Getting young people excited and engaged in their faith can be a huge challenge. Faced with a downward trend in religious affiliation over the last several decades (especially among young adults), churches and faith communities have grappled with how to revitalize their membership and bring youth and young adults back into the fold. Creating relevant and engaging youth and young adult ministry by, for example, bringing young adults into ministry themselves and focusing on issues of social justice (like family homelessness) is key.

Many of our Project Partners provide great examples:

Score One for Homeless Families

Score One for Homeless Families

  •  Temple De Hirsch Sinai: A middle school-aged girl preparing for her bat mitzvah coordinated a basketball themed awareness activity for the middle school program called “Score One for Homeless Families.” The program involved Seattle U women’s basketball players, featured a formerly homeless speaker, and served as a fundraiser for local programs that benefit the homeless.
  • St. Mark’s by the Narrows: Presented an event series called “Who is My Neighbor: Stories of Faith and Family Homelessness” with a special interactive program for children/youth.
  • Temple Beth El : Gathered families together for Tikkun Olam Day (“repairing our broken world”); provided programming on family homelessness tailored by age for preschool through high school students.
  • All Saints Catholic Church: Engaged the parish school students in learning about family homelessness throughout the school year, with hands on activities, guest speakers, art exhibits and other experiences to help the youth understand their role in ending family homelessness.

The article below, which appeared in the September 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic, speaks to the current dynamic of young adult involvement in the Catholic Church. Young people play an important role, increasingly bringing new life to ministry, changing the conversation, and making the church their own. Look for the spotlight on our very own School of Theology and Ministry, as well as contributions from Dean Mark Markuly, 2014 M.Div. alumna, Hannah Hochkeppel, 2012 MAPS alumnus, Joe Cotton, and 2012 MAPS alumna Jennifer Ibach.

The next generation of lay ministers

By Katie Bahr
Youth Ministers

Image: Photos courtesy of Anna Dudek, Joe Cotton, and Emily Anderson

As the first wave of lay parish staff members begins to retire, a fresh crop of young people are bringing new energy and new ideas to parishes across the country.

Not every teenager knows what they want to do for a living, and fewer still dream of a career in church ministry. But after getting involved in her parish’s youth ministry program during her teenage years, Emily Anderson knew that this was what she wanted to do with her life.

“My faith was always a big part of my life,” she says. “My mom was always very up front with me that ‘you belong to God.’ As I grew up, I learned to appreciate that I truly did belong to God, and it sort of all worked up to this.”

Anderson knew that, like any career path, a job in parish ministry would take training and preparation. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, Anderson went on to earn a master’s degree in theology and Christian ministry from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. “I knew I couldn’t answer the questions that teenagers would have when I became a youth minister, and as much as I loved the youth ministry program I grew up in, I didn’t always get the answers I was seeking,” she says.

By the time she was 24, Anderson was already working full time as a lay minister. Now 31, she has been in her current position as director of youth ministry at St. James Parish in Falls Church, Virginia for five years. Although she is one of the youngest people on staff at her parish, Anderson’s youth gives her some advantages, including more time and energy to devote to her job and an instant credibility with the teens she ministers to. Still, her job has many challenges. “I’m single and I’m really throwing myself into the church,” Anderson says. “I realize I may not be able to do this forever, but I think for now it’s a good sacrifice.”

Young adults such as Anderson who are pursuing careers in lay ministry are far from the norm in the Catholic Church, but they are slowly becoming more a part of the church landscape. Although it is a growing field, lay ministry has historically attracted people looking for a second career or former stay-at-home mothers reentering the workforce. According to the 2005 report Lay Parish Ministers: A Study in Emerging Leadership from the National Pastoral Life Center, the average age of lay ministers in the United States at the time was 64.

As these positions become more prevalent, Catholic colleges and universities have developed programs specifically designed to train students for careers in lay ministry. Enrollment numbers at some colleges are showing an increase in young adult students pursuing studies in the field. Armed with energy, enthusiasm, and a passion for their faith, these young Catholics could bring fresh ideas and big changes to parishes across the country. →Read the full article on U.S. Catholic’s website