3 Reasons Your Teens Are Not Engaged in Your Faith Formation Program (Guest post by John Rinaldo)

John Rinaldo is one of those people that I would probably never have met if it weren’t for the internet. In fact, I often have to remind myself that we’ve never met face-to-face! But his writing on ministry and leadership have helped me to reflect on my own work as a diocesan director and made me more effective in the work of catechesis.

Imagine this.

You are in front of a large group of teenagers facilitating a session on the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. This group of teenagers are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

You are well prepared for this topic. You have a fun opening community builder that is connected to the theme, you created a dynamic, ritual prayer experience, and you are armed with multiple strategies to engage the youth including the use of a cool video clip, small group reflection questions, and a bit of teaching from you.

You are proud of the session you have created. You delve into the topic with great enthusiasm and gusto! You pour all your energy into the session.

Then, it happens.

boredYou look out at the faces staring back at you. All they do is stare. They are not engaged. They are not excited. They look like lumps on a log.

At the end of the session, you are exhausted! You planned well and you thought that for sure the teenagers would get into the topic.

Yet, for all your planning and energy, you feel like you failed. You begin to wonder if you’re any good at this. Then you start to think that you should quit.

I don’t have enough hands and fingers to count how many times I’ve felt this way! The reality is that, for all the energy you put into any session, there are times that you don’t connect with your intended audience.

There’s a reason for that. Here are 3 reasons your audience is not ready to be engaged in your faith formation program:

  1. Their parents do not engage them in faith conversations or prayer at home. Most parents rarely have a conversation around faith at home or initiate a family prayer. For many, faith is something that happens in church and church alone. Since parents are the primary influencers, the parish needs to give them tools that will help parents. Until faith is a regular part of family life, it will often be difficult to engage your audience.
  2. They are not interested in learning about the faith. This is a readiness issue. Sherry Weddell, in her book Forming Intentional Disciples, suggests that learning about faith comes after two things happen in people’s lives: 1) they have developed trusting and open relationship with other members, and 2) they have had some sort of conversion where they have experienced God in their life in a real and genuine way. These two things lead people to engage in conversations and topics of faith. Growing an Engaged Church suggests, “Belonging leads to believing.” If that is the case, which I believe it is, you and I need to spend some serious time building community. The other statement I believe to be true is, “Faith seeks understanding.” A conversion experience leads to faith. Faith leads to the desire to learn more and understand.
  3. They’re tired. It’s not a surprise to you that children and teenagers are heavily scheduled, especially on a weekday. They’ve had a really long day with school, tests, sports, and they just scarfed down dinner 2 seconds before they arrived. Finding a way to bring people out of their hectic day into a more peaceful place of prayer and focus is essential if you are to successfully engage them.

Question: What changes can you make that might help people become more engaged in the faith formation sessions you develop?

John Rinaldo (RealMinistry.org) is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, chairperson of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, and one of the hosts of the Best Youth Ministry Podcast Ever… Maybe.