What do folding chairs have to do with youth ministry?
In some parishes, it is everything.
In my experience in ministering in, and consulting with, multiple parishes, and in talking with young people for over two decades,there is a temptation to involve the younger members of the faith community by inviting them to fold chairs, throw out the trash, and help with other projects that perhaps the more senior members can no longer complete (or prefer to delegate).
While these tasks are necessary, and can and should be supported by all members of the community, including the youth, it cannot be the only request upon the youth.
If it is, the youth will find their community elsewhere. I have yet to hear a young person reflect that their Church values them, or needs them, because they completed maintenance tasks.
Despite the somewhat negative reputation that young people receive, they have a deep desire to serve and to belong. No generation has served in their communities more than the Millennial Generation. If these patterns continue, the next generation, Generation Z, will continue this upward trend.
Faith communities need to take the time to invite young people into leadership. It must be an invitation that taps into the needs of the individual youth (and larger youth ministry), and not that of the inviter, or necessarily the parish.
The Appreciative Discipleship process that I developed through decades of work with youth and young adults in a Church setting, taps into this need. It provides a strategy in the “Dream” stage to allow young people to vision how they can be “church.” Learn more about the Appreciative Discipleship on the page here.
Leadership must be open to this process and to walk with the youth.
Last year, in the youth ministry program that I minister in with many wonderful friends, we invited the youth collectively to decide on a project that had one goal: “to change the world.”
After activities to process and lead to a decision, the result was to facilitate a St. Baldrick’s event where participants shave their heads to raise money for research, and to support families in need. It is also a sign of solidarity with those impacted by cancer. You can learn more about St. Baldrick’s here. Others cut their hair to be turned into wigs for those who lost their hair due to chemotherapy.
This was a year-long project that the youth managed and facilitated. It led to a major parish event this past April that raised over $8,000.00. This is just one example of engaging young people in the larger faith community.
As you reflect on your faith communities, and your own leadership, ask yourself:
Religious institutions in this country are losing membership for a number of reasons, many out of our control. What is within our realm of responsibility is to take time to care and to empower others to be their best self, and for your faith community to allow the Spirit to move through all of its members.