“Children are the future of the Church.” How often are such truisms used to explain the extensive focus on a single demographic group within a parish? From youth ministry to religious education to Catholic schools, most Catholic parishes direct a large amount of their limited resources toward young people. After all, if our children fall away, the future of the Church will be dire indeed.
Of course, the future of the Church is dire, demographically speaking. In spite of all this focus on young people, we see them flocking for the door once they reach adulthood. The problem isn’t bad or incompetent youth ministers; I’ve known many good and sincere Catholics involved in youth outreach, who work long hours and are committed to bringing kids to Christ. Yet, to repeat, it’s not working. Once free from their parents’ direct influence, kids are leaving the Church.
So, if the problem isn’t a lack of focus or competent and sincere leaders, then what is it? I would argue that our model for reaching young people is fatally flawed.