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter as a way to show the love of Jesus before we can start sharing the Good News. But we also must meet the needs of teens when teaching them the faith.
These ‘basic needs’ can be summarized as the need to be understood, the need to belong, the need to be transparent, the need for critical thinking about the Faith, and the need for guidance. “We’re not creating an environment in which teens can have their basic needs met,” Fritz writes. “As a result, they’re not becoming lifelong disciples.”
3. Parents, you’re the first catechists
As much as teens like to push away their parents, they actually yearn for their parents attention. This doesn’t mean being the ‘cool mom’. Instead, Fritz emphasizes the fact that “Teens need adult mentors in their lives.”
From the moment of birth, children are always watching their parents for how to behave, learning to talk, and how to interact with one another. The way their parents treated them most often reflects their view of God. If their parents are strict, they view God as strict. Fritz realized that “my love for them as a father was going to witness God the Father to them.”
4. Youth groups aren’t enough
Entertainment, interactive presentations, group meetings, and “forced friendships” are just some of the reasons why youth groups fail. Teens will get together for an hour or two, look like their having a good time, have a few refreshments and snacks and go home feeling empty because it was all superficial.
Fritz explains that he doesn’t feel like youth groups are bad, they just are inefficient. He also goes on to explain that Catholic schools are also not meeting the needs of their teen populations. Secularism has taken precedence over doctrine, and the ones who are hurt most by it are the kids. Want to know more about what he has to say about youth groups and the school system? Pick up a copy of his book at your local Catholic bookstore or online here.
5. Sometimes bigger isn’t better
The idea of youth ministry needs to change. Large group “sermon on the Mount” youth groups should transition into small friend groups. These intimate groups can help them feel comfortable to really open up and form strong relationships who can disciple to one another, led by parents who could share their faith and get the small group to open up.
Read more: The 15 People You Meet at Youth Retreats
“Disciples make disciples,” Fritz writes. “We cannot expect to form youth into lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ unless we put them into relationships with people who are already disciples.”
The Art of Forming Young Disciples by Everett Fritz shares the sad state of affairs when it comes to the statistics around the lack of faith of teens as they grow into young adults.
While this book is focused towards youth ministers, any parent of a teen or adolescent children would be able to glean ideas on how to connect with their children and their friends in the faith. If parishes recognize the fact old faith formation isn’t working they can adapt Fritz’s model of smaller, stronger youth groups. This encourages parents to become more involved in the lives of their children and their children’s friends.
Everett Fritz’s model of discipleship can help strengthen the faith of the entire congregation. This would help bring everyone closer to Jesus Christ!