When I visit congregations and tell leaders about the cool programs and events we offer for youth in the Diocese of Chicago, I’m always met with enthusiasm. Leaders, parents, and clergy are supportive and excited by what diocesan youth programs provide for faith formation and connection to the wider Church. And then the practical question arises, “How do we get youth from our parish to attend these events if they’ve never been to one before?” The reality is that there are some barriers to going to events like these for the first time. And most leaders don’t need to be convinced that these programs are valuable. They just want to know, “How do we get them to go?”
I think this is a really valid question and one that I know can be challenging. There are probably many aspects involved, but I’d like to start with simply making a good invitation and what that might look like. The way we get anyone to try something usually starts there. And some invitations are just more, well, inviting. Consider this one for example:
“I heard about this great weekend retreat for teenagers. It sounds fun. I think you should go.”
This isn’t bad, but this kind of invitation just doesn’t compel us. We’re probably more likely to file the information away for further reference than we are to act. Why is that? Let’s try it a different way and see if we can improve. How about this?
“There is a youth retreat coming up in a few months. I went to it last year, and I loved it. I think you’d love it too. Want to go with me?”
I think most of us find this more inviting. And that makes sense because “you should go” isn’t really an invitation. It’s more of a suggestion. On the other hand “do you want to go with me” sounds so much more attractive. It’s wrapped up with relationship, connection, and safety. And it doesn’t hurt that our friend “went last year.” First hand experience always feels more reliable.
I think a great place for adults to start would be attending a diocesan youth event as a chaperone or volunteer. Or even make arrangements to visit for part of an event. The fact that you’ve “already been” will lend credibility and probably add excitement to the invitation.
But even if you’re not able to visit an event before telling youth about it, the second part is still what is crucial. Do you want to come with me? Wouldn’t we all rather go into a new situation with someone we know rather than by ourselves?