What We Know

Many of us have heard the statistics and read the reports. We have read in Soul Searching in which Christian Smith wrote “most U.S. teens have a difficult to impossible time explaining what they believe, what it means, and what the implications of their beliefs are for their lives.” (Soul Searching, 262) and that Catholic young people do worse than their peers in this area. In Pathways to Hope Carmen Cervantes and Ken Johnson-Mondragon noted that “as a group [Hispanic teens] are even more religiously inarticulate and disengaged than other Catholic teens, despite the fact that they participate in more personal and family-based spiritual practice and their parents demonstrate greater commitment to their faith than do the white Catholic parents.” (Pathways of Hope, 324) A 2009 Pew report found that 62% of Catholics who leave the church do so between the ages of 13 and 23 (Pew 2009).

It is easy to point out that we are missing, under-serving, or losing a significant population of young people in our Church. However we need to recognize that there is a great deal of hope. We know what makes a difference, what works, and what can change the lives of young people.

Faith Communities Matter

We know through the NSYR, Effective Practices in Dynamic Youth Ministry, and The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry that faith communities matter. Those parishes who prioritize ministry to youth and support for their parents, invest in trained and skilled youth group leaders, and make a serious effort to engage and teach adolescents seem much more likely to draw youth into their religious lives and to foster religious and spiritual maturity in their young members (Soul Searching, 261-262).

Parents Matter … A Lot!

We know that parents matter. The NSYR found that the single most important influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents. With this insight, the role and faith of the parents became a critical factor in most of the outcomes studied as well as the pivotal touchstone to changing the status quo.

We Know What Motivates Young People to Participate and How They Learn 

We know that young people are motivated to participate when they are called to go deeper. In Choosing Church, author Carole Lynch found that “what ‘motivates’ teens to pursue the religious life is experiencing an intense state of divine transcendence in which goals, thoughts, emotions, and activations are united.” (Choosing Church, 25)  We also know how young people learn more effectively. They learn best when:

  • they are engaged to act
  • content collides with experience
  • multiple methods are employed
  • applications are made to real life
  • presentation is developmentally appropriate
  • content is challenging and relevant
  •  they discuss, share, and work together

(Research utilized: APA 1997; Lambert and McCombs 1998; McCombs and Whisler 1997; Resnick 1987; 1991, 1999b)

Next: Its About the Foundation