Frank Mercadante PhotoThe Vital 3.0 Program uses a third generation approach to youth ministry. One of its distinctions is that it works to integrate teens into the life of the parish community, as opposed to only age-segmented programs. How can bonds be strengthened among different generations for a more cohesive parish community?
Here I want to make clear that there’s still age-segmented or segregated stuff going on, but you also focus on building inter-generational ministry. Let me give you an example. We start looking at every ministry in the church because this is another distinction of Millennials is they want to get involved now.

They’re very highly a generation that doesn’t want to be the Church of the future, they want to be the Church of today, right now.

This is how I approach it. Every ministry in the parish asks the question, “How old do you have to be to really do this ministry?” If we use ushers for example, “How old do you have to be?” You could probably usher at 6 or 7 years old with the support of an adult. We do that with every ministry and every ministry also is challenged to become a ministerial community, not just, “We perform a function,” but that we’re a community of people that gather and we share our faith together, we pray together. So we ask the question, “How old do you have to be?” and then we open up the doors for young people, children, to be a part of these ministries and that they then are surrounded by faith mentors. When you’re young, your faith is very much an affiliative faith. It’s a faith of those around you. It’s borrowed from significant people in your life. It’s an important part of developing. That’s why you’ll hear a 9-year old say they’re a Republican or a Democrat. Basically, their parents are and they trust their parents. Their parents are smart.

The whole idea here is to invite young people to develop all kinds of relationships with all kinds of mentors that they can borrow faith from, that they can hear the stories of and the testimonies of, and pray with them. Then walk in on Sunday and have a dozen people say hello to them by name and they feel totally connected to the community. A big piece of this is really opening up the doors in all the different ministries. Now, obviously, you don’t want a 6-year old involved in marriage ministry, but like hospitality ministry, and even parish consul, allowing high schoolers to be a part of that. So what happens is we integrate young people fully into the whole life of the Church. They build these relationships, they build a rich, deep affiliative faith.

That’s the key and what we do is, it changes from we’ve got people who work with children in religious ed, we’ve got people who work with teenagers in youth ministry – what happens is that the entire parish becomes youth ministers. They become children ministers.

We all have the responsibility as disciples to make disciples.

Now there’s a mentality change that comes with that. It’s not just us going to church on Sunday. It’s much bigger than that. I think those are some of the changes that 3rd generation youth ministry addresses. It also focuses on really developing strong parent and family or household ministry too. They’ll integrate in a great congregation where young people feel welcomed, loved, that they’re expected to participate in and that they really benefit off the rich vitality of the the entire parish.

How important are the roles of parents in youth ministry?
I think there have been times when people say, “No parents involved in youth ministry.” That’s old thinking. That’s Gen-X and Boomer thinking. You open the door for parents to be involved in youth ministry, but even more than that, you build a vibrant parent ministry that equips parents to communicate their faith in a very natural, authentic way in their own household, giving them resources to take home where they don’t feel like they’re having a CCD class in the home, but it’s natural and normal. You help them learn how to pray with their kids. A lot of parents want to, but they never did or they prayed in ways that don’t necessarily connect with today’s kids. So I think giving them that kind of support, encouragement, and resources, and bringing families together with different service is a great way to do that.

What general advice do you have for all those involved in youth catechesis and ministry?
I think it’s important to recognize that if you’ve studied the stats with Millennials, we’re in a crisis. The rate in which we have lost our younger generations is unprecedented. We just can’t keep doing the things that we’ve been doing in the past. It’s not working, and we really do have to go beyond just maintenance. A lot of the stuff I described is simply keeping the people that maybe we already have but somehow we’re going to have to connect to those that we’ve already lost and build a kind of community that’s so essential to their life that they really want to be a part of it. We really got to train people to be interpersonal evangelizers and build communities in which the people they’re evangelizing will feel welcome and be a part of.

Thank you, Frank! For more information about resources and seminars aiming to revitalize youth ministry, visit www.cultivationministries.com.

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