Ricky Shoop is new director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland.
Ricky Shoop is new director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland.

A delegation of more than 30 church workers from western Oregon started 2018 at a conference in Chicago. Catholic youth ministry may never be the same.

At the Student Leadership Summit, 8,000 listeners heard about a four-step process: Start youth ministry with a simple model of authentic friendship, move on to creating an intimate relationship with God, teach the faith, then send youths out to make friends — and perhaps to embrace vocations of service in the church.

The method, being embraced as a way to form young Catholic leaders, is an adaptation of successful Evangelical Christian youth ministry. Protestants have improved such work and Catholics have lagged behind, said Jason Kidd, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Portland.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to see that in the [global] West, faith among young people is struggling,” said Kidd, who attended the Chicago meeting. “Studies show they are lost. They are going through extended adolescence, not growing up.”

At the same time, Kidd said, youths are hungry for spiritual life and want to be fed.

Develop genuine friendships

No one can go through a conversion and learn the faith before he or she knows they are loved by God, said Kidd. That’s why youth ministers are being urged to form friendships with youths and families, attending their sports, plays and concerts.

The relational model already had come to the fore during meetings between the Archdiocese of Portland and the Christian youth movement Young Life, which are cooperating in western Oregon.

“We can’t be afraid to start small with ministry, with just a few people,” said Ricky Shoop, new director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland. “Invest in people one and two at a time. When we do that, we are building something that is going to last, that isn’t just a flash in the pan. Be confident to start there. Don’t be tempted to do something just so it will get a bunch of people.”

The Chicago conference came during a year that also will see a synod on young people and vocations. For the synod, Pope Francis asked for input from the world’s youths, Catholic or not. The archdiocese heard from several hundred respondents and sent the results to the Vatican. The gist of the answers is that youths want something meaningful and authentic, not trendy. They also say they are ready to help lead the church.

The very process of the synod sends a message from the pope that dialogue is the form ministry must take, said Kidd.

They can handle the deep stuff

In Chicago, priests heard more than 4,000 confessions and many of the young people attended eucharistic adoration. Youth ministers interpret that as a sign that young people are ready for the deepest church teaching.

Shoop said youth ministry has tended to react to fads instead. He calls that a mistake.

“Don’t underestimate a young person’s ability to enter into mystery and don’t underestimate their thirst for the sacred,” he said. “Capture the person’s desire for God. I don’t mess around with gimmicks; I go with people to the heart of Jesus and the Eucharist. That is what the church has to offer. So many times, we give them games or activities but we don’t give them Jesus.”

Shoop said that youth ministry ought not get stuck serving as a social club but should run after high ideals. “From that fruit comes: conversions to Christ and becoming saints and disciple-makers,” he said. “Their lives are transformed and they in turn love others.”

Help them lead

Shoop and Kidd don’t want to form aloof televangelists, but people who contribute to the common good and share faith in the workaday world, all the while in friendship with others.

“It’s not just ‘teach them and instruct them’ but ‘bring them up as leaders,’” Kidd said.

Vocations directors like the talk as they see youths respond and step forward to consider life in the church.

“The main goal of the conference was to empower young Catholics to give God everything and take their energy and joy out to the world,” said Elizabeth Tripp, a sophomore theology major at the University of Portland. “I feel like I was given the tools to go out and share my faith.”

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, one of the main speakers, told the crowd that true love is wanting the greatest good for another. “In every moment, discern what the greatest act of love might be,” Bishop Barron said.