Protestant Youth Ministries and Evangelizing to Catholic Youth

Having grown up (Catholic) in the 1970s on the East Coast, I was mostly exposed to mainline Protestant denominations. Maybe it was the times or maybe it was the community I grew up in, but the philosophy seemed to be “live and let live” with regard to religion. People converted to other religions but no one actively pushed their religion to others (at least not to my knowledge). I have only very recently come to realize (after reading Karl Keating’s book "Catholicism and Fundamentalism) that evangelical Protestants often target Catholics for conversion.

I am particularly concerned about Young Life–a Protestant Youth Ministry which appears to be fundamentalist and evangelical. Young Life started in Texas but has made amazing inroads into the East Coast. I am amazed at how many Catholic parents are delighted that their kids go to Young Life, including my own brother’s kids. Yet it makes me uneasy that (in the guise of fun, games, and music mixed with Bible teaching) Young Life is evangelizing to Catholic youth at an age when they don’t know their own religion.

Anyone else out there share my concerns? I am starting this thread after reading the Life Teen thread. Objections to Life Teen seem to be related to the hip things that Life Teen does to attract Catholic kids and that Young Life successfully employs as well.

Yes it’s proselytizing and at least according to the Church it’s something that we as Catholics should avoid. I wish some Protestant (b/c not all do this) denominations would do the same. :mad: The denominations that proselytize (sp?) usually believe Catholics are hopelessly lost and need salvation.
I guess to me, educating Catholics about their own religion is most important, a higher priority than apologetic work with other denominations.

Its kinda like the tobacco industry targeting kids :smiley: . Maybe we should start a “Catholic” Target Market campaign!

But (seriously) this sort of evangelization is wrong. Being a teacher, there have been times when certain subjects have come up in class that were “touchy” subjects…evolution/creation, faith alone/faith plus works, grace, etc. In these situations, I usually tend to moderate student discussion on the topics and only occasionally will I say something in order to make sure that neither side is being misrepresented. I would NEVER impose my beliefs on my students, no matter how right I think I am and no matter how wrong I may think a student may be. It would be ethically wrong for me to do so. I must respect the beliefs of my students AND I must respect the beliefs that their parents are teaching their children. And the same goes for anyone else who has contact with other people’s children.

My Catholic son has participated in Wyldlife, which is the middle school version of Young Life, for the past three years, and will move up to Young Life next year. Every week during the school year, a group of 30 to 40 boys meet to discuss different issues with the help of two or three adult leaders. We know the adult leaders, they are Evangelical, and they are good families. Some weeks they have guest speakers that come and tell the boys about their “journey” or their “witness” to the faith or being “saved”. The issues they discuss on other weeks might be things like cheating, lying, helping others etc… In the summer, they go to an overnight camp for a week.
Young Life and Wyldlife are non-denominational, but that usually means non-denominationally Protestant. Every week, after a meeting, we discuss with our son the topics that his Wyldlife group discussed that morning.
I look at Young Life and Wyldlife this way----sure it is Protestant. The leaders and speakers are witnessing to their belief in Jesus and God. Is there a Protestant slant to the message. You bet there is! The terminology they use is often unfamiliar to Catholics. Are they trying to convert Catholics to be Evangelical Protestants (EP)? Maybe, but more importantly, they are trying to bring all these kids closer to Jesus, and of course they are doing it in an EP sort of way since that is the way they have learned the faith.
We have talked about EP’s with our son and the way that they witness to the faith. He understands the difference between Catholicism and EP. He understands their terminology and how it relates to the Catholic faith.
Young Life is a great way for kids to get together and share Christianity. To see that it is cool to be Christian. To learn that there is more to life than the MTV culture and to see that they are not the only kid that believes in God and Jesus. BUT, if a child is participating in this program, it is like anything else. The parent has to be aware of what is being “preached” to their child and must make sure that the child understands his/her Catholic faith.
Our Church and Diocese are not real strong on youth programs so Young Life is a good thing for our son. Even if our Church had a good youth program, we would still allow our children to participate in Young Life because most of the kids they go to school with are non-Catholic. It is a great way for them to share “Christian” time with their friends. It is up to the parents to put in the “Catholic” time!

FCA is similiar to Young Life, except it focuses on athletes. I have been actively involved with them for about 6 years. I was even an officer for the club when I was in college. FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) is mostly focused on evangelizing and not much beyond that. Get the kid to Christ and then get them plugged into a church back home. I’m not one of the people that are against getting involved…obviously…with Protestant groups. I think each of us have a call in the ministry. I love working with the youth in my church and sharing my faith there. I also love the opportunity to show my Catholic faith by demonstration, or ‘kind’ explanation to those I meet at FCA camps. Most, if not all the staff know I am Catholic, and so many times at the beginning of the week they tell the huddle leaders (small group leaders) that if a question comes up in their groups concerning Catholicism they can come talk to me. What a great opportunity to be a resource!! And this year there is a gorup of Catholic youths coming (so you can pray for them and me!!).

And, while the more ‘conservative’ folks out there may object, I get to help lead worship this year playing my drumset. Wahoo!! For those of you that don’t play drums…it’s an amazing time worshiping God. Sometimes I’ll stop singing the song we are playing and just sing “The Little Drummer Boy” in my head. :smiley:

Journeyman, just be sure what you are getting yourself into. I agree there are benefits to sharing faith with their non-Catholic friends but as they age will they date and marry one of these girls? My experience in a mixed marriage indicates anecdotally it is the husband who follows the wife. If your son marries a Protestant girl it makes sense to her for him to join her especially if they have Young Life in common. If it helped him why won’t it help them and their kids to be Protestants? You never really know what can happen until it does but you don’t want your good intentions to lead you somewhere outside the Church.

For example, I know a mixed couple that baptized their first two kids catholic, the second two Presbyterian, all four attend the Catholic school during the week, make the Sacraments, and never go to Sunday Mass except when they are required by the school to serve as altar servers which is very infrequently and certainly not every Sunday. They attend the Presbyterian church every Sunday, Sunday School every Sunday and every Wednesday during the school year they are at the Presbyterian church for 2 1/2 hours. This seems confusing to everyone involved, the kids their peers etc. My point is three of the kids are boys. It would not be unlikely for at least one of them to marry a catholic especially if they atend the Jesuit high school or college in town. That catholic girl will point out why don’t we go to the Catholic parish because you went to parochial school, made your Communion etc. It would make more sense. I think these parents would be surprised to have that happen but they really shouldn’t be. Just make sure this doesn’t happen to you the other way around.

Just a suggestion, since I am a youth minister in our parish…start a Catholic youth ministry at your parish. You don’t need much,YOu don’t need to Hire a Paid, trained youth ministry either. I am a 10 year volunteer with other part-time volunteers. Over 200 kids have come and gone in our process. Encouraging their younger siblings to get involved now.
First go to your parish priest, ask how you can help. Connect with the diocese for training, probably will include “protecting God’s children training”. Connect with the diocesan Youth ministry office for already established diocese wide activities, like sports, retreats, outreach, peer ministry and leadership as well as social justice projects. Believe me…“if you build it, they will come…” the teens that is…They are starving for adult mentoring, particularly Adult Catholic mentoring. It wll be work…no doubt…sacrifice…restructuring your time frame…but the possiblities are endless. When you do this, you are ensuring the passing down of our Catholic values, and it will provide the kids the right information to prevent any proselytizing fears. Pray hard! Pray often, and include the teens in your prayers always!

I have to agree with those who said teach the kids their faith. One of my pet peeves is when I hear religious ed teachers saying the kids won’t understand it. :mad: Horse hockey! You can’t love what you don’t know…

Personally, I am just getting to the point in my life where I feel comfortably able enough to defend my faith to be around Protestants in non church-related social settings (parties, etc.), but NOT comfortable enough to attend Protestant functions (mothers’ groups, homeschool groups, etc.) without worrying how it will affect my beliefs. I don’t believe in looking for temptation - it finds me plenty enough :wink: I certainly wouldn’t put my children in those situation either.

this is to answer the question about Young Life. yes, it was founded by a protestant but has always been a non-denominational ministry. so much so that the bishop of colorado springs has written a letter of approval for young life and says that it is a good organization that catholic parents can allow their children to participate in. in fact, young life’s staff has about 10-15% catholics among them. when young life enters a catholic high school, they will only send in catholic leaders (although in a public school there will normally be protestant leaders). also, if you have heard of the stuebenville conferences…one of the main people involved with that is former young life staff and is still very pro young life. also, scott hahn became a Christian through young life, and while his particular leader might have been a bit misinformed about the catholic church, he is in no way representative of the organization in general. if anyone has any questions about this or other para-church organizations i would be happy to answer them as i work for a para-church organization.

BTW if anyone would care to see the letter i might be able to e-mail a copy but i can’t get it to upload on this post for some reason

i tried to post a link to the letter but a password is required to access it (since it is meant for people who work for young life to print and share and it keeps others from using it and maybe changing it so i guess the password makes sense). again if anyone has any questions about young life, campus crusade, navigators, student venture, yfc, fca, or any other para-church organization your kids might be involved in, i would be glad to answer them. i can tell you which ones are catholic friendly and which ones might not be (and there are some that might be outright cultish, but none of the ones listed above fit that category).

If you feed me oatmeal every day for every meal, I too would jump for the first person to offer me a hamburger.

Is this Youth Ministy targeting our Catholic Children? YES … because we are not feeding them ourselves.

Do the children go to the Youth Ministry? YES BECAUSE THEY ARE HUNGRY.

We, Catholics, need to do a better job of feeding our children (as well as feeding the adults).

There is a Vatican approved Ministry sweeping across the country and around the world called Couples For Christ (CFC).

The CFC has branches which reaches all aspects of the Catholic-Christian family.

Kids For Christ (KFC) 4-12 years old

Youth For Christ (YFC) 13 - 21 years old (now in all 50 states)

Singles for Christ (SFC) 22 - 40ish for single professionals (and amateurs)

Couples for Christ (CFC) Valid married couples growing in the faith.

Handmaids of the Lord (HOLD) Mature single women, divorced or widowed or separated or whose spouse is unable to attend.

Servants of the Lord (SOLD) Mature single men, divorced or separated or widowed or whose spouse is unable to attend.

Currently the CFC is 1.4 million members strong in 117 countries.

If you would like to know more or find a CFC group in your area, please contact me.

[quote=dhgray[color=black]Youth For Christ (YFC) 13 - 21 years old (now in all 50 states)

is it really called this? there is already an organization that is roughly 60-70 years old with this name (a very good organization at that and it is worldwide) and it could get confusing.

Bengal Fan,
Thanks for pointing that out… The Family Ministries all fall under the Couples For Christ umbrella, so the full ministry names are
[font=Arial]CFC-Kids For Christ
CFC-Youth For Christ
CFC-Singles for Christ
CFC-Handmaids of the Lord
[/font]CFC-Servants of the Lord

When you get a chance, check them out at our international website:

Though this ministry, my 12 year old daughter brought 2 of her friends back to the Church (with their families). Sometimes I think she is a better evangalist than I am.:smiley: -Praise God

I think these Young Life programs says something about catholic youth ministries. Catholic youth are not being fed in thier parishes, so they go where they can be fed. Peter Kreeft came up with a similiar conclusion about the evangelical protestants “stealing sheep” in Mexico - people weren’t being fed spiritually in thier parishes, so they went where they would be fed (in protestant churches).

Help get your parish to start a vibrant youth ministry, or move to a parish that has a good youth ministry in place already. If you are just starting a youth ministry program, LIFE TEEN has a plethora of resources out there. I am a youth minister and I find that I just can’t come up with new and unique activities and talks every week for our Sunday night meetings (plus Bible studies and apologetics outside of Sunday). LIFE TEEN has very good resources out there that can be quickly adapted for your program. We also like the LIFE TEEN camps and conferences that are offered year round. Our youth get a whole lot out of the Stuebenville and Notre Dame leadership conferences. And LIFE TEEN is authentically catholic 100% - our teens pride themselves on having a catholic identity. They wear retreat and LIFE TEEN T-Shirts to school, for example. They bring their friends to retreats. We’ve had teens in some pretty serious situations involving abuse or drug/alcohol addiction who would never have come to a retreat without thier friends inviting them. And at the retreat, a true and profound change takes place in those teens - a genuine conversion. These teens realize that whatever they were trying before to “complete” themselves would never have worked. Jesus is the one who fills that God-shaped hole.

There has been much talk about LIFE TEEN dumbing the faith down and being merely entertainment. This is simply not the case. Rather, we know that teens need (1) good, solid and authentic catholic friendships, (2) a deep spiritual connection with God [the Faith side], and (3) the nuts and bolts of the Faith to back up that spiritual connection [the reason side]. In our youth ministry, we try and make sure that all three of those needs are being met. At mass, we have greeters in place to take you by the hand as soon as you get out of your car to as soon as you leave. If you are a youth, we invite you to sit up front at mass with the other youth. We talk to you and get to know you. We offer good, scriptural, singable, and simple music that teens seem to connect with more so than the cantor+organ offered at the other masses. Our priest gives homilies that are 100% catholic, talking about issues that are especially relevant to teens (ie: sexual purity and chastity, the Fourth commandment and it’s importance, et cetera). After mass, we invite teens to come to our LIFE Nights, where, again, we have our teen leaders and our adult leaders greeting you and getting to know you from the moment you walk through the doors. We have fun games and activities, skits, and social time as well as catechetical presentations. We have intense small group discussions about what the mass readings were about, for instance, or issues in the youth’s life or the cathetical presentation for the evening, et cetera. We also have socials and studies outside of the LIFE Night. During the summer, we have Softball (very popular), various Camps, missionary opportunities (we went to Mexico this year), and Summer Apologetics.

There are plenty of catholic youth ministries out there. I don’t really care if you use the LIFE TEEN resources or not, or if you use another youth ministry resource. Remember to target all of our teens spiritual needs. Classroom catechesis alone are not enough. Socials alone are not enough. Mass, without any other ministry opportunity, is not enough. We need a comprehensive youth ministry in place at every parish that has youth. Encourage your parish to start one if they don’t have one already or to improve the youth ministry that’s in place already.


i agree with you 99.99%. the only thing i would add though is that most youth ministries in churches tend to focus on shepherding the youth who are already in the church. we need organizations like young life who actually targets unchurched and disinterested kids who are either not attending a church or are not active in thier faith. many of these students are impacted through the open environment that is fostered at these meetings for many different reasons (meeting in student’s homes as opposed to churches, their friends are their and they all go to the same school, the leaders have built a friendship with the students by going to the games and plays and other activities at the school and meeting with student “where they are at”). these para-church organizations are focused first on evangelization and getting students back into the church and the youth groups are generally focused on growing the students in the youth group in their faith. i do agree that every church needs a youth group for these kids who are having conversion experiences at young life and other organizations to go to when they want to get involved with their church.

During the last CFC-Youth For Christ Ministry camp in Chicago, 6 Budists went to the camp and 4 Christians returned with 2 of them wanting to become Catholic. I have seen the CFC-YFC change lives and strengthen Catholic Church Youth Ministries. Check them out at

Bengal Fan:

I would like to know more about your assertions that Young Life is non-denominational and that the Bishop of Colorado Springs approves it.

Young Life has a Statement of Faith that all volunteers and staff must agree to. A Catholic knowledgeable in his or her faith could not in good conscience agree to Young Life’s Statement of Faith. For example, Article 1 states that the Bible is “the final and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” Article IV states “The only Mediator between God and man is Jesus Christ our Lord, God’s eternal Son…”

Which para-church organization do you work for? I assume you are not Catholic.

These “non-denominational” Christian youth organizations appear to be non-denominational mostly in that they do not declare themselves allied to a particular Protestant denomination. But a critical review of their Statement of Faith reveals that they are fundamentalist Protestant in their beliefs.

I have noticed that 1. evangelical or fundamentalist protestant organizations have a Statement of Faith that volunteers must agree to, and 2. some part of their website is usually password protected and cannot be accessed by visitors to the site. It seems to me that Catholic organizations do not have such features.

As a high school teacher and a Young Life leader (since before I became a teacher), I can tell you from my experience that Young Life is not trying to convert Catholics to Protestantism, at least not in the 3 areas in 2 states I have volunteered (in OK and TX, predominantly Protestant regions). YL is para-denominational altogether, not non-denominational Protestant. Church affiliation of the leaders, mostly college students, varies even within one area. We go to Catholic as well as public high schools and do “relational evangalism” with the kids, earning the right to tell them the gospel. Leaders also maintain relationships with the kids to be a mentor as kids begin their journeys with Christ.

Typically we target the UNchurched, so we’re starting at the very basics, teaching them who Jesus is and why He is Lord. We do try to plug them into churches, but YL is not influential as an organization at this point - the kid’s family’s church preference would be more influential, or if the parents don’t go to church, then the leaders in that area would probably invite the kids to their respective churches.

Your concerns are valid, and would be with any non-church affiliated Christian organization, mainly because teenagers are so influenced by their peers. You are doing the exactly right thing by talking to your child about what he/she learns about the gospel and a relationship with Jesus at YL, while nuturing/guiding him/her in the family of Catholicism.

God bless you for being an awesome parent.

PS in response to the previous thread: The Statement of Faith ensures that the leaders are committed to being good role models in behavior and character. For example, some of our YL kids are having sex and doing drugs in high school. We can’t have leaders who are doing that and at the same time telling kids it’s bad.

[quote=La Chiara]Bengal Fan:

I would like to know more about your assertions that Young Life is non-denominational and that the Bishop of Colorado Springs approves it.

well, as i said before, the bishop wrote a letter saying that he supports the work of young life (he has a good relationship with yl’s president and has seen the good fruits that have come from this organization, i can e-mail you a copy of the letter if you want but i don’t understand why you won’t just take my word for it).

i can see a catholic’s problem with this but it does not mean exactly what you might take it to mean (as there are many catholic staff members). this article’s purpose is to show that young life staff and volunteers do submit to an authority and not just saying anything they want to say. yes i know that there are many interpretations of the bible out there which is why young life does not get involved in the things that divide us but the things we have in common as Christians.

actually, the catholic church teaches this also since it is a direct quote from scripture. the point of this article is to show that there is no one else who can mend the broken relationship between God and man…this has nothing to do with intercession which is what some people call “mediation”.

i am not catholic at the moment but am on my way. i would prefer not to say which organization here as of yet, but not because i am embarrased or ashamed, it is more a matter of privacy as it would almost be like giving out my address because i chose a screen name that would allow some folks from my town to know who i am and i haven’t quite revealed my intention to come into the catholic church.

i would not classify young life as fundamentalist by any means but i would agree that they have some protestant leanings but do not force them on anyone and always encourage catholic youth to be involved in their catholic church.


in karl’s most recent newsletter, he applauds a bishop for instituting what you would call a “statement of faith” that is required by anyone involved in any sort of catholic ministry within the diocese. also, the reason there are parts of the websites that are password protected is because there are certain things on the sites that are only to be used by staff (i.e. address change forms, donor reports so that the area directors can be in contact with their donors, personal information about staff, and other forms) which in the hands of the wrong people could cause serious logistical problems (like theft, changing addresses which would cause paycheck problems, invasion of privacy of the staff). so to assume there are secret things that go on behind closed doors is mistaken as most of these organizations (including young life) allow people to see where every dime goes, what every employee earns, every activity that goes on, etc. if you have a question about the organization contact them and they will answer it or ask me and i will answer it the best i can.

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