Over at at ChurchLeaders.com, Andy Blanks has called attention to The Importance of Structure in Youth Ministry. Though the majority of the contributors and audience of ChurchLeaders.com are non-Catholic Christians, I think his thoughts are readily applicable to most parishes.
1. While many parishes are able to invest in a full-time youth minister, many (or most?) do not. This necessitates a heavy reliance on volunteers which means faster turnover and greater division of labor, resulting in the lack of structure in content, relationships, discipleship initiatives, and programs Blanks discusses. [Note: Volunteers aren’t bad! 🙂 The baptized should be seeking to help form others, including youth. However, having no clear leader can lead to lack of structure].
2. With regards to his observation of No Structure to Our Content, Catholic parishes have a ready-made way to address this–the structure inherent in the Catechism and the structure inherent in the Liturgical Year. While many parish youth ministries also rely on quality content in book series from Catholic publishers and youth organizations, any “parish on a budget” that desires to have a well-crafted, well-structured youth ministry can always rely on the structure of the Liturgical Year (i.e. through use of lectionary texts, Liturgy of the Hours, and/or prayers of the Mass) and/or the Catechism for content that comes “ready-made” in a structured form.
3. No Structure to Our Relationships and No Structure to Our Discipleship Initiatives — At first from a Catholic standpoint, we might immediately think of the many [important!] regulations designed to protect youth from abuse within parishes, and think yep, we’ve got structure. But Blanks explains, “I’m not talking about rules or framework that governs our meetings or interactions. I’m talking about not knowing how to think about relational ministry”–and this resonates. Many parishes with quality, structured content, do not have an intentional plan for relational evangelism leading to mentored discipleship. I mean something like the “baseball diamond” of the Evangelical Catholic ministry or the “win, build, send” structure of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students).
4. I think the lack of structure in our programs, or as Blanks writes “no structural thinking regarding the purpose of our programs,” is especially present in Catholic parishes when we’re just happy kids are there. For many youth ministers and volunteers, having youth show up is a struggle (and there are many reasons for this). However, we can’t let this become a distraction from having a structured vision and purpose. Yes, we might start small, but we have to plan to grow large. Sometimes, as Fr. John Cusick and Kate DeVries write in The Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry, this means deliberately starting with a small, core group and training them first–rather than seeking to invite every youth in a parish to an event.
I encourage you to read the whole post by Andy Blanks.
What do you think? In what ways might there be too much structure or not enough structure in parish youth ministries? Are there applications within adult faith formation as well?