Has Youth Ministry failed?

Should we abandon Youth Ministry? Patrick Archbold at the excellent Creative Minority Report has posted a provocative article headed Youth Ministry Has Failed. I agree with him that
We have 2,000 years of doctrine, liturgy, art, and music upon which to draw in order to bolster the faith and Catholic identity of our youth and we give them watered down doctrine, bad music, bad liturgy, and felt banners. Our youth deserve more.
He refers to an article on U.S.: Modern Youth Ministry a '50-Year Failed Experiment,' Say Pastors and quotes a section in which the view is advanced that "dividing children from adults at church is an unbiblical concept borrowed from humanistic philosophies."

This is worthy of discussion. Since I was a teenager myself, I have been involved in events which are specifically for young people - either teenagers or young adults. Coming into contact with home-schoolers and those organising Family Days of various sorts, I have come to see the advantage of having events for a mixed age group.

A standard criticism of home-schooling is that the children are deprived of socialising. Home-schoolers will naturally respond wryly that the kind of socialising that goes on in a narrow peer group at school is one of the reasons for home-schooling in the first place. At Youth Ministry events organised for a peer group, the question of discipline or "appropriate behaviour", call it what you will, often presents a major task for the organisers. There are usually statements on the invitation literature about standards of behaviour and sanctions. Somebody generally has to oversee these things and they can become a headache. I have also heard parents complain at times about the bad influences that their children are exposed to.

At Family Days and home-schooling events, this problem is markedly reduced. I won't say that it is entirely absent, but if teenagers argue with their parents, they usually get on OK with other adults, and are often very good at helping out with younger children. The mix of ages is a more natural environment. It can be rather chaotic in terms of organisation but is less stressful in terms of teenage misbehaviour.

So do I think that Youth Ministry has failed? Not really: I do think that there is still room for events for teenagers and young adults. I certainly agree that there is no need for dumbing-down; and I agree heartily with a point often made by James Preece that in today's world we do not need to feel obliged to provide young people with excitement - they get that elsewhere and more effectively from the enormous range of activities made available to them. I think it is probably true nowadays that most youngsters of the kind who go to Church Youth events have experienced abseiling or ski-ing on some trip or another before they are fifteen. Obviously I also think that young people respond well to traditional liturgy - even if the liturgy is all Novus Ordo, it should be dignified and have a sense of the sacred. As I have said before, if you start doing clown liturgies or trying to "rock for Jesus" you need to remember that the kids will not be laughing with you, they will be laughing at you.

Still, good events for young people still have a place, I think, but we should resist the temptation to think that they are the whole solution. Far too often, when people get together to talk about what is wrong with the Church, or the parish, someone of advanced years will say that "we must do more for the youth" and the response is to set up something to provide young people with excitement, infantile liturgy, and a bit of dumbed-down catechesis (even, quod Deus avertat, values clarification style groups.)

So my two-penn'orth in this discussion is that we can arrange good quality events for young people but should also consider the neglected area of family ministry in which young people can benefit from a wide and natural age-range of participants, and the opportunity to break out of the peer-group fascism that limits their freedom to flourish and mature with the help of those who are older or younger than themselves.

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