Our parish doesn't even have a youth group at present, although there is talk of starting it up again in July – presumably after World Youth Day Krakow and mid-year university exams.
A wiser move might be to start sooner and have something with a bit of momentum for youngsters to join when they return. Joining a winning team is a lot more attractive than the heavy work of building a team that might be a winner months and years down the track.
The previous youth group met fortnightly, following the 6pm Sunday night Mass, and was largely invisible to the parish present at the other weekend Masses unless there was a fund raising event going on for World Youth Day pilgrims.
To find out about the youth group you had to ring a mobile phone number. For me that's a bit of a barrier because I'd like to see salient details in the parish bulletin, on a parish notice board and on the parish website before I picked up the phone, but perhaps the ease with which text messages are sent these days works in favour of this method with young people.
Having fortnightly meetings raises red flags for me too. I know just how cross I would be if I went to the effort of showing up and found nothing was on because I chose the wrong week. Fortnightly meetings also cause me to question the commitment of the leaders. While the average youngster will show up without any regularity, there needs to always be someone there to catch them if they do show up. Weekly is best, but if that's not practical then monthly is easier to remember.
At our other weekend Masses we have welcomers who hand out parish bulletins and greet people as they come in. Strangely that doesn't seem to happen at our 6pm Sunday Mass which gets the youngest demographic of all 4 weekend Masses. Sometimes there aren't any parish bulletins left, I get that, but what a golden opportunity is being missed for the young people to act as welcomers and to be able to gradually get to know the others who come to that Mass by name and to be able to say, 'We've got …. on at the youth group tonight after Mass, would you like to join us?'
My memories of youth groups past (in decades of yore) were ambivalent at best. I normally came home more frustrated with the lack of organization and planning than uplifted and spiritually nourished. Rumours exist that from the bishop down, there is a desire that youth groups have more real religious content than social activity. What should this content be? If I were a youngster again, what would have the pulling power to get me out of my comfort zone and off to a youth group (other than the hope of meeting someone attractive of the opposite gender)?
Two ideas might be worth exploring. One's a moldy oldie and the other is new.
Back in the 1930s parishes had debating societies. Whether something as formal as that is needed, I don't know. But picking a topic the previous week and getting everyone to prepare 'for' and 'against' arguments, would get youngsters thinking through both sides of an issue. On the day, each person present would pick 'for' or 'against' out of a hat, and then deliver 2 minutes of speech for that side of the case. Relevant topics could be 'Are Internships good for you?', 'Does my vote matter?', 'Is suffering worthwhile?', 'Dating vs Courtship', 'What is better: being spiritual or being religious?'.
An important component of being a young person is making big decisions like what to study, where to study, and what kind of work am I suited to? Current data says that the average young person is taking 8 years to get full time work, even if they have qualifications. That's a lot of worry and uncertainty for anyone to deal with. I suspect that if we don't tackle the jobs/unemployment situation with our young people then we are failing them. Even if someone is already in tertiary education, eg law, they still need to work out what kind of law practice they are best suited to, for example size of firm, content of practice (criminal, environmental, family, business). That's why I am thinking working week by week through the exercises in the Teen edition of the job seeking book 'What Colour is my Parachute? might be an answer. Every exercise increases self- knowledge, and helps to discover God given talents and personal preferences, increasing the chances of discovering God's perfect will for each participant. With prayers to begin and end, and time to share the ups and downs of the journey, it might be a winner. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see the personal discoveries and friendships formed bear fruit in successful new business enterprises that bring honour to God and livelihoods and hope to others?
But how do you actually get them in? Putting up a poster or adding a paragraph to the parish bulletin is not going to work. Think about what it takes for you to go to a meeting where you are sure you will know nobody? It is even tougher when you are a young person. Remember, the majority of the young people in our parishes don't even know each other. That means you need to have ice-breaker events and plenty of personal 'face to face' invitations.
What kind of ice-breaker event would get you to attend?
My ideal ice-breaker event would be on a Saturday night, straight after vigil Mass, in the parish hall. A little bit of fundraising could be done with a sausage sizzle, drinks and a raffle. Entry cost would be a nominal amount like $5 unless you were bringing someone aged 13-30 with you, in which case you would both get in free. Call it a 'Music and Dance' night, and have a selection of music from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, with lots music that waltzes and foxtrots could be danced to. For a playlist would need to include a bit of Glen Miller, Elvis, Beatles, Moon River, Unchained Melody, Puttin' on the Ritz, and other much loved 'dance-able' hits. The idea is that people could come to dance if they wished, or just sit and tap and sway to the music if they wished. Hopefully the youngsters would see some of their oldsters shine on the dance floor, and have a bit of fun in the process. At half time there would be an announcement about the plans to re-launch the youth group. The aim is to tell people about the small ice-breaker events that have been planned for the youngsters. Those in the youth group leadership team would then work the room for the rest of the evening, getting to know people and talking in more detail about their vision for the youth group. Definitely no alcohol would be permitted, because it just causes trouble. You would need a First Aid person on hand just in case someone hurt themselves in a fall.
In the meantime let us pray for our young people and for those called to minister to them.
St John Bosco, pray for us.
St Mary Mazzarello, pray for us.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us