Workshop Centers on Engaging Generation Z Through Youth Ministry

Listening to speaker Tom East at the workshop “Ministry with Gen Z and Their Families” Nov. 17 at St. Thomas More, Allentown are, from left, Carla Kologie, John Wagstaff, Josette Peckman, Ann Pergosky and Kevin Kimmel. (Photos by John Simitz)

Staff writer

“Inspire them with Jesus’ vision – the Kingdom of God,” said Tom East of the Center for Ministry Development, Gig Harbor, Washington, presenter of the workshop “Ministry with Gen Z and Their Families” Nov. 17 at St. Thomas More, Allentown.

The workshop shared the research about Gen Z youth and their families, along with effective ways for parishes to engage youth and their families. There were also practical ideas and starting points within these topics as the session explored the ministry implications for youth ministry, catechesis, sacramental preparation and parish life.

The workshop was designed for all parish leaders whose ministries touch the lives of adolescents – including pastors, deacons, pastoral associates, coordinators of youth ministry, leaders in faith formation, catechists, Confirmation preparation leaders and service/social concerns leaders.

The workshop was facilitated by the Center for Ministry Development, The center promotes the development of ministry and catechesis with youth and families through leadership formation, service learning, and resources rooted in Catholic tradition and Scripture. The vision statement of the center is reflected in three words: faithful, innovative and practical.

The Diocesan Office of Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry (OYYAFM) sponsored the event.

Those attending included Thea Aclo, director of OYYAFM; and Francesca Frias, assistant coordinator of OYYAFM.

Three sessions were offered: “Meet Gen Z/Meet Their Parents/Explore Ministry Implications”; “Reimagine Ministry/Inspire the Change Makers/Evangelize Through Technology”; and “Empower Family Faith/Transform Ministries/Name Your Starting Points.”

“Meet Gen Z/Meet Their Parents/Explore Ministry Implications” helped participants listen to and learn more about the youth of Generation Z, get to know their Gen X parents and begin to explore what this means for the ministry of evangelization.

“Reimagine Ministry/Inspire the Change Makers/Evangelize Through Technology” delved into what kind of ministry inspires, engages and forms this generation?

In this session, participants reimagined all of youth ministry as connecting young people and their families to deeper friendship with Christ. Participants considered new resources for helping youth participate in building God’s kingdom and evangelizing youth through technology.

“Empower Family Faith/Transform Ministries/Name Your Starting Points” considered resources and strategies for equipping families to grow in and share faith.

Participants looked at the best practices of parishes who are building relationships with youth and engaging them in active participation. This included an opportunity to look at the starting points for each of the parish communities.

Presenting the morning session “Reimagine Ministry/Inspire the Change Makers/Evangelize Through Technology,” East said members of Gen Z are “kingdom builders,” and spoke of a youth group choosing service projects sometimes tied to the preparation for confirmation, such as planning Vacation Bible School.

“This generation are change makers. They hunger for a cause bigger than themselves.”
East shared the story of a youth group whose project was Humanitarian Land-Mapping for Lesotho, Southeast Africa.

“They didn’t have any good maps in Lesotho, so this high school in Ireland partnered with a high school in Lesotho, and these kids made 3-D mapping so people could even see their farms,” East said.

How did they empower members of Gen Z in ministry projects? East cited five steps: empathize, define, ideate (creation of ideas), prototype (an idea you can test) and test (is it matched with the needs you are trying to address?”

“Building empathy doesn’t just build better projects but better disciples, better people,” East said. “Spend time in the shoes of the people you want to serve.”

“Define the problem you want to solve,” East said, for example something very specific, like “You could define how to design a better way to plant ‘teff’ in Ethiopoa.”

Teff is a fine grain – about the size of a poppy seed – that comes in a variety of colors, from white and red to dark brown. It is an ancient grain from Ethiopia and Eritrea, and comprises the staple grain of their cuisines.

“Leverage the creative power of the group by brainstorming,” East said as he discussed ideation. “Its quality over quantity of ideas,” he added.

“Think of an issue about which your youth are passionate and write a six-word memoir,” East suggested.

For example, he showed a memoir for the injustice your youth want to fix with a photo of a young girl with the words “Not For Sale.” The memoir: “In God’s image: not for sale.”

East noted the famous six-word memoir usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” That memoir really makes the reader wonder about what happened to create that scenario.

“Build your prototype, though Church language may be more likely to use the word pilot,” East said. “Test it from the viewpoint of the people who are using it.” For example, East spoke about programs for the homeless of which many homeless people were not aware, so a group created a process so they’d know what’s available.

“Then test it,” East said, noting this could possibly be done as part of the confirmation process or on a retreat.

“Inspire change makers to find a project that taps into their passions and let them run with their ideas.”