“What do you think about Alpha?” This is a question I was asked by four different people over the course of three days while I was speaking at a series of diocesan events covering the fundamentals and practice of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry.
In the past two years, I have probably been asked or heard the question asked “What do you think of Chosen?” over 50 times. I won’t even attempt to count the number of times I’ve been asked about Decision Point.
My opinion of these programs is irrelevant because the point I want to make is this: these are “programs,” and my response to these and any other programs you may ask me about will be that ________ is NOT the “magic pill.” John Paul II alluded to this in his document Novo Millennio Ineunte when he said,
“It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program’. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium.” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29)
The problem that I see in the way many parishes are trying to do youth ministry is that they select one of these programs and make it the center of all that they do. Programs like Chosen and Decision Point are used as the curriculum for a class, and that class is the sum total of all that is offered to the youth. While these programs can be effective in doing some things, they will never be able to respond to all of the needs of every individual youth. Thus, they are not the magic pill; they cannot and will not solve all our youth ministry problems.
I do believe that these programs have a place and can be a tremendous resource in helping to form our young people. However, I have yet to meet a young person whose only means of formation is one of these programs who is thrilled about the impact it’s making on their life.
I pray that this post is not received as a criticism of great resources like Chosen and Decision Point, but rather a challenge to those responsible for choosing the programs and resources used to form our young people. Do not start with the program; start with a vision that is focused on the whole person and will provide opportunities for the youth to grow where they are at. If that leads you to offer Chosen in your parish, awesome! If Chosen would be great for 80% of the kids but not the others, do not settle by making that your only option. Instead discover ways to reach the other 20%, and do those things as well.
We must shift our mindset from figuring how to have the best program to how can we help each youth seek after the face of Christ. That is our program, and that is the magic pill.