Cracking the code of youth ministry

Are we as a Province bringing young people to Christ in our ministries? Or are we simply creating young people who consider themselves ‘Jesuit but not Catholic’? I suspect there is a bit of both, and work to be done.

It’s the never-ending struggle of a youth minister — cracking the code of successful youth ministry, if such a thing even exists.

The recent Australian Catholic Youth Minister’s Convention, held at the iconic Rooty Hill RSL in Parramatta, was an opportunity for youth minsters from schools, parishes, universities, dioceses and religious orders to come together to reflect, respond and grow in our mission of evangelisation to young people.

Many of the struggles shared are not new ones: succession planning, keeping young people engaged while remaining authentic …the list goes on. But there are new issues also: social media evangelisation and toxicity, the culture wars, parish structures, mental health issues.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli spoke about the recent change in young people, who are no longer ‘discovering’ their identity through relationships, experiences and encounter, but rather ‘creating’ their identity, through the lens of a selfie or tweet, whichever gives them the most gratification.

Kicking off Day 2 at ACYMC 2018.

Kicking off Day 2 at ACYMC 2018.

Ashleigh Green, a mental health professional with social work experience, spoke poignantly about the ‘me’ culture, and the need to reach our young people in their mental struggles amid the pressures of school life, social life and family life.

There was a good deal of time given to mental health as, according to the ACBC Youth Survey of 2017, 57 per cent of young Catholics consider it the main issue facing their generation.

Through many discussion groups, attendees had the opportunity to share our thoughts, issues and ideas about the future.

I was able to share with youth ministers from parishes and schools, as well as with Fr Robin Koning SJ and Br Ian Cribb SJ, specifically regarding what these mean for the young people of our Jesuit Province. Are we bringing young people to Christ in our ministries? Or are we simply creating young people who consider themselves ‘Jesuit but not Catholic?

I suspect there is a bit of both, and work to be done.

Daniel Ang, Director of Evangelisation at the Diocese of Broken Bay, said in his workshop that ‘we need to meet people where they are, but we need to love them enough not to leave them there’. He acknowledged an issue running through the entire church of faith driven by conformity; that too many people have fallen in line, rather than in love with Christ.

So where does all this lead?

I hope it leads to more meaningful youth ministry in Australia, where young people are given the opportunity to put their own needs into perspective, as they tend to the marginalised, the people of God so desperately needing our love.

Too often we expect the Christian journey to be ‘believe, behave, belong’, but quite to the contrary, it can be the reverse: ‘belong, behave, believe’.

Michael Paton is the Youth Minister at Parish of Our Lady of the Way, North Sydney


Upcoming events for those ministering to youth and young adults

On 7 October, St Mary’s Church North Sydney will play host to a ‘Music Masterclass: How to run a great Catholic Youth Mass’ (1.30pm–5.30pm, with Mass to follow at 6pm) — an initiative of the Sydney Archdiocese as part of its ‘Parish 2020’ vision. This is a free event, but registration is required for catering purposes. Register here

Later in October, Campion Centre of Ignatian Spirituality will host two events featuring Andy and Sarah Otto, the creators and editors of, from Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

At ‘Seeking God in the 21st Century: an evening for young adults’ (Thursday 25 October, 7:30pm–9pm), Andy and Sarah will lead a discussion about finding meaning in our everyday experiences and discovering the place of faith in our lives. Details

The workshop ‘Ignatian Ministry in the 21st Century: a presentation for those ministering to young adults’ (Friday 26 October, 9:30am–3:30pm) will explore how to develop and promote spiritual activities for young adults including those unconnected to a church or faith tradition. Details