Helping out with worldly youth group

Dear forum,

Please forgive me if I am posting this in the wrong section, I am not quite sure!

Anyhow, here is my situation: I moved to a different town last semester and quickly decided that I wanted to get involved with Church apart from just participating in Mass and the Sacraments. One of the things that I am very passionate about is the young ones, mainly because I feel like they are sometimes neglected. A friend of mine is the leader of my parish youth group, and he therefore asked me if I could help out.

My main problem is the fact that the group is very worldly. The spiritual part of our meetings is almost non existent. Normally we see each other after Friday Mass, but only some of the kids actually goes there to pray. Afterwards we eat something (sometimes meat, even though it is Friday) and then maybe we go to play bowling or basketball or something. At the end of the night there is a short prayer, but it really is not long. At this time they are all tired and unfocused…

I understand that not all of the kids wants to spend the entire evening fasting in adoration, but I just wish that it would be more clear that we are all gathering around our common faith. I mentioned this to one of the older leaders who has been helping out for years, but she said that the kids felt like they all dealt with the spiritual part in confirmation class and that they wanted to use this time to hang out.:frowning: I have said what I think but I do not believe anything will change.

Another thing that should be added is that this is all happening in Sweden, probably the most secularized country in the world. As Catholics we are such a small minority and most of us are immigrants, at the moment a lot of them are coming from Iraq. Our culture does not promote religion - quite the opposite in fact - and i am very scared that these young ones will lose their faith and identity if their parents cannot raise them to resist the temptations of materialism, pride and sex.

What should I do? Maybe just the fact that they are still coming to Church is reason enough for me to give them my time? What if they ones who are actually interested in our faith does not turn up because they do not like sports and rough language? When we did a survey, not a singe person wanted our meetings to be more spiritual. Do you guys have any similar experiences? Any help is appreciated!

Yours,
Nils

A couple of thoughts about youth group (I’m thinking 14-18 yo) from someone who has been volunteering with youth for a zillion years. :smiley:

First, there is value in simply having a safe place for kids to hang out on a Friday night. I do agree with you that more focus on faith should be brought in, but the structure of the nights as they are now is a good one.

Our current youth program when through some ups and downs. About 4 years ago the parish brought in a new youth director and she started with evenings very similar to what you describe - meet after Mass, have dinner, play sports or games, a brief time of prayer and then see you until next week. That was the surface, but under that lots of things were going on which I’ll get to in a bit.

Is Friday an official day of abstinence in Sweden? If it isn’t, you really can’t compel the kids to forego meat. If it is, then there are lots of teen friendly foods that aren’t meat based. Of course, during Lent they will need to be meatless. Who prepares the meals? Are they brought in by parents or catered? Having the families supply the meals gives them a good way to be involved with the group but not hovering over their kids.

I recommend that you start helping with the program the way it is and get to know the teens and the other volunteers. Talk to your friend about doing more faith focused things gradually during the metings.

Lent is in a month and that’s a good time to introduce faith practices. In the next few weeks you can also plan out things like a stations of the cross (done by candlelight?), a Holy Hour, a living rosary, or a few similar things to do during Lent. So the flow of a meeting might be - gathering time with a game or a bit of sports (1/2 hour), dinner (1/2 hour), prayer time with stations or other activity (1/2 hour).

The youth director is an employee of the parish, so she is there during the afternoons and kids drop by her office to talk. She also organized a ‘core team’ of older teens to mentor their peers. These kids helped plan and advertise events, getting the other teens involved. We participated in diocesean events offered for teens and also did things with other parishes - cookouts, hikes, service projects, etc.

Over the course of a year or so we went from about 20 kids regularly attending to over 60 every week. For a parish of our size, that is still a somewhat low number but it shows that growth is possible.

Teens need to see how their faith fits into the rest of their lives (school, home, friends) so having a church group that does more than just pray helps them see that that is possible.

I’ll be praying for the success of your group.

That’s tough. I won’t pretend to be adequately equipped to handle the cultural differences between where I am (in the U.S.) and where you are in Sweden. But I will offer a few general observations.

First, I would say that what you are experiencing is (unfortunately) not that uncommon. Many youth groups end up being social clubs more than anything. It is not bad to have social time with other Catholic youth. It is not bad to be able to just hang out every now and then. But a parish-sponsored youth group needs to have clearly defined parameters, and that must include catechesis.

As God is infinite, one can never reach a point in their faith life where they’ve “learned enough”. I went to Catholic schools for 13 years. I studied theology in college. I’ve been studying on my own for most of my adult life. And I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what our faith has to offer us.

So what to do? If I had a magic answer for you, I would have written a book. :o There is no real short cut. You have to – first and foremost – take it all to prayer. Second, talk with your priest about your concerns. Whatever happens, he needs to be on board with it.

Not knowing your particular situation first hand, I cannot say for sure what the best next step would be, but I would encourage you to stay involved and try to move things slowly as best you can from your position. If the kids are accustomed to just hanging out and they show up one week and there are desks and textbooks and a lecture, I would not expect to see them the following week. Do what you can. If everyone is just hanging out, try steering the conversation to faith-related things. Speak from the Catholic perspective to issues they are interested in and are talking about. Share with them about an interesting Catholic book you are reading.

I would say the end goal would be to have something more structured. But if you are not the youth group leader, it’s hard to do by your own initiative. The youth group leader needs to believe in the importance of continuing formation in the Catholic faith. So keep having those conversations with the youth group leader and stressing the importance of the youth knowing their faith. Be persistent, but pace yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

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