There is so much great literature on youth ministry in a parish setting that the high school campus minister sometimes feels left out of the mix. In addition, some parish youth ministers can yield to the temptation to look down upon their high school counterparts, as if parish ministry is the only “real” ministry. At Oratory Preparatory School in Summit, NJ, we have found ways for our kids to know God, serve the rest of the community and have lots of fun in the process. If you were to ask them if their ministry is real, they would probably respond, “You bet!”
When I arrived at Oratory in 1998, a small but dedicated group of students were all that made up our ministry program. Since then, this group has grown into one of the most popular and well-known clubs on campus. As we developed the program, we wanted to avoid being seen as a “holy huddle” or “frozen chosen” type of organization. We also wanted to build a process that could endure even when there was a change in personnel. Finally, we sought to convince people that campus ministry was a valid and effective complement to what goes on in the classroom, particularly through the religion curriculum.
Here are some things that we have found helpful in terms of building a solid program that is focused and Christ, moderated by adults and dedicated to teenagers.
1. Weekly meetings. While some schools meet once a month, we have found that the continual weekly presence of “ministry activity” keeps things moving and forces us to keep looking towards the next event. It also helps with community building. We use an agenda and coach the older students on how to lead an effective meeting.
2. Various student roles. Some students can lead while others are “worker bees”. Great! Go with whatever gifts a student has to offer. Our roles include Captain (for student leadership), Project Manager (for those who are best suited to run one activity) and Coordinator (for those who have the discipline and time to oversee an ongoing activity).
3. Faith sharing groups. Our CELL Group Program brings students, by invitation only, into a process whereby they can meet once a week with a small group of friends to discuss their faith and any difficulties, successes and thoughts that they might have. This is in many ways the core of our ministry program because those in a CELL will almost always step up and make the rest of the program better. It also provides me with a venue for coaching students into more mature roles of leadership.
4. The food factor. One student recently said to me, “Since we've given out free food, more students have come and different types of kids are getting involved!” Some weeks I feel like I should open an account with Dunkin Donuts! It's so simple but profoundly effective- if you feed them, they will come.
5. Parent newsletter. Our monthly publication, Spiritual Life, is simple and straightforward and gives parents a “behind the scenes” look at what is going on in the classroom and in campus ministry events. It keeps open the lines of communication that are vital to a ministry filled with students, some of whom are from fragmented homes.
6. Bulletin board. Our campus ministry bulletin board is always up to date and one student has the responsibility of keeping its content fresh and interesting.
7. “Smart evangelization”. We estimate that less than half of our students are active in their faith and so our programs reflect this reality. Our retreats are either for leaders only or designed for the student who is “iffy” about his relationship with Christ. We keep it loose, have lots of fun and gently invite a greater commitment to the Lord. We also provide a Spring Debate Series that brings in over a quarter of the school to hear their classmates debate a hot topic. When you can promote and then execute a successful program- it's a big boost for everyone involved.
8. Website. Students create a template that can later be updated easily and often. We use pictures and keep it simple but it's another way that students can participate and plug in.
9. Mid-year self evaluation. Allowing the students to evaluate their own participation in campus ministry has been a practical tool for correcting any “mid-year slump” that might afflict an overly busy teenager. We provide a simple form with 5-8 questions that encourage introspection and faith analysis. I then meet with each student (usually about 20-25 will complete the process) and discuss their view of the ministry and their role within the program.
10. End of the year report. We publish an end of year report that is given to all members of the faculty and administration. We keep data on all aspects of the ministry including number of students who have participated (including year by year breakdowns), types of activities we have accomplished, and anything else that might be helpful. This builds a greater bond with the faculty and informs them of the things that are happening that they might not be aware of
Michael K. St. Pierre is a teacher of theology at Oratory Prep School in Summit, NJ, and co-founder of CatholicVentures.com. This article is used with permission from Mike St. Pierre's free monthly e-newswire, Catholic Ventures Newswire, available for from CatholicVentures.com.