Youth ministers are an important part of the Church’s endeavors to evangelize and catechize teens today, but, according to a recent study, only 24% of Catholic parishes in the US have a youth minister (CARA, The Changing Landscape of Catholic Parishes). So how do we reach the other 76%? YDisciple is designed to be a tool for a parish with a youth ministry staff as well as for parishes run by faithful volunteers.
Serving the Other 76% of Youth
Andy and Cassie Guenther are not youth ministers. Andy is a dairy farmer and Cassie is a stay-at-home mom. Together they are the volunteer coordinators of YDisciple at St. Mary’s Parish in West Point, Nebraska (pop. 3300). They live outside of town on a farm and have 6 small children. As their hands are full with dairy farming and raising young children, it is reasonable to ask how they manage a youth ministry program with 70 high school students involved every week. Cassie writes: “Andy and I grew up in the Christian faith but did not discover an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ until college. Our Newman Center, St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Nebraska, had an amazing outreach ministry called FOCUS that awakened our faith. We are passionate to bring this kind of outreach ministry to teens in our community.”
The reason the Guenther’s have the time to manage a large and growing youth ministry is that they have shared the load with parents and adult mentors. Every week, 10 small groups are hosted by parents in homes. Each group is led by 2 caring adult mentors.
“YDisciple has been a tremendous blessing for our parish. We tried other methods of youth ministry for several years. Over time the teens drifted away and we had difficulty finding a volunteer coordinator for the program. A small group of moms who have high school kids and myself went to an Archdiocesan sponsored information night about YDisciple. We LOVED what we heard and it felt like just what our parish needed. After getting approval from our Pastor, the group of parents who were most excited about YDisciple discerned who would be the Parish Coordinator. After discernment Andy and I felt called to take on the role. The burning in my heart wouldn’t stop that week! A big part of why we felt called was the wonderful format of YDisciple . . . in that most of our time could be focused on small group discipleship instead of preparing a talk or a teaching.”
Cassie and Andy reached out to parents and teens to organize the small groups. They made an intentional decision to put teens who already were friends together in the small groups. This methodology turns the natural friendships that teens already have into virtuous, life-giving relationships. When talking with a group of parents, Andy explained why he was so excited about using YDisciple “The goal of YDisciple is to help your teen meet Jesus as a person, not just a subject.”
Cassie continues, “The Holy Spirit is really moving here in West Point. I think it shows that small groups meet fundamental needs that teenagers do not always get met in the home, school or by modern culture. Small group discipleship provides a great environment for teens to grow in their self-esteem and faith. The exercises, videos and discussion questions in the YDisciple lessons really help the teens feel known, loved, and cared for by their mentors, peers and parents.”
UPDATE: Because of the groundwork the Guenther’s laid, they have been able to step down from their coordinating role after 5 years and pass it on to a new couple. Ministry is still going strong.