Juliane Stanz and Tom East offer thirteen practical principles to guide accompaniment of youth and young adults as part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops resources for Catechetical Sunday 2017. The full article introduces and expounds on the thirteen principles.
Practical Principles to Guide Accompaniment of Youth and Young Adults
Look broadly at the youth and young adult populations and develop targeted ministries for different segments. Some youth, and young adults are looking to go deeper and become more engaged in formation and service. Other young people need deeper prayer experiences. Some young people are anxious to come to weekly gatherings and join communities; others resist this kind of participation but are longing to have someone to talk to about their faith. We need a differentiated approach that begins with the variety of young people in mind.
Engage families and see parents as part of our ministry. Parents need to be inspired and equipped to take the lead in the spiritual formation of their children. This looks different when children are youth and young adults. We can help families make this transition. What can we do to strengthen and support families as they share faith across the generations? For families that are struggling with faith and active practice in the community, our work with youth can be a spark that evangelizes the whole community. Families with young adults often face different challenges. We can support parents as they continue to foster the faith life of emerging adults.
Look broadly at our community and engage lots of disciples who are willing to spend time with youth and young adults. Notice we didn't say “recruit more ministry leaders.” Discipleship is about developing the practices of being a disciple of Jesus which is something we learn in community and in relationship with other disciples. Who are the youth and adults in your community from whom you want young people to “catch” faith?
Focus on spiritual growth and attend to youth and young adults in a comprehensive way. Youth and young adults are more than just a family member or learner. Our ministry responses and faith formation need to address and engage each young person and assist them in taking the next step in their journey. It is especially important to invest time in helping youth and young adults who are evangelized to take the deeper steps toward accountability, witness, and engagement in mission.
Help young people do what disciples do and get good at it! Our ministries could focus less on participation and learning information and more on the skills and practices of being a disciple. When youth and young adults are good at praying on their own, reading the Bible, participating in Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, engaging in service, and witnessing to their faith, they will continue to do these things and seek communities and relationships that support them in being disciples.
Touch their hearts and make it personal. Young people yearn to belong and to relate to people who care about them and value them as individuals. To build this relationship, we need to learn names, know youth and young adults, and provide ministries that move, inspire, and engage.
Provide multiple contact points. Youth and young adults grow in commitment through a variety of relationships. They benefit from hearing different voices that provide an echo of faith.
Listen and include the youth, young adults, families, and leaders from among the diverse cultures within the community. Dioceses and parishes are learning new ways to come to know and include the needs and gifts of people from various cultures in developing authentic and inclusive ministry responses. The Bishops of the United States are calling ministry leaders to develop intercultural competencies so that we have the capacity to listen, welcome, include, and be formed by people of many cultures. These resources are an important part of our accompaniment of young people. See http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/cultural-diversity/intercultural-competencies/
Go where the youth and young adults are, including online. The roots of youth ministry are to go to the corners where youth hang out. Young adult ministry has a similar history. To do this today, we should be proficient in social media, and use technology as a means to draw them towards gathered participation with the faith community.
Engage youth and young adults in ministries that help them belong, believe, and share their gifts. These elements address fundamental human needs that profoundly shape the youth and young adult years. Ministry that addresses these elements develops the commitment and identity that are foundational to formation as growing young disciples.
Don't treat young adults like youth. A starting place for any young adult ministry is to treat them as adults, not post-high school youth. For example, don't list them under parents' names in the church directory. Give them their own listing. Another important point to remember is that most ministry with young adults will be conducted by young adults themselves, in a peer-to-peer manner.[vi]
Empower them to make a difference. Young people welcome and value opportunities that empower them to make a difference in the world. To put individuals in situations where their involvement truly affects another person is at the heart of faith. Ensure that ample opportunities are given to perform service and ministry that directly impacts the life of another.
Be action oriented. Young people value instant communication, respond quickly to action, and are adept at multitasking. They would rather participate in service than talk about it. If you decide to invite a young person to a parish committee, make sure that your committee is action oriented. Youth and young adults do not respond well to sitting around talking about ministry; they prefer to make a difference now. Long, drawn out meetings without a clear focus are certain to make your committee a youth-and-young-adult-free zone!