Feb 13, 2019 1536 Robert Feduccia,

The Surest Way of Keeping Our Teens in the Church

When I give talks on evangelization, I can feel great energy in the room as we look at the Church’s documents on evangelization. Evangelii nuntiandi, Evangelii gaudium and a host of quotes from popes, thinkers, saints and atheists get people fired up and ready to go out into the streets to live and speak the gospel. While it is a great feeling to see Church leaders getting fired up, that enthusiasm can often fade when I begin to share current statistics. Real, cold-hard facts give black-and-white numbers to peoples’ hunches and experiences about the dramatic loss of numbers experienced in our churches.

Among these statistics, there is one that breaks my heart more than any other. Among Christians, Catholic teens are the least likely to pray daily. It breaks my heart because of the richness of our tradition in terms of personal prayer, contemplation and mysticism. I know many evangelicals and when they begin to dive deeply into personal prayer, they begin to read Catholic writers and spiritual masters. Merton, Rohr, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Thomas a Kempis and Julian of Norwich are the great writers and mystics in our treasury that my evangelical friends discover with great delight and about whom many Catholics remain ignorant.

The second vexing statistic is that the Catholic Church has the greatest rate of attrition among Christian churches. Even worse, among those who still identify as Catholic rather than ex-Catholic, only 16 percent are highly involved in their churches. Only our Episcopalian friends have a lower rate of high involvement at 13 percent.

The third statistic—and it sounds like a contradiction—is that Mass attendance does not equal Mass attendance. By this we mean that taking your children to church every Sunday is no guarantee at all that they will continue to go to Mass in college and in the later young adult years. Of all factors, the one factor rating as the highest guarantor of ongoing participation in the life of the church is daily personal prayer.

It seems that the dots are quite clear to connect: 1. the greatest guarantor of ongoing religious affiliation is daily prayer; 2. Catholic teens are the least likely to pray daily; 3. the Catholic Church has the highest rate of attrition among Christian churches and ecclesial communities. May I posit a “therefore?”

Therefore, the greatest thing we can do as youth ministers and as parents is to foster a daily prayer life among our teens. I do not know why we have not done a better job at this than we have. When I was in the parish, I lead awesome group prayer. Candles, incense, music, lighting, an authentic proclamation of the scriptures were staples at the weekly prayer services; our youth nights were stunning. Yet, I do not recall asking my teens about their personal prayer life. I wanted to give them experiences. I wanted to instruct them in the Church’s teaching, but did I give them what they needed to develop a daily personal prayer life?

Those of us who follow the lectionary have all of the tools to help our teens do so. We do not just stick a Bible into teens’ hands and say, “Here, start reading.” The Church gives us a rhythm of seasons and daily readings from scripture. We have an inherent guide through the Bible. Even more than that, the Church also gives us lectio divina, a four-step method for praying with scripture:

1. Use your body. Read the passage.

2. Use your mind. Think back through your day at school and what happened with your friends and family today. What does the passage mean to you based on what you are going through in life?

3. Use your feelings. Now that you understand the meaning this passage has for your life, what does it make you want to pray for?

4. Use your intuition. What does God say to you in return?

We have to remember that our faith is not an ideology. Our faith is in a person, Jesus the Christ. It is Him who we encounter, fall in love with, follow and to whom we conform ourselves. I feel like those of us in youth ministry are pining for the one, single program, movement or innovation that will stop the bleeding of our youth and young adults from our churches. Our mission trips, lock-ins, leadership training conferences, efforts at liturgical renewal will all only make sense if our teens are rooted in a person they encounter on a daily basis. Back when I was a parish youth minister I discovered that good youth ministry is about asking the right questions. Perhaps the best question we can ask is, “How was your prayer time last night?”


Robert Feduccia

Robert Feduccia is an inspirational speaker and ministry leader. After extensive study and work as a youth minister, he found a home at Spirit & Song (OCP), where he served as general manager for many years. As one of the founders of the One Bread, One Cup youth conference at Saint Meinrad, Robert also served as development editor at Saint Mary’s Press for some time. He has a bachelor degree from Saint Meinrad College and a master’s in theological study from Saint Meinrad School of Theology. A gifted presenter on liturgical spirituality and youth involvement in liturgy, Robert has been the keynote speaker at numerous diocesan conferences and is recognized as an expert in the New Evangelization having written the evangelization document for the "National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry". He has been a frequent contributor to OCP's "Today's Liturgy" and to the Center for Ministry Development's Youth Ministry Access. His workshops and retreats seek to show that God is faithful and that the Eucharist is deeply connected to our daily life. Robert is currently working full-time as a speaker, retreat leader and evangelist. He lives with his wife and four children in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. Visit www.robertfeduccia.com to know more about him.

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