Who’s Losing The Catholic Youth?

Over at dotCommonweal, Joseph Komonchak asks the question:

(I)s there a significant generation-gap here?

Let me take a stab at some possibilities:

  1. Young people are involved in Catholicism, just not in their parents’ groups.
  2. Some parishes did such a good job at age-segregated activities: youth groups, LifeTeen, confirmation, service trips, college campus ministries, etc., that many young Catholics have no experience with parish mainstream activities.
  3. Post-Vatican II lay people were so thrilled at having a certain freedom of expressing faith, they were too busy to pass that on to the next generation.
  4. Catholic high schools have changed the Catholic culture over the past thirty or forty years. In adopting the busy-student philosophy of secular high schools (sports, homework, academics, service opportunities) there is little to no encouragement for teens to get involved in parish activities, let alone see Sunday Mass as part of their formation.

That last point I’d like to explore a bit further, as I’ve offended one or two colleagues with my suspicion that Catholic schools, high schools particularly, don’t always steer young people to their prime involvement as believers.

What might bolster my opinions would be the state of involvement of young Catholics in rural or small urban parishes: communities too small to sustain significant parallel youth networks, and welcoming enough of young people to include them in parish life.

It would be interesting to study many of the campus ministries at large universities, the places that have a significant population of residents. How do these places integrate young people into the mainstream? Or do college Catholic activities remain segregated from the townies’ doings?

What do youth ministers have to say about this?

Or anybody else?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Who’s Losing The Catholic Youth?

  1. Gavin says:

    Maybe what the author ignores is that we younger people aren’t interested in VOTF, NCR, etc. I’d say it’s true that, on average, younger people aren’t terribly active in Catholicism. I think Todd has it right in point 4 that our formation didn’t present parish involvment as being important. Particularly weak youth ministries contributed to this. However, I’d point out that where young people are involved you’ll typically find orthodoxy and conservatism. Sure, my generation has plenty of people who want female priests and extreme ecumenism. But these people are typically honest atheist/agnostics and don’t make any bones about being Catholic if they’re not going to follow up with Catholic beliefs. It seems to me that my generation is one where, for the Christian world, orthodoxy is important.

    Let me also add, since you mention my situation of a rural parish, a factor you left out. People simply don’t want to live in rural areas. When you’re in an area like where my church is, young people want to take off and see other things. This is even the case in large cities, but the difference is that in KC and the like you get young adults who come in from other areas to settle down. When a rural parish’s children go off to college, you usually don’t have a stream of yuppies joining the parish in their place. At least that’s my perspective on it.

  2. Tony says:

    What do youth ministers have to say about this?

    What’s a “youth minister”? Just kidding. We have folks who deal primarily with youth, and they are CCD / Confirmation prep, etc.

    We form our youth by including them in parish activities. We have a young man (12 years old) who regularly attends our Sunday night rosary. He’s not “dragged”, he asks to be picked up, and he is given an equal role in leading decades or reading scripture.

    One of the issues with the “lifeteen” stuff is the dumbing down of authentic Catholicism to make it more entertaining. Kids then don’t know what to do when presented with an authentic Catholic Mass. Unless, of course, we’re training them as the new apostles of the “spirit” of Vatican II.

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