I’ve read a lot of articles and resources from different people involved in youth ministry about how to engage parents within in a youth ministry program. Heck, one of our most-shared blog posts talks about just that. I struggle a lot with this topic because most of the time, the goal is about improving “my ministry.” No doubt, youth ministers have a ministry, and in some contexts, it can even be a good thing for their ministry to be direct ministry with youth. It’s important to recognize, though, that if we are trying to reach youth through a single ministry led by only one personality or one set of goals, that ministry will be very limited in what it can do. Especially if that ministry is centered primarily on a single program (like youth group or even discipleship groups), we begin to limit the variety of roles and charisms that can be received into those programs.
I firmly believe that if we want to see youth ministry become deeper and more effective in the Catholic Church, it is going to require parents and other adults taking the initiative to be more involved. The reality is that there are many reasons why they don’t. Once we begin to understand those reasons, we will be better able to understand, and therefore be more able, to engage them. I don’t claim to be an expert on the “why,” but I can share from my dialogue with other adults the reasons many of them choose not to be involved in the youth ministry efforts in our parishes.
Adults may not know anyone else involved in youth ministry
Think about it; how many times have you had an adult show up who didn’t know anyone else there, but just thought they would come in and check it out? It happens, but usually those adults aren’t the ones who are needing the help to be more engaged!
Adults may not know how to get involved or do not know there is a need
One of the best ways to respond to this situation is to create a culture of invitation within your parish. Be sure that at least a couple of times a year, your parish holds events that are open to anyone and everyone. Be present at those events, and encourage your current leaders to be present at them as well. In every conversation you have, encourage adults to consider being involved and paint a picture of what that could look like.
In your parish bulletin and in any marketing materials (website, flyers, etc.), mention that you can always use more help at these events and programs and, if interested, to contact the parish.
Adults may not feel they are ready
This is a more complex concern that requires a bit more explanation than I can give in this post, but most simply put: many adults are going to wonder about the support they will receive if they do desire to give of themselves. Is there training available? Is there a community that they become a part of? Is it possible for them to simply get their feet wet first?
The roles you’ve set out for adults may be limited and don’t fit their charisms
If you run only a youth group program or only a religious education program, the variety of roles you can create to allow adults to give of themselves will be very limited. Some adults would love to invest in the youth of the parish but would rather not be involved in the particular program you have or maybe simply can’t make it at the time your programs meet. Be open to ways that you can allow adults to spend time with the youth outside of these times and use their specific gifts. Consider Bible studies, mentorships, book studies, etc.
You may allow too little freedom for your adults to thrive
Some adults desire just to be told what to do, and for some of them, that will never change. But a great youth ministry model will make the adults of the parish the youth ministers and grant them many freedoms (which come with more responsibilities), and this is exactly what they are looking for. I know many adults who would love to take their youth on service opportunities, have movie nights on the fly, or simply spend a lot more time in a small group discussions. Because their role is limited to being a part of the youth group that meets once a week, they don’t feel the freedom to do some of these things and are not given the time to do the others.
You may be placing unrealistic demands on an adult’s schedule
Our culture is getting increasingly busy. Asking adults to commit weekly for a certain period of time really limits the number of adults who are even able to help out. Or, if discipleship groups are common in your parish, be careful of placing additional expectations on your adults. Even adding a monthly “required” training can be a burden placed on someone’s schedule that may inhibit their desire to be involved. Remember that your role is to help them do youth ministry, not to force things to work in order for your ministry to grow.
Adults don’t see life flowing from the other adults involved
This last reason is the biggest one. Adults will give themselves most readily to something that is life-giving in return. If adults are not drawn to help in youth ministry in your parish, it’s time to take a hard look at the leadership involved and the culture that exists among the other volunteers. It’s not that these potential adult leaders are expecting too much in return; they simply desire to be where the Spirit is. To be blunt, if the joy and peace of Christ is not flowing from you and the others involved in youth ministry, why would anyone desire to invest their time, energy, and abilities in something that doesn’t seem to produce life?
With each of these concerns, there are positive, proactive ways that you can respond to the needs of the adults who may be called to help with youth ministry in your parish. The goal here is not necessarily to point out the “bad” in your efforts of youth ministry, but to begin to understand the people who we desire to help become more engaged. Remember that our role is to serve them and their efforts, not to wait and expect them to submit to the things we want to accomplish in our ministry.