Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
Do you remember the parish survey done before I was assigned here? It contained something of a cry to do better ministry with our high school youth. People asked to have something more than four meetings each semester, as our “Church and Family” program had. Then people said as much to me on a number of occasions. I also experienced first-hand, by teaching two of the sessions of “Church and Family” last year, that this program was sometimes very sparsely attended. So I have been thinking about our high school youth ministry since I arrived. Finally last Fall I started to have some meetings to search for a solution.
Perhaps you remember I was first thinking about hiring a part-time youth director. But we would barely have been able to afford somebody part-time without benefits. We certainly could not afford a full-time director. Then, when it came actually to finding such a person who would be willing to work part time, and had the qualifications, that person never surfaced. And I did quite a lot of searching. I also thought of some other options, but no doors seemed to open.
Then I discovered a program called YDisciple, out of the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. Soon after I started researching this program various confirmations came: I learned that the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend organized an entire day to show the priests of his diocese this program. Then when I called our own Diocese, the Director of the Youth Office was also discovering the program. I realized that the time-and-space flexibility of the YDisciple program could overcome obstacles of timing and location we now experience with three campuses to cover, several school district schedules, etc. It felt like I had found a solution. After presenting the program to the pastoral council, I decided to move forward.
To make a long story short: We are going to implement the YDisciple program in our parish, beginning next month, September. Theresa Conley–who will be our parish coordinator for the program–and I have been doing a lot of work all spring and summer to get materials together, but more importantly to find and train individuals who can lead our high school small groups. We will no longer be doing the “Church and Family” program. Instead, we will be organizing all of our high school youth who want to participate into YDisciple small groups.
Why small groups? Let me say a little bit about what seems to be happening with youth ministry in the United States. For perhaps some 20 years now, charismatic-style youth movements such as “Life Teen” have been on the rise. They were characterized by a beautiful “dynamic orthodoxy”. This was quite a gift from the Holy Spirit, because great content was being handed down to the youth, faithful to the Church, to Jesus. This came after a few post-Vatican II decades of not handing on sufficient Faith content (an observation generally agreed upon by Church leaders these days). These movements usually involved large gatherings of teens, with presentations to the teens. There were so many strengths in these programs. But some of the leaders in these very same movements finally came to realize that, although they were getting good numbers to meetings, their teens still were falling away from the Faith in mass numbers during college. The Faith was not sticking. Who were the small number of teams staying faithful? It was those who spent the most time with the leaders, talking about the faith, planning meetings. These leaders realized that this core group of teens was being “discipled”, i.e., they were owning the Faith, becoming intentional about it, such that they would maintain it even after they went away for college. Out of this realization, the YDisciple program was created at of the Augustine Institute in Denver.
What is Ydisciple? YDisciple is a tool to multiply small group discipleship with teens in any parish. YDisciple’s online platform provides everything an adult mentor needs to set up a successful small group for teens. Practical training, video studies, engaging discussion guides, and parent resources combine to create an ideal environment for teens to take ownership of their faith. YDisciple meets the needs of teenagers through a model that is relational, relevant, and parent-driven. Video presentations are given by some of the most experienced and fruitful Catholic youth workers in the country.
What are the five needs of teenagers identified by YDisciple creators?: the need to be understood, the need to belong, the need to be transparent, the need to engage in critical thinking around Faith and life, the need for guidance.
What will YDisciple look like at our parish? For starters, we are planning on one high school men’s discussion group, and one high school women’s discussion group per campus. Most of the groups will be meeting on Wednesday nights, but perhaps we end up creating a group that will also meet on Sundays, if there seems to be the need. There is a lot of flexibility regarding meeting times and places. Already we have enough high school youth signed up for this number of groups. The ideal size of a group is 5-8 teens. We will have to do a lot of discussing with parents and teens to finalize groups.
Who will be our YDisciple group leaders? Here are the group leaders we sought out and trained throughout the summer: Antwerp campus men’s high school group leaders: TJ Hammer and Dennis Recker; Antwerp campus women’s high school group leaders: Rose Reinhart and Patience Doctor; Payne campus high school men’s group leaders: Philip Baumle and Chuck Schroeder; Payne campus high school women’s group leaders: Mary Ecklund and Emily Linder; Paulding campus high school men’s group leaders: Corey Walker and Jim Harp; Paulding campus high school women’s group leaders: Jodi Griffith and Ann Walker.
How often will groups meet? YDisciple small groups will meet three times per month, using video materials and discussion guides provided by the program. The meetings can take place in the homes of the group leaders, or in the homes of high school parents… or perhaps if need be on occasion in one of the parish buildings.
How is Ydisciple “parent-driven”? Parents will be given access to all of the video and written materials online, so they can keep up with everything. (Perhaps some parents will want to use the same timeslot as their kids to get together and talk about the same materials?) Parents can help by hosting the meetings in their homes. Parents can help the pastor and parish-coordinator by suggesting new groups and group leaders as need arises.
What will be the content discussed in the meetings?: The meetings are grouped into themes lasting about four weeks each. Curriculum themes are: discipleship, true masculine strength, true feminine beauty, Who is God?, Who am I?, prayer, the Church, sacraments, human sexuality, pro-life, spiritual disciplines, masculine and feminine chastity, the Creed, living the Creed, modern media and vocations.
How long do meetings last, and how frequent are they?: Each meeting lasts about 90 minutes. It starts with a time of food and fellowship in somebody’s home. Then the group leaders and teens are given some privacy for study and interaction around the program materials. We envision three meetings per month, i.e., once a week.
What about activities for all the parish high school teens together?: The fourth week of each month there will be a whole-parish high school activity of some sort. A high school core team of parents and teens are helping me to plan that once-a-month agenda.
So there is yet one more update on our new approach to helping parents hand on the Faith to our high school youth. If you go to our website, you can search for “YDisciple” to see several past communications about the program. You can also go to the homepage of YDisciple, (“YDisciple.org”) to look at sample materials. You could speak with any of the group leaders I mentioned. They could give you more detail.
Not yet signed up?: If you would like to sign up for YDisciple, and have not yet done so, please call the parish office. Our kickoff evening for the program will be September 2, the first Wednesday evening in September. We would like all who want to participate in YDisciple at that meeting: high school parents, high school students and group leaders. At that meeting we will have a general introduction to the YDisciple program, an agenda of our whole-parish high school events; and we will have the opportunity for group leaders to meet with their specific parents and teens to organize some of the practical details, such as exact time and place of meetings, and who will provide the food!
What is the goal of our high school ministry efforts?: To help our youth become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. To help each young person say sincerely from the heart, “I want to respond to the love of Jesus Christ for me, by living for Him, and helping those I love to live in relationship with Him.”
Please keep our high school youth efforts in prayer. My hunch is that we will not do everything perfectly, i.e., there will be a learning curve. But I believe the Lord will be glorified, and we will be blessed as we seek more effectively to help our youth know Him. I am very grateful for all of the leaders who have graciously accepted the invitation to help launch the new program, YDisciple and our core team!
Have a great week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,