I'm going to tell you something that hopefully doesn't surprise you too much. Youth ministry is important. "Of course you say that - you're the youth minister!" Yes, I am, but there's much more at stake here than my job. There are a myriad of statistics available and I'll do my best to summarize the findings in one sentence. Youth ministry prepares the youth for a life of discipleship and evangelization by equipping them with a heart and head for the faith, positive Catholic adult mentorship, and a desire to deepen their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
As a recent college graduate from a college with an incredibly (nationally recognized) Catholic student center that provided countless programs to involve Catholic students, the rate of attrition was still heart-breakingly high. The amount of youth who stay Catholic in college is high. Nearly 33% of all people who were raised Catholic will leave the Church, and 70% of those instances occur before the age of 24. It's been shown that the number one determining factor in remaining Catholic in your twenties and thirties is the level of your faith practice in your teens. In fact, out of the 1 million confirmed teens in the United States, 85% will stop practicing their faith in 7 years. 850,000. Youth ministry is important because it engages the youth where they are. It explains Mass, Confession, discipleship, social issues, controversial issues in a way that teens need to hear. We must evangelize our youth in junior high and high school so that when they don't have the safety nets of family and parish ministry behind them - we still feel confident in their abilities as Catholic young adults.
Our faith is the most important aspect of our lives because it determines everything. The little time we have in this life is nothing compared to our eternal life. Our football games, cheerleading practices, schooling choices mean nothing when compared to the state of our souls. We must begin to help the youth make their faith a priority - and that comes through example. As parents and role models, do we make faith a priority in our lives? Do we constantly seek to learn more, to reach out to those who are struggling, or do we invest in things that won't last? Do we chase the extra money or the convenient creature comforts while our teens lurk in the shadows, observing and imitating our list of priorities.
We can't force the youth to go to youth group because an unwilling teen won't take much from our nights. We can encourage heavily, however. Start with prayer. Put everything in the hands of the one who can do anything and never be afraid to ask for the impossible. I have seen amazing transformations occur within the doors of youth ministry, on retreats and at weekly meetings. God does great things for the youth when they are open even a little bit.
If you can't get your teen excited about youth group - recruit the help of your youth minister. Typically, they understand youth pretty well - it's why we get paid our millions of dollars! I speak for all youth ministers when I say we want to help! Get us in contact with your youth and let us invite them personally. Let us take them out to coffee, to invest a little in them, to assuage their fears and worries about youth ministry. I want those youth in the doors not because numbers attending make me look better, but because I believe in youth ministry. I've seen the miracles that comes from a night of praise and worship, the complete transformations of youth on retreats, the total evangelization of a family starting with their young middle schooler making their parents go to Mass. Help me get your youth to youth group - help me make it a priority in their lives. Be firm and be loving in your attempts.
"Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."