The Seven Basic Models of Youth Ministry – PART 1

Introduction to Models

Engineering helps one understand processes and structures that begin with raw materials and seek to produce specific products. Though I left engineering to follow God’s call to the priesthood, later when I started youth ministry I couldn’t help but notice engineering principles also in youth work. I began quickly to see youth ministry as a process of evangelization that spanned all the stages of youth: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood. In order to be successful, youth workers would need to rely both on grace and nature throughout this whole process. Grace is always provided for, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the Church’s teaching and sacraments. However, “nature” is our contribution.

Myself included, I noticed that many priests, youth ministers, adult volunteers, teachers, etc., often felt frustrated that they didn’t understand how to reach teens and young adults. Furthermore, I noticed that many large organizations didn’t always have a clear “process” for evangelizing teens. Though parishes have CCD programs and youth ministries, and schools have Catholic Education classes and other opportunities, there always seemed to be something wrong, something missing! Something always didn’t “work”! It was never “enough”. And I perceived it was more than simply a negative perspective from the leaders.

cover of the book

I’ve let these ideas simmer in the back of my mind for many years, up until now. Recently I read a very insightful book by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles called Models of the Church. It was a God-send! Dulles realized that the Church, itself a mystery, could never be grasped by any one “model”, such as “institution”, “communion”, “herald”, “sacrament”, etc.. Rather, we could grow in our understanding of the Church by understanding all the various “models” of the Church presented by Revelation. The Church’s evangelization depends on its ability to apply the correct models for the various cultures, epochs and circumstances.

Why Should I Read this Article on “Models of Youth Ministry”?

So here’s the idea: I propose 7 models of youth ministry. By understanding these models youth workers and church leaders should then better understand the processes available for evangelizing youth, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, this will lead to:

  • clearer strategy,
  • greater realism,
  • a sense of direction,
  • acceptance and correction of weaknesses,
  • perseverance in youth ministry,
  • and a desire to work together with other youth workers and other organizations.

The Principles behind Models

Dulles wrote that when a “theologian uses images he does for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the mysteries of faith or … of the Church.” Jesus, for example, used many images to describe the Kingdom of God: mustard seed, vineyard, pearl, yeast in dough, etc.. The jump to a “model” happens when “an image is employed reflectively and critically to deepen one’s theoretical understanding of a reality.” (cf. Models of the Church, chapter 1, both quotes) Sciences also use models. So in this article I propose the term “youth ministry model” to represent the seven basic, unaltered structures available to carry out an effective youth ministry. (If this is hard to understand, it should be much clearer after you’ve finished reading the seven basic models I propose below.)

Every model ends up optimizing some aspects while neglecting others. The same is true of youth ministry. Hence, no model is complete, and therefore it is impossible to find a single perfect model. For this reason models can be combined intelligently so their positive aspects offset their negative aspects.

The three basic principles behind models are the following:

  1. Every model seeks to be complete
  2. Yet no model is complete
  3. Models can be combined

It’s precisely these three principles that leads to clear strategic planning once circumstances (location, personnel, resources, culture, etc.) are understood. First of all, a clear understanding of the models will help directors (whether individual youth ministers, dioceses, parishes, congregations, or other organizations) choose the best fit for them. Secondly, it’s precisely because directors don’t understand how models operate and how they combine that they end up with the feeling they are not building anything solid or worthwhile. This leads to frustration and ineffectiveness.

  1. Understand your circumstances, culture, resources, etc..
  2. Choose the model that fits best for you or your organization
  3. Stay focused on the positive aspects!
  4. Plan on intelligently combining with another model so as to offset its weaknesses.
  5. Persevere!

Models of Youth Ministry

The Seven Models

Below is a mere list of the seven models and what they focus their energy on, as well as some examples. Click to the next article, Part 2 of Models, to read a detailed account of each model.

  1. The Club Center model focuses on maintaining structure and formal membership. Some examples are Club Faro in Mexico and the YMCA.
  2. The Complementary Program model focuses on training volunteers and promoting larger, unifying formative activities. Some examples are Conquest, LTP, Challenge, Pure Fashion, Lifeteen; Karios Retreats, Awakening, Search Retreats; most CCD Programs.
  3. The Community of Disciples model focuses on individual spiritual direction and building small groups. Some examples are Evangelization circles, Bible study groups, faith and action circles.
  4. The Institutional model focuses on maintaining a parish or school. The examples are everywhere: Catholic schools and universities.
  5. The Substitution model focuses on fulfilling an established parish or school role. This isn’t necessarily the same as the Institutional model because it’s viewed from the perspective of an outside religious congregation or apostolic society. For example, these priests and religious take on the role of parish priests and youth ministers, school chaplaincy or teachers.
  6. The Herald model is about distributing a specific service in a unique way to as many as possible. Some examples are FOCUS, NET, Spiritus; Totus Tuus; Mission Youth; Jason Evert, Christopher West, and other speakers.
  7. The Pedagogy model is about research & development and the training of adult mentors. Some examples are the many youth ministry degrees around the country and the various websites and blogs that supply youth ministers with ideas and resources (like this one!

PART 2: 7 Models of Youth Ministry

That’s it for this article! Click here for Part 2 to read more details of each model of youth ministry. 

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[ Click here to learn about my book series on the Adolescent Jesus]