How to get Started in local youth ministry
Having read and digested a relational model of youth ministry based on accompaniment and encounter, you may be asking “So…what should we do? Where do we start?”. Here are our tips for beginning a process of accompaniment with our young people:
1. Listen to Young People
This is often the part that is overlooked. Often when discussing a strategy for parish youth ministry, adults (many over 40) sit in a room and discuss what they think young people want or need. This is the ‘How not to of youth ministry’.
You should begin by creating a forum where young people can speak freely and openly so that they can be listened to and heard.
There are a few things to keep in mind at this point:
a) Do not send out a parish questionnaire. Remember the aim is not to retrieve data but to build relationship – you cannot do that through paper exchange!
b) Create a relaxed informal atmosphere where a conversation can take place not a Question Time environment.
c) Never ask a young person what they want! They may tell you, however you then have to deliver it and once it is delivered, they will not want it anymore!
d) Rather, ask a young person who they are? Ask them what they do? What are they interested in? What makes them laugh or cry? This will much better shape your strategy than delivering what they might want.
2. Get On The Road
In Christus Vivit, the post-synodal (2018) Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis uses the Road To Emmaus (Luke, 24) to highlight our need to accompany young people on their journey as a fellow disciple.
One of the best ways we can get on the road with a young person is to share an experience with them. There are many ways this can happen, however by far the most effective way our experience is a led retreat.
It is important that someone else, leads the retreat because there is a difference between accompanying a young person on the road to being a leader on the road.
There are many excellent youth retreat centres around the country (and beyond) and indeed, within our own diocese there are great opportunities where you can bring teenagers to a formation weekend or summer camp to have fun, experience powerful moments of encounter and spend casual time building relationships with your teenagers.
3. Be Available
Create an environment and a space where you can be. This could be on your Church premises or it may be in a neutral space such as Costa Coffee (other coffee shops are available!). Arrange a time, weekly or daily where you will be. Advertise constantly that you will be there…and then be there. Let them come and relax. Have snacks and drinks available and be prepared to chat or not – let them be in control. This is all about being not doing!
Once all this has taken place, you are in a much better place to discuss a future strategy. It will be youth focused and youth led. It will be a collaboration of generations not enforced by one generation onto another.