Welcome back to my rambling thoughts about YAM. This is the third of four planned posts. If you need to catch up, you can read installment one (link here), wherein I assert that YAM is for Catholic singles, and installment two, wherein I further claim that YAM is important and worth the Church’s time, money, and attention, despite being a goofy singles group (link here).
To summarize the points so far, the number of practicing Catholics is diminishing in the US; we need this Young Adult Ministry in order to reverse that trend by reaching people while they’re young and impressionable. Accepting both of these points, I’d like to lay out a blueprint for how to successfully minster to the youths. But before I get into making helpful, constructive discourse, I’d like to spend this essay taking shots at some of the YAM practices out there that annoy me. Here are three hot takes about what we definitely should not do in YAM.
1: Don’t try to adapt to the youth
I’ll start with this, because it’s very general and non-controversial. Catholic dinosaurs keep thinking they can market to younger generations, but it’s always a real dumpster fire when they try. For example, remember when EWTN tried to appeal to adolescents back in the 90s, with their infamously off-the-mark and tacky “Cool 2B Catholic” ad campaign? Hold on… my bad, that’s something they are doing RIGHT NOW. Cool 2B Catholic. Yup. How do you do, fellow kids?
EWTN spelling words with numbers is laughable, but the real problem comes when people try changing core teachings about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, in equally futile attempts to catch the fancy of young people. The results of trying to adapt Catholicism to the perceived tastes of youth range from comical to blasphemous, and are never good.
There have already been mountains of pages written about this general idea I’m describing. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve most likely read a dozen articles with the same sentiment. It’s almost cliché, so I’ll move on the my next point.
2: Don’t put up a pay wall
Maybe you have a vision for a YAM project that will change the world and win back the culture. The only thing missing is some capital, but you’ve got the answer. Charge a membership. That makes sense; young people might have student loans, but they don’t have kids or mortgages, and they work, so they should be able to contribute a little something, right?
No. You’re forgetting the entire reason why we need YAM in the first place. Young people are not interested in the faith. They aren’t coming to church. We’re losing Catholics because they choose to do other things with their free time. We need YAM to entice people, so that they can be introduced to their faith. We need a thriving, reliable community, where Catholics can meet. We need a natural pathway for people to weave the faith into their everyday lives. Charging for your ministry will always crush any momentum you might have gained toward that goal.
Look, if you were trying to persuade people to come to your new bar, you might not want to charge a cover. Same for YAM. YAM is a new, leisure activity that you’re trying to sell, and you’ve got lots of competitors. So should I play sports with the people at the park, or should I play sports with the Catholic group for $300? Should I meet a couple friends to watch the game at a new bar with good TVs, or should I RSVP and pay $25 to mingle and have a warm beer in a parish hall? See how this works?
If you have a YAM group that is steadily gaining attendees, that is a miracle. Be grateful they are there. Don’t ask them for money.
3: Don’t punish your volunteers
I get the impression that there’s a lot of emphasis out there in the parishes to develop lay leaders. The thought goes something like this:
“If our parish/diocese can just focus on finding and developing good leaders, then the leaders will go out there and make YAM work. Then they’ll make new leaders. And it will spread organically. So let’s put most of our resources into training.”
I have some real problems with this idiotic straw man I’ve constructed. First of all, you can’t teach leadership. To locate and then develop leaders is daunting work even for elite institutions. West Point Academy can do it, but a series of workshops about finding your charisms isn’t going to yield noticeable results.
And you don’t need a great leader for YAM to thrive. Running YAM is not rocket surgery. You don’t need Vince Lombardi, crossed with GK Chesterton and Yoda for this. You know what the core skill for a YA minster is? Show up. Yup. That’s the main thing. Be there. Come to all the stuff.
Attempts to train and form leaders generally amount to a waste of time for any people who might be interested in volunteering to make your various programs work. How much “training” do you want to subject these good people too? Do you really think you’re going to shape and form them by making them come to long lectures and praise and worship sessions on weekday nights? You’re driving away the best people, and penalizing those who are generous with their time.
There’s much more for me to say on what does NOT work in YAM, but I think I hit the largest general points about what annoys me. I’ve got one more of these essays left, and it’s the best one. Tune in next time to hear my indisputable plan for how to make YAM work and evangelize the world, as well as my scathing rebukes of those who question my plan.