It seems that every week we are faced with new, grim statistics on the state of the Church and the faith, or lack there of, of our young people. Faithful Catholics everywhere are looking for ways to stand in the breach and more effectively proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ and His Church to our youth, as well as to create environments in which true discipleship can take place. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a Catholic youth ministry program that could accomplish all this, and be as simple as “Just add water”?
As appealing as that idea is, no such thing does or can exist. Ministry is complicated. Every parish has a different staffing and program structure. Some have full-time youth ministers, while others are run by faithful volunteers. People are complicated, beautifully complicated. And conversion isn’t linear.
So, what’s a Church to do? With YDisciple, we make no promises of a one-size-fits all ministry resource. What we do offer is solid content and guides to help parish, parents, and individuals share faith with teens. And while there is no fail-safe roadmap for small groups, we have discovered that there are four “marks on the map,” if you will, that will help you launch and sustain small group discipleship in your context.
Mark #1: Partner with Parents
Study after study shows that parents are the primary influencer of teenagers’ faith lives. From the time parents choose to baptize their child, they take responsibility as the child’s primary faith educators. There is no program that can replace them, but often ministries relegate parents to chaperones and snack-providers.
Small Group Discipleship is different. We recommend partnering with parents from the beginning to help form the group, host the group (where Safe Environment policies permit), and sustain the group as it grows. YDisciple also makes sharing the content of the group with parents easy, so parents can be aware of what is discussed and small groups can serve as a springboard for faith-sharing in the home. Are you a parent? You can start a group for your teen with the tools provided on our Promotional Resources page. No need to wait for an “official” program to start. These resources are free whether you subscribe to YDisciple or not.
Mark #2: Engage other Faithful Adults
Your parish may have a youth minister or maybe even two. Your parish may have no youth minister at all or a person who wears multiple hats, youth ministry being just one. Even a full-time youth minister cannot adequately meet the needs of all the teens in his or her parish boundaries. YDisciple gives you the tools to “multiply” the youth minister, equipping other caring adults in the parish to become, in a sense, co-youth ministers, focused on the needs and customizing the formation of the handful of teens in their group.
Mark #3: Encourage Ownership for Teens and their Families
At every turn of the process, we want you to think about how we can make sure these small groups are “owned” by the teens in them along with their families. Teens are more likely to be committed when they feel that the group is not “St. Michael’s small group” but “My small group.”
Consider these simple ways this sense of ownership can be developed:
- Ask teens who they would like to have in their group, instead of assigning groups
- Ask parents to invite other families personally
- Ask the teens who in the parish they want to have as a mentor, instead of recruiting mentors through the bulletin
- Meet in homes or coffee shops, when permitted, instead of classrooms
- Ask teens and families what day and time works best, rather than scheduling for them
- Ask teens what they want to discuss, instead of following a linear curriculum
Mark #4: Start Small, Think Big
Small Group Discipleship is scalable. Whether you have a thriving youth group at your parish or you are a small parish with only a handful of teens at all, we recommend that you start just one or two small groups. If a small number of groups get off the ground well, expect organic growth. Teens will start talking. Parents will start talking. Others will want to start groups not because of a flyer, but because of word-of-mouth. Think: Mustard Seed to Movement (Matthew 13:31-32).