Large numbers of Speak Up participants told of their profound concern that so many youth and young adults are not present at Sunday Mass, are not active in the parish, or have abandoned their faith. After Confirmation, there are few parish activities that engage and encourage youth to stay connected as active participants in the life of the Church. According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, a four-year study funded by the Lilly Foundation and provided by The CARA Report1, 15% of 12th graders in the U.S. seem to be alienated from organized religion and another 15% are simply disengaged but 73% of Catholic youth would like to see more influence of churches and of religious organizations. They want and need the support of other young people both spiritually and socially.
Youth is a stage of life that begins at puberty and culminates in young adulthood. Young adults mature as they make vocational decisions and settle into adulthood with greater stability. Although both of these stages of faith development may vary somewhat among individuals, each presents significant challenges to spiritual and social growth.
People spoke often about youth being the church of the future. They said:
- “Hire youth ministers to work with our kids!”
- “Provide Bible study for youth and young adults.”
- “Combine social activities with continued deepening of religious learning.”
- “Develop youth liturgies with youth involvement.”
- “Create organized activities and centers for youth by collaborating among parishes.”
- “Provide Catholic leadership training for youth.”
- “Develop programs that involve youth and bridge the post-Confirmation gap!”
This pastoral need for community and fellowship continues as young adults make vocational commitments. Those who minister to youth and young adults may facilitate a strong connection to the parish if there are vibrant liturgies, with contemporary music, meaningful prayer and relevant homilies. In a study on Religious Attachment among Young Adults (18 to 25 years old) by Anna Greenberg in 2005 it is reported that among 1,385 Roman Catholic youth 60% are undecided, yet positive about their religious identities and lean towards informal and expressive practices over formal and institutional involvement. Other churches have programs such as bible sharing, Christian music, and social events that reach out and attract younger Catholics. Speak Up participants called on the Church to respond with the best of its resources to meet the needs of youth and young adults with opportunities, time, and places within the parish to gather, pray, and discuss the challenges they face during these growth-filled years. The youth and young adults of our parishes are an important pastoral priority for the future of the Church of South Jersey.