As I began this year, one of my goals was to work more in a team and not be an island. I had 4 levels of teamwork but just learned a 5th. Teamwork is so important in youth ministry for a variety of reasons. First, none of us is perfect at every aspect. Second, teens respond to different people differently. Third, which I steal from Sticky Faith, “teens who had five or more adults from the church invested in them during the ages of 15 to 18 were less likely to leave the church after high school.”
So what are these various levels?
1. In the group
Unless your teens feel like a group, they won’t come back. Group Magazine interviewed 10,000 youth group teens and the 2 most important elements by far for teens choice were: “a welcoming environment where I can be myself” and “quality relationships with teenagers.” The teens who are already there need to work as a team to welcome and relate with newcomers.
Beyond just coming, if you want to do something amazing, like a big service project, the teens need to work together.
2. In the leadership team
I’ve seen several successful youth ministry programs were the ultimate director spent very little time with the teens themselves since they had already built up a strong team of parents and spent most of their time directing them. This level has been beat to death in youth ministry books.
The parish or school needs to take ownership of its youth ministry. This depends on them. However, we as the youth ministers need to present it so they can easily do that.
This means that we take direction from the pastor – hard for paid youth ministers and harder for volunteers. At times this will seem to mean sweating blood. God will bless our suffering if it comes through fidelity. Despite some tough situations, usually the pastor wants ideas from us. How often do we meet with the pastor? With the parish council? With other key people? Do I try to think on my own or with the rest of the parish?
Why is this needed? For the theological reason, I’ll quote Kenda Dean: “Youth ministry is the church’s ministry, not just that of specialists who can ‘relate’ to young people. The mandate to be there for young people belongs to the Christian community, not to any individual or group of individuals.” But this is also practical: youth ministry grows with time and without full parish support your time is limited. I’ve seen youth groups run on their own: usually they have a 5 to 8 year life cycle based on the parents of the first kids. Yet in Sustainable Youth Ministry Mark Devries points out that successful youth ministry is just getting going after 5 years.
4. With the larger diocese or spiritual family
I visited one diocesan director who couldn’t even tell me if there were youth ministers at any parishes in one deanery. “Huh?” I thought. Often a diocese will run an event, and 1 or 2 parishes bring 85% of the kids. The diocese has many resources and events, and the parishes have the kids, so they need to connect.
In certain spiritual families it works similarly. We in the Legion would meet early to discuss youth ministry and I always got good ideas from others and after a few years started offering a few to others. I always tried to collaborate and ended up writing a bunch (what actually led me into blogging on Catholic Youth Ministry). Yet sometimes it’s hard to see what unites all a group’s youth ministry.
5. With other groups
For years I didn’t do this. Since my ministry started and still focuses on a specific spiritual family – Regnum Christi and ECyD – it is easy for me to get caught up it. One big goal this year was to collaborate more with parishes and help them develop youth ministry.
I thought this was just simple level 4 teamwork. Then 10 days ago I attended the CCYMN – Canadian Catholic Youth Ministry Network – bi-annual convention. 180+ Canadian youth ministers got together in Saskatoon. For you gringos, CCYMN is the Canadian equivalent of NFCYM. (If you’re a regular to this site and wonder why Colm Leyne hasn’t posted this month, he was the organizer.) It was a blast!
When I was there, I started talking to several of the well known names. It seems they are really good at running amazing events, but then teens fall away. I instead focus on regular groups and do events to go deeper. I often struggle with getting the teens pumped and involved in the first place. Hopefully, we can do some deeper collaboration in this regard.
This teamwork will require true humility on both parts. Nobody can look for credit and each must trust the others. It goes beyond level 4 teamwork because all of a sudden it is a trusting back and forth between different ministries to promote each other, not just up and down with the diocese. Although we all seek to have teens experience Christ in the Catholic Church, we’re very different.
What’s been your experience of teamwork (or lack thereof) in Catholic youth ministry?