Changing times demand new approaches. What worked in one generation does not necessarily guarantee success in the next generation. This is especially true in ministry with youth. Every generation of leaders in ministry with youth is confronted with the same challenge: to discern the changing needs and life situations of youth and their families and reinvent their vision and strategies. Given the speed of change in our time, the need to reinvent our approach to ministry with youth is particularly pressing.
Research on adolescent developmental needs and assets, so necessary for healthy growth, and the social changes affecting young people give us a basis for developing new approaches and strategies. Consider this brief list of the social changes affecting young people today:
1. Changing Family Life: the increase in diversity of family structures including blended families and single-parent families; the reality of dual career families; the busyness and stress of contemporary family life
2. Changing Economics: the rapidly changing economic scene causing unemployment, career dislocation, and financial stress; the growing number of families living in poverty
3. Changing communities: the concern for the quality of schooling; the concern for safe communities, especially in the face of violence and gangs; fragmentation and competition among community organizations designed to serve youth (schools, religious organizations, youth organizations); diminished funding for community organizations serving youth.
4. Changing Culture: the multicultural nature of our society; the increasing diversity of value systems and lifestyles; the increasing impact of all forms of media and the images and messages they communicate
We need a model to guide our thinking and planning for this new generation of youth and their families. What essential characteristics should a model of youth ministry include?
1. It must promote holistic growth. We need a model of youth ministry that corresponds to a contemporary understanding of adolescent development and faith growth. Specifically one that promotes the internal assets and faith life of youth, while strengthening the external, community supports for positive youth development. We need a model that attends to a wide spectrum of youth needs and that is also attuned to the distinct developmental and social needs of young and older adolescents.
2. It must be family and community centered. We need a model of youth ministry that moves beyond traditional youth-only programming to include ministry with families, incorporation of young people into all aspects of church life, and partnerships with other churches/synagogues, schools, and community agencies in a common effort to promote positive youth development. Youth ministry needs to situate itself within this broader context.
3. It must be flexible and inclusive. We need a model of youth ministry which responds creatively and flexibly to all the youth of the parish, not just the ones who attend programs. We need a model which is designed to enlarge the number of approaches and
methods, used to minister with youth so that all youth can be reached through a parish’s youth ministry.
4. It must put people first. We need a model of youth ministry that recognizes the changing needs and life situations of young people and their families and places this reality ahead of program structures. Programs are made for people; people are not made for programs. We need a flexible, adaptable model of youth ministry that can be tailored to address the real needs and life situation of today’s young people and their families in our particular community setting.
5. It must be theologically sound. We need a model of youth ministry that is well-grounded in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ and his Church. We need a model which will provide a clear understanding of youth ministry as integral to the life of the church.