My cradle Catholic parents instilled in me the importance of going to Mass religiously (no pun intended) but were never able to articulate why we went, answering only “because we are Catholic and that is what good Catholics do.”
It wasn’t until a youth minister explained the significance, depth and beauty of the Mass that my eyes (and heart) were truly opened.
Slowly, over time, I began to see the liturgy differently. It was as though, with every fact and insight I learned, the dots began to connect between the history and the mystery—between God’s divinity and our humanity, all colliding within the parish walls.
After more than 25 years in youth ministry, I have found out the hard way what does and doesn’t work to engage adolescents with the Catholic faith.
I was given a great gift, a proverbial “pearl of great price” by a soul who not only knew about the Mass but who was patient enough to walk with me as my heart and soul opened up to this timeless, inestimable treasure from heaven.
We all desire for the next generation to develop a deep and abiding love for Scripture and the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, but how do we develop and “unleash” that love in an increasingly overstimulated, disengaged, and screen-obsessed culture?
After more than 25 years in youth ministry, I have found out the hard way what does and doesn’t work to engage hormone-packed tech-savvy adolescents with the Catholic faith.
Here are some of my suggestions to help teens get excited about Mass:
1. Our teenagers need our time more than our teaching points.
It’s important to meet our teenagers where they’re at, without any expectation of them changing their disinterest (or even repulsion) of Mass overnight. With this patience (that only comes from God), they have the space to grow and encounter God for themselves.
The key to evangelization that many well-intentioned ministry leaders sorely miss is this: If you want someone to care about the “what” (church teaching), they must first encounter the “who” (Lord).” Everything we do in the Mass points to worship and to who God is.
You show teenagers who God is through how you live your faith.
You show teenagers who God is through how you live your faith: The reverence with which you receive the body and blood of Jesus, the time you spend in adoration and Scripture and the way you interact with Jesus in the Mass like he’s sitting next to you, arms wrapped around you.
They will see that, undeniably, something beyond this world is transpiring before their eyes and begin to encounter the “who” that is the source of the “what.”
2. Go the extra mile.
If you want your teenagers or the teens in your parish to really engage in the Mass, it begins with asking yourself this question, “How far am I willing to go for that to happen?”
Are you willing to be a consistent example to your own kids of what it means to enter into worship? Are you willing to fulfill your baptismal call and sacramental pledge to raise them “according to the law of Christ and his church” (i.e. take them to Mass whether they want to go or not)? Are you willing to help equip the youth minister with the right resources to aid their catechetical efforts?
The best way to engage teens with the word of God is for them to see themselves reflected in the story of salvation.
3. Connect it all to Scripture.
An understanding and love for Scripture comprise the groundwork for a deeper experience of Mass and the sacraments. After all, the entire Mass is based in Scripture!
I know firsthand how difficult it is to engage overstimulated modern teens with the word of God. And I’ve found that the best way to do this is for them to see themselves reflected in the story of salvation (so it becomes relatable), not shying away from their toughest questions (to give you credibility), and showing them the big picture of scripture (to show them how all the aspects of their faith connect).
I created “Venture: The Bible Timeline for High School” to help teenagers all over the world learn about the Bible. With resources like this, teenagers encounter a love for Scripture that they will carry with them into their college years and beyond.
4. Be consistent.
Consistency speaks to the fundamental importance of something. Give your teens the gift of consistency. Parents, take your teens to Mass no matter what, regardless of if they “feel like it.” No breaks. No excuses (not even on vacation). Actions follow beliefs.
Take your teens to Mass no matter what. No breaks. No excuses. Actions follow beliefs.
5. Sit in the front.
Teens are easily distracted. Instead of taking the typical “Catholic” route of sitting in the back of the church at Mass, bring your family front and center. Because we are integrated beings, our minds and souls follow the actions of our bodies. Nearer to the altar, teens will have a deeper sensory experience of the Mass, feeling like they are part of the experience and not just witnessing it. Encourage them to participate in the hymns and responses.
6. Come with intentionality and intentions.
For each Mass you attend, bring a specific person or intention to offer up to the Lord and encourage your teens to do the same. Do a “sound-off” of intentions before you get out of the car to go to Mass.
7. Keep learning.
A true disciple is an eternal student. Continue to learn more about the Mass, Scripture, and the Bible for yourself. And finally, ask the Lord to give you a spirit of wisdom, patience and joy, because we can do nothing without him.
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