By Jen DeCoster
Why are young Catholics are leaving the faith? The typical age for young people to leave the Catholic faith is 13, says The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). CARA conducted two national studies to answer the question.
Their research found that “Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed, 63 percent, said they stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17. Another 23 percent say they left the faith before the age of 10,” said Mark Gray a senior research associate for CARA.
These national findings are why youth ministers and priests came together for the Second Annual Youth Ministry Summit to address the decline in faith for young people. “The Summit gives youth ministers an opportunity to hear what the current trends are and how Youth Ministry is evolving as a whole in the Catholic Church,” said Penni Warner, youth minister at Holy Rosary.
The Summit featured two national speakers: Bob McCarty and Father Dan Beeman. Bob McCarty has been involved in professional ministry since 1973 and most recently served as the executive director for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). He spoke on “Emerging Trends in Youth Ministry” and how to “Engage and Integrate Young People in the Faith Community.”
“Bob mentioned back in 1976 the big question was, ‘Will our children have faith?’ Today the big question is ‘Will our faith have children?’ This is a serious situation that we can’t take lightly. As Father Dan Beeman said we need to evaluate where we’ve seen growth in our programs, our families and our parishes and if we haven’t we need to rethink what we are doing,” said St. Gabriel youth minister, Diane Pickert.
Father Dan Beeman is a priest for the Diocese of Richmond who has been involved in Youth Ministry since before his time in Seminar. He spoke on “Building Collaboration between Pastors and youth ministers” and “Keys to Setting your Pastor Up for Youth Ministry Success.”
Jeni Doolittle, youth minister for St. Peter in Stanberry, said, “It is a great space to share and reflect on personal programs as well as a diocesan philosophy. It is great to have youth ministers and priests in the same space as we often are juggling very different roles and priorities and we can learn to appreciate and empathize with one another on various issues that occur in our roles.”
The afternoon featured roundtable discussions and a Youth Ministry Panel with guest speakers: Father Robert Stewart, pastor of St. Patrick, and Jon and Jeni Doolittle, youth ministers at St. Peter in Stanberry.
“Overall, I thought the Summit went incredibly well. It was beyond helpful to get insight from seasoned veterans of the youth ministry arena. With a well-balanced mix of prayer, discussion and teaching, the Summit showed me how I need to grow and what changes I can implement from multiple vantage points,” said Lee McMahon, youth minister at St. Thomas More.
The goals of the Office of Youth Ministry are Growth, Empowerment and Participation:
1. Cultivate the personal and spiritual growth of every youth encountered.
2. Develop the physical and spiritual environment around the youth to encounter all aspects of their life.
3. Through embracing God’s love the youth will abound and the parish they encounter will flourish.
“The Summit has helped our parish tremendously. After last year’s Summit I dove head first into reading all of Christian Smith’s books on the Religiosity study that he did from 2002 to 2015. I took what I learned last year and put it into play. I invited parents to get involved more by coming to youth group at the beginning and end of a study we were doing. I am now going to implement sessions of catechesis for parents, thanks to all of this,” said Pickert.
Doolittle said, “I really made changes last year after the Summit trying to have more family focused options for our parish, and I came home with some new approaches this year and new energy to continue my ministry in this direction.”
“The Summit is beneficial to Youth Ministers because it allows those who have been in the trenches to step back from their ministry and analyze it with a fresh set of eyes and perspective. It is also beneficial to newer Youth Ministers because it allows them to hear from more experienced members of the Diocese,” said McMahon.
What is needed to stop the decline in young Catholics leaving the Church by the age of 13 is engagement. During his presentation, McCarty said, “More often than not, engagement leads to spiritual commitment. Spiritually committed individuals are much more likely to exhibit the outcomes of inviting, serving, giving, and life satisfaction,” according to Gallop Research.
Church historian for the University of Notre Dame Scott Appleby said, “The challenge of Catholic education and formation in our media-driven, cyberspace age is no less than this: older Catholics must be restored to, and younger Catholics introduced to, a sense of Catholicism as a comprehensive way of life.”