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Church As Choice

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While growing up, I remember having two basic choices on Sunday morning. I could choose to go to church, or, I could choose to go to hell. Church seemed the better option to me. Thoughts like these are hardly a consideration for teens today (and many adults, really).

Over the past several posts, I have been focusing on some of the characteristics of the present day teens, who are a part of the American generation known as the Millennials. In this post, I want to talk about the fact that young people’s lives are rooted in a culture of personal choice.

From childhood they have chosen between soccer and swimming, gymnastics and dance. Life is full of plentiful options. Most teens have more options than time. Their greatest challenge is choosing between many positive activities.  (Gone are the days when we would lament, “If only we could provide teens with something positive to do.”)

Young people see church as one of many choices. They are swayed little by obligatory demands to attend and seem to be somewhat immune to Catholic guilt. If teens do not see Mass as having any pragmatic value (I feel closer to God, I feel a part of the community, or it gives me practical direction for life), then they may choose not to go (when they have the choice).

So, what does motivate teens to choose to be a part of their church? In the book Choosing Church, Carol Lytch extensively researched this question. She says, “Congregations that attract large numbers of youth do so by offering teens a sense of belonging that ties them into the fellowship of their church, a sense of the comprehensive meaning of the whole life that is based in religious truth, and opportunities to develop various competencies that assist them as they cross the threshold into adult roles and institutions. It is these fundamental conditions of human nature—belonging, believing, and achieving competence – that are addressed when teens attention is ‘grabbed’. Churches catch them on three hooks: a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and opportunities to develop competence.”

More than ever, building a great youth ministry is intimately tied to building a great parish. We are in the realm of  “third generation Catholic youth ministry”. We cannot simply focus on building great youth programs. Instead, we must work in collaboration to grow great parishes that possess a youth ministry culture. If church is a choice in life, we must learn how to make it essential for life.

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