How Important Has a Youth Group (For Teens) Been in Your Faith Experience?

Updated on September 17, 2012
J.B. asks from Boston, MA
20 answers

We are fortunate to have two Catholic churches in my town, which is totally unwarranted given the numbers of people at each church but there's some history behind having two churches and it is what it is. My parish has been around for more than 150 years. It is a diocesan church in a gorgeous old building in walking distance to my house. It has been home to me and my kids for almost 10 years - three of my kids made their First Communion there and two were baptized there. I have taught religious education there for 5 years, lead the children's liturgy, decorate for the holidays, etc.

We have had 5 pastors in the past 6 years. We have a new "permanent" pastor and I like him very much. However, they just published the new Mass schedule and he is not reinstating the teen mass, which was minimized with each passing Pastor and dropped earlier in the year. Over the past few years there were many parents who tried to get a youth group up and running but to no avail and many of those involved parents left and went to the other church. So the teen mass was really the last thing that we did at all that said that we valued our young people and wanted to minister to teens during these very important years and now that's gone too.

So...the other parish has a vibrant teen Mass and youth group, but that Mass runs during the time my two 14-year-olds would need to attend Confirmation class (they're in the first year of a two-year program). I'm not impressed with the religious education of the other parish. They only meet twice a month instead of weekly and my friends who go there don't feel as if their kids are learning enough in a formal setting. But...there are a ton of kids there, the teen Mass is lively and vibrant and engaging, and there is a much stronger social aspect to that parish for teens, with trips and parties and movie nights and discussion groups, retreats, etc.

So I am considering keeping my younger kids at our old parish and attending Mass with them in the morning after religious ed classes, which I will still teach, and sending my older kids to the other parish for Mass (which I will attend if I can) and then their own classes, which would be after Mass every other week. Does that sound reasonable? Or do you think I'm bending over backwards to give the older kids an enjoyable, engaging faith experience and that they can be mature, suck it up and be bored and disengaged at Mass (like I was when I was a kid).

Does anyone feel like having a good youth group and teen Mass experience as a teenager was important in building your faith? Or did it not make a difference? My parish didn't have a youth group, but I went to Catholic school so I was surrounded by peers with the same beliefs as I had and had those teaching reinforced day in and day out at school. My kids go to public school so religion isn't as present in their lives as it was in mine.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone! I made the first part of the leap today by enrolling the older kids at the new church. The hard part will be informing the DRE at our first church that the older two won't be enrolling this year, but it is what it is. My husband pointed out that if for some reason this is an epic fail, it's not as if the first church won't take them back so we can try it and if it doesn't work out, we can re-evaluate things in a few months. I think we'll also still try to keep the kids all together for Mass - for weeks where the older kids have class we'll all go to the Teen Mass and other weeks we'll go to morning services at the other church, allowing all of us to maintain our connection there (and I like to be able to bump into my Sunday school kids at church).

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answers from Seattle on

I think you're bending over backwards AND it sounds reasonable. Beyond reasonable... reasoned, caring, loving, thoughtful, kind, and PROACTIVE.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Cumberland on

I think you should bend over backwards-then you can always say, "I killed myself to do this for you".

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

I'm not Catholic, but my church youth group was instrumental to my teen years. It definitely is a plus.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

It is unfortunate when a church ignores what is potentially the most important group as far as the growth of a church... families leave churches all the time because the youth group isn't a vital part of the church..... you can see that already with the families at your current church that have left because of the emphasis on youth programming at the other parish. (When our previous Youth Director left, there were several families that literally followed her to the other church.... she had been with us for many years, and I'm not really sure why she left... but the one that followed her just didn't have it together.)

I can't make the decision for you, but I would seriously consider becoming part of the church (in whatever way you can) that had the vital youth group. Even though they won't have the every week religious education classes, I have a feeling that much of the "lessons" are reinforced in the youth group.

Have you asked why they only have Religious Education every other week? Is it because of lack of volunteers? That gets pretty common.. everyone wants someone ELSE to teach the classes......

What is the future of our church? It is our youth. Churches need to wake up and see that they need to become important to the YOUTH, so as they grow up, they will continue attending church and bringing their families to church.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

from what you wrote it doesn't sound like there are many/ any? others attending the religious ed class, any chance of that time being moved tomake it a bit more convenient.

to be honest the strong religious ed class IF it is engaging and not super dry would be a better foundation for keeping kids in religion.

I sort of view these youth groups as fun for the moment but dissillusining when most of the kids all go off their separate ways and leave the church.

to me it is the strong sense of Home, of Family of Tradition that helped me to continue through adult hood while others drifted away.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

In my opinion it is the parents job to teach any religious education. Then it's the church's job to reinforce that. So if you are the better teacher who is better suited to teach your children?

Teach them at home and then let them go to the other church service.

A youth group is where they will be finding their possible future spouse, their future adult friends, their whole teen "group" is what will shape them for the rest of their lives.

I went to a nice Baptist church at the end of my street my whole life. No one else in my family went. I would walk to church as a little kid, I was in the children's choir, I was in the Lottie Moon play several years running, no one from my family came for anything.

This church had an awesome youth group. We always took at least 50 kids to Falls Creek. These are the friends I grew up with, they all married each other, some are divorced now but most have children and grandchildren that are all growing up together too.

This experience is one they will fall back on when times are troublesome. They are their peers, their support group, their whole world of influence can be different for them if they are around strong believers. They will gain attitudes, coping skills, personality traits of the others, etc......

I think the youth experience at a church is one of the most influential ones they will ever have. They are still forming their base personalities and the people they are around are the ones that are making them who they will eventually become.

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answers from Charlotte on

Is there a way your kids could join the youth group without attending the mass? That way they would get to know those kids, and after their confimation classes are done, they could have a choice of joining that parish if they wanted to.

That's what I would want if I were in your shoes...


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Our Catholic church has made an effort over the last several years to improve its youth program, and I am so pleased. My church did not have a youth program when I was growing up, and I did not feel connected to the church at all. Many of my friends are no longer Catholic.

I have two boys, 8 and 14, and they are both very involved in the church; they love it! One thing that I like about our youth program is that while there are plenty of social opportunities for the teens, many of the gatherings are centered around service. This actually helps many of them since they need service hours for school (the National Honor Society, Key Club, IB, etc.), and it is teaching them the value in serving others. Since they are providing service while hanging out with their friends, they have a good time. In addition to that, they have their weekly CCD classes, and pizza parties and other events, as well. In a few weeks, they are all going to Six Flags for World Youth Day.

It has really turned into a good program, and I volunteer to help with different events throughout the year (I help a ton during Advent, and again during the summer with the food pantry), so the boys see that I am invested in their faith, too. I definitely think it is worth it to have a good youth and teen experience. We don't have a teen mass, but we have a great priest that the boys love, so he keeps them interested.

Good for you for taking such an interest in you children's faith.

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answers from Houston on

Both of our kids were very involved in our youth groups. They both loved them and enjoyed all the activities and teachings. We are lutheran.

They both attended the National Youth Gathering. Our daughter was able to go to two and our son went to one. They LOVED meeting other kids that are lutheran and sharing their faith.

Our son has moved back to Kentucky and attends church on his own.

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answers from Washington DC on

getting kids to enjoy 'learning enough in a formal setting' will probably not galvanize the local youth.
if they've got a vibrant mass and lots of activities, that's the one that's right.
i belonged to Young Life when i was a teenager. i LOVED it. it was equal parts fun social event and really profound spiritual sharing.
but i sure would not have showed up that one tuesday night per month if it had been to learn more in a formal setting.
:) khairete

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answers from Washington DC on

I'm Methodist, so my experience is different. However, I did enjoy the various youth groups I attended - two different groups that were like Girl Scouts for church and MYF. The scouting groups were not at my home church or even my denomination.

While it all begins at home, I think it is important for teens to have peers to share experiences with, to attend events with, etc. In youth group, we could ask our leader questions that we may not have been able or willing to ask our parents. We knew we were not alone in our thoughts and fears and concerns. We could learn about God at a teenaged level - break the lessons down into something relevant to us vs just listening to a sermon geared for adults. I was considering leaving my church (at least PT) if the Sunday School was no longer available for my DD. She needs kids her own age to share with. Currently our church youth attend Camp Hope, where they do home repairs for senior citizens and attend ROCK. Those are events they seem to get a lot out of and I will encourage DD to go when she is older. But also, I don't think you necessarily need to stick to just one church if you have varied needs. I would have attended 2 churches had we not gotten more kids DD's age for Sunday School. One week for DD, one week for me.

IMO, I consider it part of building her foundation before she is an adult. I left the church for a while but came back to my foundation. I would be remiss not to offer her a good foundation, whatever choices she makes later in her life.

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answers from Boston on

I was involved in a teen youth group at a nondenominational church. I thought it was a great experience for me , and helped socially, as I was a bit awkward back then.

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answers from Springfield on

The Catholic Church didn't really have youth groups or teen masses when I was growing up, but I did get involved at the Newman Center in college. My faith was already important to me, but my experience there was huge! The priest really spoke to us in his homily, the students had an important role in planning retreats, community service activities, social events. The friends I made their and the experiences I gained have tremendously effected who I am today.

It saddens me so that this is one area where the Catholic Church has really dropped the ball. It also saddens me when people criticize teen mass (or in the case of my husband, many non-denominational services) because they think they are "entertaining" and "Mass isn't supposed to be entertaining." It's not about being entertaining, it's about making it meaningful. It's about a Mass that actually speaks to teens and challenges them to grow in their faith and helps them to see that their faith is relevant.

It does seem as though your Sundays would be very busy, but it might really be worth trying to make it work for at least a month or two.

I understand your concerns about Religious Ed. It is hard to look at the Religious Ed programs and most parishes today compared to attending a Catholic School. We're faced with a similar situation, as our religious ed program only meets about 20 times a year. It was hard for me to feel that that was going to be sufficient. I think I have to trust myself and my husband to live our faith and answer questions and be open to learning more ourselves so that we are also teaching our kids our faith.

Don't sell yourself short. You are your children's first teacher of your faith! You can go a long way towards supplementing their education just with the conversation around the dinner table.

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answers from Washington DC on

Is the other church more stable in its leadership than yours? Is there a reason you've had five priests in just six years in your own church? I would question, if I were you, why the church is cycling through pastors that quickly (very fast indeed). That doesn't telegraph a message of stablity to kids. I also would weigh whether the gorgeous old building and closeness to your home and 10 years there really mean as much to your kids as they do to you. I think that if the other church has more to offer them, it is not "bending over backwards" to give your kids the best possible church experience; it's giving them a foundation for when they are no longer kids whom you have to take to church, but young adults who have to choose whether to go for themselves. I know it's hard to leave a beloved church (been there) but if there is some way your kids can go to the other one for teen Mass and youth group, I'd do it now and see how it goes. They may not "gel" with the kids there but they also may love it. And they are getting very close to college age. This change could give them an experience that makes them likelier, in college, to find a church wherever they go to college (or work) and attend it with enthusiasm -- and not just because of a feeling of obligation. You have just four years until they go off to college; if they don't try this other church soon they will lose interest or get involved in other things for their high school years.

Can they still attend Mass at times at the old church to stay in touch there?

I understand the concern about Christian education (I have the same worry at our small church for my child) but can you possibly talk to the person who teaches kids at this other church? Don't go just on what other parents have felt; look at the curriculum, find out why it's only twice a month (maybe the other two times a month kids are doing a service project or otherwise constructively occupied) and so forth. There may just be a different way of teaching there that your friends dislike because it's not traditional but which could work fine for your kids. You said other parents felt kids weren't learning enough "in a formal setting," but are they possibly learning in other settings? Be open to that possibility. And remember that for kids this age, being interested and engaged is what's vital, more than the formal setting.

I am not Catholic. But church youth group, with a very positive role model in a young and enthusiastic pastor, was instrumental in keeping me involved and interested in church as a teenager. In turn, that was instrumental in my choosing to be involved in church and especially in Bible studies etc. during college and grad school years.

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answers from Kansas City on

I think it's important to help build your child's faith! I think it's equally important for the church to have such a program...our kids are the next generation of Catholics!!

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answers from Baton Rouge on

My daughter was involved in the youth activities at our UU church when she was growing up, but most of them took place either before, during, or after the regular service on Sundays, so transportation and timing wasn't really an issue.
I was fortunate - we had a program that the kids loved. I actually had three girls beg me to take them to church on Sunday morning after a Saturdany noght Girl Scout sleepover. If your kids are in a program they love, it's worth whatever you have to do to get them there.
Otherwise, they're just sitting in a pew, napping with their eyes open.

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answers from El Paso on

I grew up Catholic and still am. I didn't grow up with a "teen Mass" (although when I was in 7th or 8th grade is when that started to be a popular idea). I don't think the idea of a teen Mass is necessary and never have. Why do we need to make Mass fun? That's not the purpose. Youth group is for fun. Mass is Mass. I would suggest seeing if they can join the youth group at the other church but keep everyone attending your current church and doing the Confirmation classes with your current church. Growing up, we had a youth group for about a year or two, and it just kind of disintegrated. I also went to Catholic schools, so the youth group wasn't a big deal for us. Seeing that your kids go to public schools, I think it's even more important to have them in the weekly RE classes.

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answers from Grand Forks on

Our church has five congragations in our area of the city. Their aren't enough youth in any one church to warrant a church group any longer, so we have pooled our resources to hire one youth leader for all five churches. This means that the youth may be attending youth group in a different building from their parents. I am hoping that by joining the youth together we can eventually amalgamate our entire congregations together under one roof.

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answers from Houston on

Oh yes, I think a religious teen youth group really helped me in my teen years. I think, that if even it was a different religion or even just a non-denominational thing, it may still be great for your kids, just since it provides kids with a since of identity with other children of faith, doing positive and uplifting activities. I am currently a leader in our church's youth group and it's a great experience.

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answers from Chicago on

While I went to church as a child, I was never in a youth group of any kind, but now that I have a child, I would like for her to be involved with one. My daughter (14) will be attending a youth bible study group at our local church for the first time tomorrow. We presently don't have a home church, we've been nomads visiting different churches for many YEARS, but we want to settle down. My daughter has always gone to parochial school and really hopes this group is active with group projects. She likes volunteer activities. She is a do-er by all means. So we will see, if this works for her. If not, we will find another opportunity. I see nothing wrong with having the kids in church-based youth activities, even if at different churches.

1 mom found this helpful
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