Youth Ministry for the Millennials

Interview With Bob and Maggie McCarty

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By Genevieve Pollock

WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 22, 2010 ( The face of youth ministry is evolving as the Millennial Generation comes of age. Programs are taking into account more globalized social networks, advanced technology, and greater parental involvement.

Bob and Maggie McCarty, who have a combined 65 years in ministry, spoke to ZENIT about recent developments in this field and plans for the future.

Maggie is the president of Education for Parish Service, and Bob is the executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

Together they have published numerous books and articles, including the latest, «Be A Champion for Youth: Standing With, By and For Young People.»

They have presented workshops and retreats internationally, and will be featured Saturday at the U.K. Catholic Youth Ministry Federation congress London.

In this joint interview, they spoke with ZENIT about the elements of youth ministry that transcend national boundaries.

ZENIT: In the recent National Catholic Youth Conference there was a special track for parents. What elements did you highlight for the parents of teens, and how was it received? In general, how engaged are parents in youth ministry?

McCartys: The National Catholic Youth Conference had over 21,000 registered attendees, from 163 delegations. Of that number, more than 4,000 were adult chaperones.  

We began to see a trend that many of the chaperones were also parents of the delegates, so the planning committee decided to introduce a track for parents who were attending the conference.  

The topics that were addressed included «best practices» for raising teens as presented by a parent and teen; an overview of the current research on the faith life of young Catholics; practical approaches to sharing faith within families; and a primer on new technologies for parents.  

The conference also included a networking session for parents and a parent resource room, as well as a general session for young people that focused on strengthening their relationships with family members.  

This track was a great innovation that allowed Catholic parents to support one another, learn in community, and to gain additional skills in parenting happy, healthy, and holy teens.  

When it comes to youth ministry, parents are as engaged as the youth ministry leaders encourage!

There was a myth that suggested that young people didn’t want their parents involved in their activities.

That is not true of the Millennial Generation. Today’s young people, for the most part, welcome their parents’ involvement.

So if a youth ministry leader has the vision to incorporate parents, they are usually very open to having roles. It is also important that youth ministry leaders provide parents the appropriate training and formation for taking on roles in youth ministry.

ZENIT: Could you say more about the messages sent to the youth conference by the Pope and the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See? What were they saying to the young people?

McCartys: The Holy Father sent a message through his Secretary of State to Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, for participants in the conference. The message said:

«As the young people celebrate and reflect upon the theme ‘Christ Reigns’ through song, fellowship and prayer, His Holiness encourages them to have no fear in professing — at home, in their parishes and in their schools — that Jesus is King! […]

«As they process through the streets of Kansas City bearing witness to the love of Jesus present in the Most Holy Eucharist, His Holiness is confident that the young people will find new strength to grow in God’s wisdom and to work for the spread of His Kingdom — some even finding the courage to make the radical choice of following Christ as priests or religious.»

The U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, also sent cordial written greetings, and these were read to the participants as part of the general sessions.

The messages challenged the delegates to live the theme «Christ Reigns» in their hearts, in their public and private prayer and worship, and in the decisions they will make in the future.  

ZENIT: What kinds of results have you seen from these conferences in regards to religious vocations?

McCartys: The National Catholic Youth Conference is a truly unique gathering. In addition to 28 bishops in attendance, there were 250 priest registrants, and 70 religious communities who participated in the interactive exhibit area.  

The four days of the conference are a profound experience of faith in action, and many of the participants — both youth and adults — find their faith nourished and renewed.

We don’t track interest in religious vocations before and after the conference, so we don’t have empirical date, but we know that all of the religious communities were very pleased with their experience at the conference and that a growing number of the young priests were actually participants at the conference when they were in secondary school.   

ZENIT: This conference was streamed live through the Internet for the first time. What kind of a response did you get on a global level?

McCartys: The inclusion of a global audience through the use of the Internet went beyond our expectations.  

We had nearly 15,000 unique visitors join the conference general sessions in real-time through live streaming video.  

In addition another 31,000 unique visitors from 106 countries visited the conference’s virtual pilgrimage which was hosted by  

The 2009 National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) Facebook page has over 4,700 fans, and nearly 500 people signed up for its Twitter feed.   

Technology will certainly increase the impact of the conference, especially on the parents and families of participants, and enabling it to have a global impact.

A young adult from our parish who had attended a previous conference watched via the internet from Paris, where he is studying.

A youth ministry leader from Iowa, scheduled to be at the conference, is an army reservist and was called up to Iraq just prior to NCYC 2009 — she called her young people at the conference from Bagdad as she followed it on the internet. Technology has made the virtual very real!

ZENIT: How does youth ministry in the United States compare to other countries? What aspects of the U.S. ministry scene will you highlight in the upcoming conference in England? What are some aspects of youth ministry that are important in any country?

McCartys: There are many common features with youth ministry and youth ministers throughout the world!  

First, youth ministry attracts some of the most creative, dedicated, and faith-filled individuals, regardless of their country of origin.

And, with the globalization of the world, teenagers have developed a global sub-culture.    

The size of the U.S. Catholic Church — 68 million Catholics — has given our country a larger scale than most other countries.  

We have 175 dioceses and 60 collaborating organizations that come together under the U.S. National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.  

Since the late 1970s, there has been a common vision and framework for Catholic youth ministry in this country that is supported and distributed by the Catholic bishops of the United States. This common vision allows these different dioceses and organizations to work together on behalf of youth ministry in the nation.   

We think that the development of a common vision, which also provides a common language among practitioners, is important as a country is developing youth ministry initiatives.  

We have had the privilege of working with New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and now the United Kingdom as the dioceses develop their own country-specific vision of Catholic youth ministry.< br>
We are honored to be a part of the upcoming U.K. National Congress for Catholic Youth Leaders. With the Scripture focus for the day to «set your hearts on the living God…do not let anyone disregard you because you are young» (1Tim 4:10-12), we intend to inspire and affirm the Catholic youth leaders and the work that they are doing to build the reign of God.  

ZENIT: What priorities is the federation focusing on for 2010? Could you share some of your plans for the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry in December?

McCartys: The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry has identified several areas as priorities for the next three years: establishing common competency-based standards for ministry and a collaborative national certification process for professional lay ecclesial ministers; fostering renewal of approaches to adolescent catechesis in the parish and school settings; initiating an outreach to parents in our «Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth» project; more effective use of technology in ministry; strengthening our outreach to our ethnic communities; and developing appropriate resources for the formation and training of leadership.

The National Conference for Catholic Youth Ministry [NCCYM] is the largest adult conference for Catholic youth ministers in the United States.  

It occurs every other year and is scheduled for December 9-12, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The theme is «March with the Saints.»  

Some 2,500 youth and campus ministers, religious education leaders, scouts, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) coaches, performers, musical artists, and volunteers come together for four days of inspiring keynotes, challenging workshops, dynamic prayer and worship, critical networking, extensive resources, and top-notch entertainment.

This is a spirited and spirit-filled experience for youth ministry practitioners.

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On the Net:

Education for Parish Service:

National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry:

Catholic Youth Ministry Federation:

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