By V. Rev. Dr. Joseph F. Purpura
As we develop programs in the Department of Youth Ministry and in Teen SOYO, the question that always comes to my mind is: What does this do to keep our teens in the Church today, tomorrow and forty years from now? This is a vitally important question, because the task of youth ministry is to ready teens to make good decisions so they can attain Salvation through Jesus Christ. A recent Pew study informs us that the Orthodox Church in North America is essentially staying even with its membership. That is an alarming statistic. Basically, the number of converts coming into the Church is close to the number of people we are losing from the Church. While the Antiochian Archdiocese is doing better in this area, and in fact is growing, we must still ask why are we losing any of our young people from the Church.
We are losing good young people because we are not adequately serving their needs as Orthodox Christians. Yes, there are many bright spots in our efforts: we have a caring Metropolitan and many Bishops who are making our youth a high priority. They have established Camps, a Youth Department, Christian Education, and other efforts to minister to our young people, yet these efforts must be matched in our local parishes or we will lose these children between ministries.
Are we making our young people a high priority in our local parishes, or are we investing more in electricity than we are in the spiritual lives of our young people? A quick look at many parish budgets show that we invest more funds in heating and lighting the Church than we do in warming and lighting the spiritual lives of our young people. In fact, many parishes do not even have a line item in the expenditures column for teen ministry outside of Church School.
Many people believe we lose our young people when they go off to college. Perhaps we lose them physically at that time, but the distressing reality is that we lose many of them from the Church during their Middle School and High School years — when they go off to college they are simply free to acknowledge decisions they previously made.
Why do they leave? They leave for many reasons, all of which come down to two basic reasons: we have not equipped the youth to make good decisions that will allow them to survive in this world as members of Christ’s Holy Church, and we have not made the most valuable adults in our parish communities readily available to the youth as examples of prosperity and righteousness.
As families and as local Church communities, we need to ask: what investment of time and resources are we making to keep our teens in the Church? As parents with one child in college and three in graduate school, my wife and I are well aware of the enormous financial investment we have made to bring them to where they are in life and we are well aware that our job is not finished. This investment, over the past 28 years, is far beyond the cost of a home and perhaps the cost of several homes and this is simply to prepare them for this world, a brief speck in time compared to the eternal life Christ offers each of us. We all must ask: have we invested in only short term goals —buildings, clothes, food, cars, careers, retirement, etc.? What about the real long term goals — Salvation! Eternity with God. How much have we invested of our time and resources toward working on membership in the Kingdom of Heaven here and now on earth (as real members of the Church) and what about membership in the Kingdom of God for all eternity for ourselves and the teens of our parishes? When we are brought before the Great Judgment seat of Christ, how will we explain our family and Church budgets and schedules in which we have made so little room to invest the Orthodox Education, moral & ethical development, community and Christian character building of our teens.
As families, many of us have invested tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, and tens of thousands of hours, to educate our own children to be successful in this world. How many parish budgets have a line item equal to what one family expends on their own children’s education during their college and sometimes pre-college years? How many parishes schedule weekly or even monthly time to mentor each young person? Is there a line item to budget the Teen SOYO ministry in your parish? Is there a calendar to schedule time for the youth to discuss their life and goals with materially and spiritually successful members of the parish? Is the budget for the lights more than the budget to light the way for our teens, or the heating line item greater to heat our buildings than the very souls of our teens? Do we schedule our teens to serve others regularly without scheduling ourselves to serve our teens? Yes I understand we must heat and light our churches, but we do these as means to a greater end: to light the way and warm the hearts of people to God. And, yes, we lead very busy lives, but if we lose the youth then what is all our busyness for?
As Chairman of the Department of Youth Ministry, I challenge each member of every parish to ask what you are doing to keep our young people in the Church for the rest of their lives and beyond — what are we all doing to light the way and warm their hearts to God? A simple check to see if we have even begun this task is to look at what we, as a parish, budget and schedule each year to make this happen at home and in the local parish (sending them off elsewhere for this to happen is not enough and not what I am talking about here). Schedule and budget; where we spend our time and money is a reflection of where our hearts are. How many well-trained adults with successful life experience do we have working alongside and with our teens to help them be successful and stay in the Church? If you have already done this in good measure, wonderful —share your success by helping your sister parishes to do the same. If you have not yet, then let’s begin today by setting a parish priority to keep the teens in our parish as members of the Holy Orthodox Church for the rest of their lives; and let’s start this task today.
What can your parish do to light the way and warm the hearts of our teens to God and His Holy Orthodox Church?
1. Ask your Parish Council and Pastor what plan and schedule they have for keeping our teens active in the Church and what their program is to keep them in the Church for the rest of their lives. If they have no plan, encourage them to become proactive in ministering to and with our teens in the parish.
- Offer to help make this happen by using your talents.
- Volunteer your time so they can be successful.
- Discuss volunteering with the most successful and upright members of your parish.
- Pray for their success.
- Find out what they need to make this happen, provide support in the area that you personally can, and encourage your sisters and brothers in Christ to meet the other needs.
2. Budget funds to educate and equip our teens to live out their Orthodox Faith daily
- This requires budgeting funds for your teen youth workers to be educated
- Two opportunities exist: the annual pan-Orthodox Youth Worker Conference and a much more extensive training through the St. Stephen’s Youth Ministry Concentration — a must for the serious Youth Worker and Parish — see www.antiochian.org/youth.
- Provide a budget so your volunteer or paid youth workers, advisors, and youth director can operate an effective youth ministry in the parish that reaches our teens, changes lives, and keeps them in the Church for the rest of their lives.
- Provide funds for your SOYO to carry out their various ministries on the parish and community level:
- October Youth Month — bring in speakers for SOYO retreats and workshops
- January Education Month — help the teens be successful in educating themselves and the parish on the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church concerning moral and ethical issues confronting them on a daily basis, and support our teens in this effort.
- Help your teens with funds so they can attend their diocesan meetings and gain insight and ideas from other committed Orthodox Teens
- Provide funds so your teens can participate in NAC SOYO’s Orthodox Youth Outreach (OYO) to your community and the surrounding area. Help your teens reach out to the members of your community and your community at large, so they can bear witness to their Orthodox Faith in their actions.
- Bring in speakers to make the Orthodox Faith alive to our teens on a regular basis.
- Provide leadership training to the teens in your parish so they can be successful leaders in your parish and in the Church as a whole today and tomorrow. Find good mentors in the parish to work alongside your teens so they learn the skills necessary to succeed in SOYO and in life. (Leadership material is available from the Department of Youth — contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Be creative – find meaningful and life-giving ways to involve your teens in the life of the Church.
- Pray for your teens and their youth director and youth workers on a daily basis, by name.
- Support the teens and those that work with them by letting them know how important they are to the life of the parish, and show it in your actions and words.
Courtesy of the
May 2008 issue of The Word magazine.