youth ministry in an adult church

I once heard youth ministry colourfully described as a ‘bandaid on a bleeding artery’. While those committed to the evangelisation and support of youth might resist such a diagnosis it nevertheless points to the fact that outreach to young people cannot be thought of apart from the health of the adult Church.

wydIt strikes me that if the adult Church is haemorrhaging – because of poor preaching and liturgy, a thin sense of belonging or a lack of support for instance – then there is little prospect that young members will be sustained in their faith as they mature. Young people graduate from the parochial youth group or youth movement much faster than we think. This leads us to consider what we are offering young people in our communities over the long term, for the flourishing and growth of their faith. All you need do is look at your adult Church for a sense of what’s coming.

There are other good reasons why nurturing the faith of adult Catholics is critical, even essential, to meaningful youth ministry in our parishes.

Adult Catholics witness to younger Catholics what a mature faith looks like. If we want to raise the standard of discipleship in the Church then adults who are prayerful, steeped in Scripture, theologically literate, articulate and committed to justice must become the new norm. Only then will the faith of young people naturally aspire to more than intergenerational conformism.

Naturally, we want young people in our communities for their vibrancy and energy as well as the tangible hope they bring for a Church we hold precious. However, we need to acknowledge that young people will not be attracted to parishes or communities that show no energy or dynamism in themselves.

prayerGiven the above, there is an argument for a renewed emphasis on adult catechesis in the local community, in addition to the traditional role of children’s and youth ministry in parish life. In my experience there is too little focus on adult formation in our parishes (apart from what is assumed to be taking place when homilies are preached or in the sign value of the sacraments).

In a well researched book on faith formation, Jane Regan argues that the strongest rationale for a focus on adult catechesis, as a necessary complementary to a focus on youth, is the mission of evangelisation:

It is the link between evangelisation and catechesis that provides the clearest mandate and the most convincing rationale for focusing on adults. Adults need to be continually formed in their faith so that they are able to fulfil their responsibilities in the mission of the church (Regan, Toward an Adult Church, p.24)

Of course, the responsibilities of adults include the evangelisation of youth. Without their catechesis, the formation of adults in faith, they are not likely to connect what takes place in liturgy with mission, the connection between faith practices and their life remains obscure, and so the connection between discipleship and evangelisation will be lost. In short, adult disciples need catechesis to be evangelisers, which includes being effective witnesses to the young people in their parish community and everyday lives.

So if you are involved in youth ministry, adults need to become an integral part of the overall vision of your parish if your ministry is not to be merely a temporary ‘moment’ in a longer story of unrealised potential.

If we want youth ministry to make a lasting difference we cannot afford to take our eyes off the adult members of our community which they will one day become.

start planning to be a better church

“For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint” (Habakkuk 2:3)

At a recent gathering I was asked what I did for work. I shared something of my role as a pastoral planner for the Catholic Church to which they responded with detached interest, “Oh I guess they would have to plan wouldn’t they”.

loaves and fish mosaicI suspect that many Catholics would be just as surprised that pastoral planning goes in the Church. And yet it is nothing new to us. From the very beginning of our history as disciples planning has been a common part of our life. In the Acts of the Apostles, for example, we see the community organising itself – identifying, preparing for and responding to the pastoral needs of their fellow believers and those beyond the nascent community. This includes providing for the care of Greek widows (6:1-6) and addressing the need to catechise the great numbers in Antioch (11:19-26). Hence, from the outset, the community and its leaders discovered particular pastoral needs, discerned ways to address them, and then selected one of the possible options. These activities constitute the essence of ‘pastoral planning.’

Many dioceses are dedicating considerable resources to ‘planners’ among the people of God and some parishes have also begun to take a more strategic approach to their life though these are fewer in number than is called for. Much work remains to be done here.

startplanning2Pastoral planning, for instance, is the reason for which pastoral councils exist (see Canon 536 §1 and Ecclesiae Imago n.204) . However in my experience these still too often get bogged down in ‘maintenance mode’ or end up acting like corporate management and so fail to achieve their potential as a body of prayerful discernment and missionary initiative (and this phenomenon deserves a blog all of its own).

So why is church planning indispensable and why does it need to be a priority for your faith community or ministry group? There are many reasons that could be raised. Below I list only a few to spark your own thinking about a more planned approach to mission.

  • The need to develop, articulate and promote a clearly owned vision within and beyond your group (i.e. ‘what are we about?’). Without such a vision, resources can be misdirected and significant energy can be lost; people have no way of engaging with a future approach. What is your community’s vision for making disciples?
  • The need to identify spiritual and social needs as well as gifts within the group so that the mission of Christ and the Church can be fulfilled. Intentional planning provides an opportunity to get to know the members of the group or community more intimately and engage their abilities toward the common good;
  • The opportunity to consult community members and listen intently to their faith, viewpoints and experience of the past and present with a view to the future. No one has a comprehensive view or can experience all of the Church’s life; as a communion of faith we depend on each other for the best view of things. St Paulinus of Nola reminds us, ‘Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes’;
  • The need to match our structures with our mission, particularly in light of limited resources and increasing need. All structures and persons are at the service of, and therefore accountable to, the mission given to us by the Gospel in our particular context. We need to match the faith that we live with the mission we seek to fulfil;
  • To enable your faith community or group to respond effectively and proactively to change and to not be passively shaped by external forces. Intentional planning actually enables adaptability, flexibility and resourcefulness in the midst of changing circumstance.

Without the discipline of planning for the future life of your community or faith group it is unlikely to realise its greatest potential. When exercised well pastoral planning can move communities beyond complacency, from merely existing to communities of genuine missionary intent. It can forge a more united and creative vision and raise a self-awareness within the community that it does not exist for itself but for the greater purpose of mission. On the other hand, a lack of planning does not simply leave communities where they are but actually risks their diminishment. So start planning to be a better Church; it’s never too late to begin.


Daniel Ang9Welcome to timeofthechurch, my blog about the contemporary life of the Catholic Church. It aims to promote better pastoral practice and leadership in our parishes and ministries by bringing together the best of the Catholic tradition with the pastoral issues and concerns that affect the Catholic community today.

I believe the riches of our theological and spiritual traditions offer abundant resources to support the conversion of our communities and strengthening of our mission in the present. I believe that the Church, as both the bearer and receiver of God’s mystery, remains a place of possibility and hope for the future. By offering my thoughts on this blog I hope to contribute to that hope.

The name of my blog draws its inspiration from the work of the Dominican theologian Yves Congar OP (1904-1995) and the Jesuit scholar Henri de Lubac SJ (1896-1991) who, in their sacramental approach of the Church, underlined its life and activities as both inseparable from human history and at same time as transcending that history.

For these scholars it was in the mystery of the Church, ‘the bond between two worlds’, that past (memory), present (history) and future (eschaton) coincide, most especially in the Word and the Church’s sacramental life. This ‘time of the Church’ is not time as the world understands it, the mechanical plodding of one moment to the next, but a time of anticipation, witness and conversion to Christ who is even now the fulfillment of human history. It is a time that sends us forward in faith rather than simply affirming where we are.

I hope the articles, reflections and comments on this blog will serve as a source of hope and renewal in discipleship, ministry and community life. I hope you too will share your thoughts and reflections on the best of Christian leadership and the growth of faith in your part of the world.

Thank you for visiting and every good wish,