Why are Youth leaving the Church?
Have you ever heard the story of the Prodigal Son? This question is, of course, rhetorical; you have heard this story dozens of times, and can most likely recite it by memory. As soon as you hear the priest say “a man had two sons” your thoughts immediately drift away to other things. This example is the exact issue with Modern Youth Ministry Programs. For years, teens go from Mass to the pizza line, to the talk, to the small group, back home. Week after week teens hear the same thing about how God loves us, how we need to pray more, how we need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These messages are so important for teens to hear, and yet teens are leaving the church at an exponential rate. Nearly 80% of cradle Catholics are no longer practicing their faith by the age of 23. Almost half of these Young Adults will go on to not be affiliated with any religious denomination. The reason for this is not at all surprising.
According to 2014 polls, 64% of fallen away Catholics left the church because their spiritual needs were not met. If that is such an overwhelming reason, we are obligated to address it. If a business were losing so many people because their issues were not being addressed, then the company would need to make a drastic change; so too does the Church need to look at how it speaks to youth.
The ultimate goal of any Youth Ministry program is to make saints out of it’s teens. The biggest obstacle to this goal seems impossible to solve; that of how to get teens to actually care about what’s going on. Fortunately, there is an answer to this conundrum Being honest, vulnerable, and real allows teens to believe that their feelings are valid and they are loved and accepted. A message that acknowledges reality and does not shy away from talking about the hardships of life is very appealing to millennia’s Unlike their parents, teens don’t want feel-good stories, they want stories of pain and power and people screwing up and being able to come back and rise above all the pain they have faced.
Life as a Catholic has never been easy. There are very few times in history where Catholics have not been persecuted. The Church was built on the Blood of the Martyrs. Young Catholics don’t want to hear about how easy life with Christ is, Young Catholics want to hear about the Catholics who were on fire for their faith, being radically different from their times and becoming countercultural warriors, not allowing any aspect of their life to be a passive experience, but a powerful force that directs their actions. We need Catholic Youth to hear how Catholicism is hard to follow, but it’s worth it, and the beauty of that struggle, rather than some typical story about “I was lost and now I’m found.” Going back to the Prodigal Son example earlier mentioned, teens hear these types of stories and messages for so long that it has started to become background noise This is where many fall short, presenting a “feel good” Catholicism that teens have heard since they were children instead of a real and raw Catholicism
This idea of the reality of Catholicism being brought to the forefront is what makes Youth Retreats so powerful. The most powerful point is not the speakers, nor the games, but the one-on-one connection in adoration that affects teens so deeply. This personal connection is intense and powerful because of how real it, knowing how much Christ sacrificed for them. This is why people start to cry in adoration and even come back from a retreat thinking about how much they need to change their life to love God better, because they have seen the reality of who God is, how much he loves them, how amazing they can be, and how much they are falling short. The biggest things teens say on a bus on the way back from a Youth Retreat is that they need to stop living comfortably and start living as they should. Pope Benedict XVI said it best: “We weren’t made for comfort, we were made for greatness.” Once they made this connection with the eternal father who is willing to sacrifice everything for them, teens want to be one of these great saints that they’ve heard about; men and women who dropped everything to change the world. They want to be great, and accept that may be uncomfortable. .
People will cry from you telling them that who God is, but people will change by knowing God. If we want to help these young men and women change the world, then we need to get them to truly care about who God is by being honest about how hard Catholicism is, but also how it is so incredibly worth it.