FORT WAYNE — How can parishes engage the millennial generation? Frank Mercadante, the executive director of Cultivation Ministries and author of “Engaging A New Generation,” published by Our Sunday Visitor, helped parish youth directors and those who work with adolescents develop a greater understanding of today’s teens — the millennial generation of ages 11 to 31 — and then offered tips to develop a thriving youth ministry team.
His workshop, offered in Fort Wayne at the Archbishop Noll Catholic on Aug. 2 and at St. Bavo Parish in Mishawaka on Aug. 3, was sponsored by the diocesan Office of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry.
Mercadante, and his wife Diane, are the parents of six children who are now in their 20s and 30s. He worked as the director of youth ministry for 10 years at St. John Neumann in St. Charles, Ill., before becoming the executive director of Cultivation Ministries for over 20 years. He has designed and written extensive youth ministry training planning manuals that are used to help train and equip student leaders and adult youth workers internationally. Additionally, Mercadante has authored the books “Growing Teen Disciples,” “Positively Dangerous,” and “Make It Real” from St. Mary’s Press and “Disciples in Mission Small Group Leaders Guide for Teens” from PNCEA.
“Evangelization is as Catholic as the Eucharist,” he told the workshop participants. While in the past, religious orders provided much of the work of evangelization, it is actually part of “our call to Baptism,” he noted. “We are called to evangelize. It’s the purpose of our call. Our whole mission is evangelization.”
He noted the Church has a problem — there is a steady decrease in Mass attendance, and at 18 percent, millennials have the lowest church attendance.
During the morning session of the Fort Wayne workshop, Mercadante examined three cultural shifts and their evangelistic and pastoral implications: epistemological (from a modern to postmodern understanding of the world), generational and communications.
He discussed challenges the Catholic Church faces to deal with these changes. Millennials — and several millennials at the workshop serve at their parishes in youth ministry — offer the intuitive understanding that parishes need to innovate. Mercadante cautioned that sometimes the millennials are expected to become part of the parish establishment and their intuitive innovations set aside.
Mercadante shared some general characteristics of the millennial generation. The millennial generation is the largest generation of 80 million strong. They are the most educated generation. They are digitally oriented. They like smaller venues, like to be engaged, like to interact, and are community oriented and hands-on.
Mercadante noted that millennials, made to feel special by their parents, also want to feel special in their parishes. They like to get attention. If the Church is not attentive, then the millennials will dismiss Church.
He asked, “Are we giving you people roles in our community?” They thrive on personal connection.
He also asked, “Are we challenging young people to be saints?” The millennials want a special mission.
Mercandate emphasized that surveys show that millennials want a welcoming atmosphere where they can be themselves in their parish community. Second was quality relationships with other teenagers.
In the afternoon session, Mercadante offered suggestions for parishes to develop a thriving youth ministry team by effectively recruiting, efficiently managing, and carefully growing a dynamic, self-replicating adult ministry team.
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