One of the things that I find myself doing frequently is looking at the youth in our parish and around our community and wondering what I can do- or really, what the Church might be able to do- in order to help them to know Jesus Christ if they do not know him already. For those who do, I wonder if they are engaged in growing and developing that relationship. It reminds me of a video produced by Dan Cathy from Chic-Fil-A entitled Every Life Has a Story.
Recently, we have featured a couple of blog posts (here and here) on how we cannot simply offer one program and expect that it will meet the needs of all of the youth in the parish. The reality is that everyone has unique needs, and we live in a world now where people demand a customized experience. I would argue that it is no different for our efforts in the Church. I thought it would be fun to brainstorm some of the different types of youth I have encountered who require a unique approach. This list is definitely not meant to be comprehensive, and I understand that youth cannot be categorized as simplistically as I have done here, but the purpose is to help us realize the many different approaches we need to consider in order to be more pastoral in our youth ministry efforts.
Here are 10 types of youth that you may not be reaching and some quick thoughts on how you can:
The Game Hater
This is the youth that won’t come to youth group or summer camp because they hate games. Believe me, it is possible (I was one of them). This youth is looking for opportunities to grow but would like to be involved in something that doesn’t waste their time with useless activities.
The Devout Soul
This youth has an active prayer life and is probably already doing most of the things you encourage youth to do in a large group setting. In order for them to be truly engaged, they will need to be challenged. Learn their charisms, and be upfront with them in the ways that you know they can still grow.
Every week, this youth struggles with the decision to either go to the church for youth stuff or stay home and play video games. Engage this youth by showing him the importance of authentic friendship. Have an adult begin spending time with him, and surround him with a community of youth who have fun but also don’t make him feel incredibly guilty for playing games.
The Church Hater
It is likely that you will have youth come to your programs who for various reasons are forced to attend. Or, this may also refer to those youth in the schools that you may only be able to reach through their friends who are in your programs . Simply doing fun activities or trying to impress them with entertainment will not be enough. Encouraging a missionary culture and simply being real with them are good first steps to become a bridge to Christ for these youth.
The Catholic School Student
Most of us have heard this statement before: “We send our kids to Catholic school, so we don’t need to have them involved in the parish programming.” I know too many situations where there is a clear divide between the public and private school students. A great start to bridging the gap is to offer larger events that will appeal to all (ski trips, amusement parks, youth conferences, etc).
The Busy Student
This student may be interested in the faith and want to get involved in the Church, but because you offer limited times and programs or it requires a greater commitment than they can make, they have to opt out. Ensure that you offer flexible programming and opportunities to commit at any level to encourage the involvement of these youth. Be creative in how you invest in them, and keep the communication lines open.
This youth was involved in one of your programs for some time but has since left because he or she didn’t feel welcome. You can prevent this by being attentive to those that are more distant, but also by ensuring that each and every youth is connected to on a personal level.
The hardest reality for this student is that he or she can only be regularly available and active during the off season. Programs that send a message that the program or the youth group is the most important part of being a Christian may make them feel “less Christian” when they can’t be committed. Encourage these youth by investing in them so that they know how to live out their faith during the busy times, and go where they are when they are busy.
The Younger Sibling
Younger siblings face a number of different challenges in a youth ministry setting. The most difficult part for them may be finding their identity as a member of the group. As much as possible, find ways to create unique experiences for them, but also encourage a dialogue between the siblings so that they can grow together.
This youth is only involved because it is worth the investment of his time. He typically prefers structure and will be very candid with you if he feels that what you are doing is not a good use of the group’s time. He also will require a setting that is customized for him. To reach this youth, strive to make every experience meaningful, but also encourage dialogue with adult leaders who can help the youth see why some things that may not seem important actually are.
This is just the beginning of a list, and I know there could be many more. The point is that the models and approach I recommend through Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry could really accommodate all of these youth, which is why I believe DFYM is gaining momentum in so many places. I would love to hear from others about the different types of youth that you encounter and creative ways that we can reach each and every one of them.