How Not To Reach Kids

As a teenager often evangelized to, I would like to point out some mistakes people make in regards to ‘selling’ Catholicism. The first is that it needs to be sold.

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It doesn’t work. And anyways, it’s a stupid thought that drives a lot of youth ministry; that “we need to make Catholicism cool.” Catholicism is cool. It’s cool because it’s truth, because it fills the need in our souls for sensibility and beauty that nothing else can, not because you made that sweet video, or that t-shirt design for all your kids. Artists like Matt Maher and Move Merchants, comedians like Stephen Colbert and writers like Mark Shea; these people do not make Catholicism cool, they are cool because they are Catholic. A good talk on chastity doesn’t make chastity hip, it reveals chastity as true. So please, if you are trying to make the faith attractive for teenagers, slow down, and try to make teenagers attracted to the faith.

For instance, there’s this. Ignoring the fact that,
Starbucks being an institution inspired by Satan,
this amounts to blasphemy, there is also an
unconscious message being sent. It says, my
faith must conform to the world. My Christ is made
cool by capitalist commercialism. This ain’t
invading the culture, it’s imitating the culture, and
generally lame. I can see how this is fun, I can
see how this might even be meaningful, but
as far as making disciples of all nations go, it lacks.

And even as I write this, I grimace at using the phrase ‘Catholicism is cool’. In fact, I only use it because a lot of “we’re reaching teenagers” web-sites and ministries use it far too often. The truth is that smartphones are pretty cool. Call of Duty 4 is cool. Religion is beyond that. We do young people a great injustice when we make the assumption that what they want out of an all-encompassing world view is that it be cool, akin to a new pair of shoes. Instead, let us realize that youth, like the rest of humanity, want to be fulfilled, but with an energy and a passion far more apparent than in older folk. And youth, like the rest of humanity, are not fulfilled by coolness. So instead of “Catholicism is cool”, how about, “Catholicism is the radical and exciting path to fulfillment, peace, and eternal salvation, that will provide solace when you suffer, aid when you are in need, excitement when you are bored, and has remained centered for 2000 years around the daring notion that human beings are meant to be joyful beyond all measure, living with God not only after death, but here and now, in the most awesome Holy Eucharist.” Again, if you are trying to make the faith relevant to young people, slow down, and make young people relevant to the faith.

How? By adopting that characteristic appreciated by everyone, especially young people – authenticity. We live in a world that subsists on selling itself, on making everything The Next Big Thing, and quite frankly, we’re sick of it, and those who aren’t soon will be. The beautiful thing about the Catholic Church is that it really is The Big Thing, and the next one as well. Thus, authenticity simply reveals it for what it is: awesome. Authenticity in speech, in writing, in sharing the precepts of the faith, in prayer, in song, media, dress,  evangelization and in the plain, daily communication with others, all this reveals Catholicism’s innate greatness, achieving every single one of the effects any “make-Catholic-cool” program will try so desperately for; attracting youth, catching them off guard, having them willing to listen, opening their minds, and planting the seeds of the Gospel within them. Trying to make Catholicism cool just puts it on the level of the Blacked Eyed Peas performance at the Super Bowl; a desperate attempt to convince the world that “you really like us” ending in everyone disliking us.

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  • beez

    You know, Marc, I think it's important for priests to meet regularly with: the youth group; the school-aged parents; the young adult group; the seniors and every other age group to AVOID the temptation to try to market the faith and just make the greatness of the faith new and vital to them again.

  • Joseph K @ Defend Us In Battle

    Marc,I have posted on this before and think this is a huge problem. In fact, I had a post about our youth that I posted last night.I agree with you on this, and my posts in the past have had a similar message: marketing the faith to teens shows a severe lack of understanding of exactly what the Faith is… and what Teens need & want.Parishes should go to the March for Life and see what teens are *really* like in their faith, and realize that it isnt the gimmicks that pull them in, it is the SACRED.Also, I am a fan of Switchfoot, but I figured you to be more of an Underoath, Oh, SLeeper, or Emery sorta guy. [I was to lazy to post this in the last POST com-box].

  • Daniel Beiter

    You don't have to tell jokes to make truth funny. And that's the truth.If we go to youth group and church for fun and games, we very well will find the same in the world and will fall away. We must be given at the Church what only the Church will give.

  • Marc

    right!Don't get me wrong, if there's anyone for using awesome medians to promote Catholicism, it's me. Look at this blog for example. But if the median is the carrier, if the median is "making" the teaching cool instead of REVEALING the awesomeness of the teaching, then it, sirs, is whack.and @ Defend Us In BattleI read your post, and do believe there is more hope than you realize. More on that later.

  • Clamburger

    Daniel Beiter has it right. One thing that my experiences have taught me is that if we youth ministries use gimmicks to attract teens, they're going to attract kids who only go to be with their friends or to be entertained… not because they're thirsting for fulfillment, satisfaction, or God Himself. As much as it seems like it, it's not a numbers game. It's not about how many seats we can fill in a youth group meeting. It's about connecting the kids who ARE looking with the things/deity that they are looking for.

  • Joseph K @ Defend Us In Battle

    Oh don't get me wrong, I believe we have all that we need. It is just a matter for us to wake up and seize that hope and realize our potential.Unfortunately, in a lot of areas we have power structures inside our parishes eating away at the Church from the inside.I know in the end the Church wins, I just want to get as many of us to the Victory party as possible :)

  • Katie

    I totally agree with you. The whole "hip teen" gimmicky crap just gives teens the impression that their faith is old, stuffy, and boring, and needs to be "repackaged" to be "sold" to them. Besides being an insult to their intelligence, it's lame, and as you said, it fails miserably. My husband and I both really feel like there's a hunger for orthodoxy among our generation (late 20s/early 30s) and the younger one. Which, of course, isn't to say that we need to be uptight and stuffy. But we need to be authentic.

  • goncalvk

    I agree 100% Our Church has enough to offer to draw the youth to follow Christ. We need to use medians as a way to reach out to more people… not to try to embellish the faith and pretend it makes it more appealing. When young people start to face real life issues they need to know that they can seek rescue in the Blessed Sacrament and not on their "cool" starbucks Christ saves shirt.I think it was Fr John Corapi who said that the media almost allows us to sort of "bi-locate" and evangelize. Well the church has giving us enough tools to evangelize… we dont need to use the media for cheap marketing to make us "cool"

  • J. Chase

    Interesting thoughts Marc. I have shared similar opinions at Theology on Tap here at my parish. Where I think the danger lies is when people confuse making the faith engaging vs. making it entertaining. I think some people use your arguments as an excuse to be lazy with evangelizing. They give someone a copy of the Baltimore Catechism and feel like their work is done, because the truth will convert the person. Personally I find this to be a load of garbage. I think the comedians and musicians you listed precisely because they engage the culture where it is at. The cheesy marketing gimmicks attempt to do the same, and maybe that is where some teens are at. I know I was at one time. We all have to graduate from milk to solid food at some point, but every baby starts out on milk. The danger lies in thinking milk is as good as it gets.

  • Jeremy

    Hey Marc,started reading your blog today – love it. In fact, after briefly skimming through some posts, I used the word "badass" to describe the blog to a friend, and lo and behold, you used the word yourself!Just a quick question: How did/do you go about promoting your blog?

  • Marc

    I didn't do too much.Guest posting for other bloggers is always a good idea, it links people to your own. Otherwise, just have good content, people will come!

  • Jaclyn

    I agree. I've seen an 80-year old nun captivate 5,000 teens in an arena at a youth conference more easily than the "cool" video that was made to get their attention.HOWEVER: While Truth may not need to be made "cool," it does need to be presented with beauty. BEAUTY captivates us more than TRUTH or GOODNESS (Peter Kreeft has an amazing talk about these three aspects of God on his website). Like a song that has the most truthful lyrics, but sung to a horrible tune, TRUTH without BEAUTY is not attractive. example? Jesus Christ did die to save us from our sins, but a man yelling at me those words is not going to make me want to believe that. However, a holy, joyful person (like Sister Olga from Boston College or Mother Antonia who works in prisons in Mexico) would completely convince me of that truth simply because they present it with so much beauty.So, while we don't need to make the Truth of our Catholic faith "cool," we do need to sing the song with a beautiful tune. (p.s. i just posted a blog called "coolest Catholic youth room ever!" I know that that youth room is not going to get teens coming to Church– the BEAUTY, TRUTH and GOODNESS of God is.)–Jackie Francois

  • A Geek’s Thoughts

    So true. Alot of youth ministties try to 'dumb it down' by talking 'at their level'. I'm thinking 'what level?'. Just give it to them straight. @J. – I completely but respectfully disagree. In my experience, many young adults/youth appreciate not only your time but showing them they're intelligent enough to take more than milk. Most of them appreciate character. Not you trying to be one.

  • Jen*rolls eyes*I'm a third year youth minister, and I've never used a "book" curriculum. I just allow the Holy Spirit go with ideas that I thought I needed to hear in high school. Every student has a copy of a Catholic Teen Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We might play some games and do goofy skits to wind em up a little bit, but They're learning the solid Truth, and they love it.

  • Michele

    Take a quick look at Mother Teresa's wrinkled old face. And John Paul II. Even Benedict XVI, for that matter. Nothing "cool" about them–by our cultural standards–nothing "hip". But take another look–and the words that come to mind are "authentic holiness". My experience has been that kids (and I've parented 6 of them and mothered many of their friends) are looking for the REAL. REAL hope, REAL holiness, REAL joy. Contact with the Face of Jesus in His distressing disguise, in the elderly, the handicapped, the terminally ill, the impoverished, the destitute, the addict, the homeless, the lonely…we want to know there is some power out there that can transform the impossible circumstances we encounter in this world into something beyond beautiful. I met Mother Teresa once in the 1970's, and asked her how I could become one of her sister's. She looked at me with those bright, wrinkled eyes and said very intently, that I was not needed in Calcutta. God needs you right here. Serve Him where ever He is, He can use YOU wherever YOU ARE." I was young and idealistic, and her authenticity continues to affect my walk with God to this day. THAT is what young people are seeking in our church, and that is what they respond to. God is in charge of this. We do not need to distract and do a soft-shoe to get their attention–they are already hungry and thirsty and searching. We only need to let them see the authentic truth our church is. They will follow. They DO! Watch World Youth Day coming up in August, if you have any doubts at all.

  • Marc

    ^these are some of the best comments on the Internet.

  • Jonah Arc

    Hey, I just wanted to say that I pretty much agree with your post, but I really think that teens need to find the balance between orthodoxy and charismatic forms of worship. As a teen I had to find that balance, and even though you kinda condemn the "gimmicks" and the "selling Catholicism", that's kind of what opened my eyes to being ok with my faith as an early teen. I thought it was kind of clever how people could relate God and Christ to the secular world. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think it's all that bad.

  • Amanda

    Yes! My husband and I get so annoyed by this! He's a Lutheran pastor, I'm a Catholic, and both places we see a lot of dumbed down youth curriculum and church events that amount to nothing more than a sugar high and bad Christian pop music. Ugh, drives us nuts! We get a lot of middle aged congregation members telling us we need to make the music more "modern" (meaning "How Great is our God" or "My Father's House") to attract the youth. Then we're left with the awkward conversation wherein we have to tell them they are old, that music is old, and that approach will only attract a few superficial middle-aged women, certainly not the teens and 20-somethings of our generation who are looking for meaningful worship. Jackie, very true about presenting God's truth in beauty. That seems such a natural progression of God's beauty.

  • Laura

    I know that this is late, but I just want to disagree with Clamburger's point, "it's not about numbers." Well, I agree with that part. But the part where he says that "it's about connecting kids who ARE looking . . ." etc. No!!!We can't be content to evangelize only those who are "easy" to evangelize to: the ones who learned Latin because they wanted to in second grade and are already Brahms prodigies at age 13: i.e., the kids who understand what many conservative Catholics define as "beauty." We cannot simply be pleased with our efforts to "evangelize" to teens who think that the Church is already cool. What evangelizing do they need? (Now they need faith formation.)But if we're going to talk about evangelizing: reaching out to teens who only see smoke when we see incense; who are reminded only of their grandmother when Palestrini is playedi; who cannot hear the linguistic loveliness of a sweetly intoned Latin Mass: then, then we can't hesitate to go out to them! Bringing in kids who may not "want" to be there for any other reason than the free Starbucks may not stroke our ego as much as discussing the Summa with a teen, but it is just as necessary.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! I linked to this at my blog today, hope that’s aight. (Next) Big Thing indeed.