Think about the first time you went to an amazing restaurant. After you went, was it your desire to go back alone and just relive the same experience again? I am willing to bet not. Or remember when you started watching that new series on Netflix and you got really excited about it. What was your natural next step? For me, the only thing I want to do is tell my wife and friends about these types of experiences. I want to take them to that restaurant so I can witness their first experience of it. I want them to watch the series on Netflix and tell me what they thought about it. My point is that when we experience something that is good, we have a natural desire to share it. Experiencing the Gospel is no different.
Default ministry is NOT a good thing. When we use the word default, it really means to leave things as they came. For example, when you set up a new account online, you may be assigned a default password. You can either continue using that password or change it to something more unique and personal. Default ministry leaves things be. The opposite of default ministry would sound something like Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium when he says “To go out of ourselves and to join others.” (EG, 87)
Before I get into the signs that you may be doing default ministry I’m going to quickly put a stake in the ground and say that bulletin announcements, newsletters, calendars, etc. are not making an effort to get to those who wouldn’t be there otherwise (see our YouTube video here). These are great ways to communicate and remind those who would be there anyway, but they are NOT effective ways to engage and reach out to new people in your ministry.
Yes, our goal is to make disciples of the youth so that they will go and get others, but this must first be modeled by our own leadership and efforts to “go out of ourselves.” Here are three strategies that can be used to ensure you are looking beyond default ministry and encouraging a Church that goes outside itself.
1. Have Clear Goals
Instead of waiting to see how many people register for an upcoming event or show up to your parish outreach events, set goals for numbers and take responsibility for achieving those goals. Instead of going week-to-week in your planning, create a semester or year long plan showing you where you want to be at the end of the year and how you are going to get there. Others will follow a plan if they know they are headed somewhere.
2. Think Outside of the Box
This is very common in youth ministry. “We weren’t able to get a lot of youth to go to this event because of the football game” said every youth leader at one time. Maybe this event wasn’t intended for those who love football or are on the team. Start looking at opportunities like this to reach those that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Instead of making excuses, practice being more creative in reaching a wider circle.
3. Have Confidence That Fruit Will Come From Discipleship
The best way to go and get more youth is to have their own peers invite them. If youth are not bringing their friends, it likely means that they are not having the experiences like the examples I gave above. They must be experiencing something great and understand that there is enough to go around. Begin doing things that those youth in your ministry will want their school friends to experience as well and hold them accountable to being missionary disciples.
In a sense, what this all means is that we must be more proactive in our ministry than reactive. We must move from being a Church that caters only to those that are interested and would be there anyway to a Church that goes and gets those who wouldn’t be there otherwise. We must become a Church that has a vision that reaches beyond the Church walls and into our families, communities, and the entire world. Discipleship is important because it gives us the capacity to do so. It is important for the youth we work with to learn how to “go out of ourselves.” The difficult part is that this must be modeled by the leaders in their lives first.