Monday, March 2, 2015

How do you do effective youth ministry?

I tend to think of youth ministry in largely marketing terms.  I think an error that we make in catholic formation is that we go straight to catechesis without first evangelizing.  This just makes the faith seem that much more boring and irrelevant.  Then we spend our time doing apologetics-  defending the church against objections that most people don't actually have.  I suspect that this only makes the Church look defensive, which in turn makes youth (and everyone) less likely to trust the church.

I see evangelization as being like Aladdin on his magic carpet and saying to Jasmine "Do you trust me?"  At some point the youth have to decide whether or not they trust God/the Church/youth minister enough to let go of what is safe and to jump onto the carpet.  So rather than arguing or coercing people into it, we need to entice them onto it.  We need to understand how people make decisions, and make them want to choose the faith.  Here is my strategy;

#1- Fun!  I get kids involved in the ministry through extremely fun games, with titles like Nerf Revolution, Communism, KGB, Alien Invasion, Zombie Apocalypse, Secret Service, etc.  These are large scale games then when kids hear about them, they want to come play them! 

#2 Funny! Then I make the formative aspects fun (funny) and interactive.  People respond much better to a talk if it is funny-  and being funny can be as easy as looking up some good pastor jokes, or adding puns into your presentation.  Someone who is laughing is making themselves malleable to the message.  This makes the message feel relevant.

#3 Relational.  Kids will come at first because they think it sounds fun, but they will continue to come if they feel like someone cares whether they do or not. 

#4 Inculturation. I invite kids to enough youth events, with enough different groups, that they begin to realize that Christianity is a whole subculture, and that they like it.  In doing this my hope is that youth will start self identifying as Christian.

#5 Experience of God.  The hope is that we will eventually bring the kids to a place where they can have an encounter with God. Usually this will take the form of a profound, and sometimes inexplicable emotional encounter.  When I say it like that, it sounds like we are emotionally manipulating people into accepting some precepts.  But the truth is almost every decision we make is based in emotion, and while we justify our decisions rationally often rationality takes a back seat to emotion. I heard a freakonomics podcast recently which likened the way we make decisions to the american political system.  We like to think that our reason is the Oval office, making decisions.  But really the decisions are made by our emotions.  Our Reason is just the department that makes the press release. So to motivate people we need to impact them emotionally.  

I think people critical of Christianity will jump on this,and say that I admit that I am trying to impact their decision by impacting their emotions. To that I say yes-  and I think everyone does it when they try to sell their ideology.  When i asked Catherine to marry me, I set up an elaborate day of quality time, beauty and romance. Was I manipulating her emotionally?  I suppose I could have just made a cold, calculated, reasoned argument for why she should commit her whole life to me. But I also suppose that that wouldn't have worked. God is asking people for a committed life long relationship.  Why not set the atmosphere? 

This is difficult to do at a one night youth group event-  instead we need to get kids to a retreat or camp where they can spend more time opening up.

#6 Discipleship. Finally, the end game is to turn the kids into disciples, who are committed to living out their faith long term, and living by it's precepts.  Key to this is regular prayer life, and service. Youth need to become evangelists themselves, so go on OLVC team, or NET, or become leaders within our home grown ministries. Then they will own the faith, and will no longer be mere consumer Christians. The key to Christianity is that it transforms us from being selfish, self consumed people, to people of love who live for others. At some point all Christians need top stop being Christian for selfish reasons and start being a force for transformation, or Christianity will die.

This sums up my strategies-  but obviously it doesn't apply only to youth ministry.  I think that any Christian that thinks that they are at stage 6, discipleship, should also be evangelizing, and I think most of these principals are true no matter who you are evangelizing to. 

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