In Young Life, we strive to build leadership teams that reflect the communities we serve. We’ve learned that if our teams lack diversity in ethnicity, gender, and ability, we have a harder time earning the right to be heard. And our president, Newt Crenshaw, often reminds us that if we don’t intentionally include those who are different from us, we will unintentionally exclude them.
I believe this same rule applies when it comes to ecumenical diversity. We are an ecumenical ministry; it’s one of our core values. But while 50% of the world’s Christian population is Catholic, less than 1% of Young Life staff and volunteers are Catholic. The good news is that I believe there are thousands of Catholics who would volunteer for Young Life or come on staff if only we invited them.
Perhaps you serve a community that is predominantly Protestant. Maybe it’s well known for being unchurched. Perhaps you work in a Catholic community. Study up on the denominational demographics of your area and see if your staff and volunteers mirror what you find. If you learn your team could use a few more Catholics, read below for some ways to welcome them.
GATHERING CATHOLIC LEADERS INCLUDES:
CONTACT WORK WITH ADULTS
Reach out to the parents of your Young Life kids who are Catholic. Invite the youth leader at the local Catholic parish to meet you for coffee. Explain that a portion of your
Young Life students identify as Catholic but your volunteer team doesn’t include many Catholics. Ask if they can connect you with some potential volunteers, and just as you did when gathering the rest of your team, find people who love Jesus and love kids.
EXPLAINING YOUNG LIFE IN TERMS CATHOLICS UNDERSTAND
Don’t confuse Catholics by describing Young Life as a para-church ministry or an interdenominational ministry; use the word ecumenical. Most Catholics know this word. Explain the relational aspect of Young Life, which is very different from a church youth group or retreat. Describe how Young Life leaders go out to where the kids are, meeting them at track meets and coffee shops. And how we seek to find unchurched or disconnected kids.
ANSWERING THE “BUT IS IT CATHOLIC?” QUESTION
No, Young Life is not a Catholic ministry. It’s also not Baptist or Lutheran or Presbyterian. Share that Young Life focuses on the proclamation of the gospel, what Catholics call “the kerygma,” and that Young Life believes denomination-specific doctrine and lifelong faith formation is the work of the church. Share how Young Life is not a church but the “the missionary arm of the church,” seeking out disconnected kids, helping them develop a relationship with God, and plugging them into churches. Catholics who understand Young Life often describe it as “a tool for evangelization.” Adopt that phrase. And yes, evangelization means the same thing as evangelism.
INVITING CATHOLICS TO CAMP
As you already know, nothing fosters an understanding of Young Life like a trip to camp. Many Catholics have visited church camps but have never seen an outreach camp. They will appreciate the progression of how Young Life shares the gospel message over the course of several days. They will be encouraged by the intentional relationships between leaders and students, relationships that began long before the camp trip. They will enjoy the skits, games, and music and will be inspired by the adventure of camp.
If you befriend some Catholics, explain what differentiates Young Life from a church youth group, and give people a chance to come and see Young Life in action, they will catch this vision and want to join you.