Workshop focuses on trends in teaching faith to youth

COLUMBIA—The old way of doing things won’t cut it anymore when it comes to teaching  adolescents and teens about their faith.

Youth, who spend their days immersed in technology and an increasingly secular culture, won’t get what they need from a few Scripture study sessions and general discussions about the sacraments. And many of them need to stop believing that studying their faith ends with confirmation, said Ela Milewska, project coordinator for the National Initiative on Adolescent Catechesis (

The new focus on teaching young people is necessary because of alarming faith trends nationwide. A 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life called “Faith in Flux” revealed that about 45 percent of people leave the faith they were raised in, and between 63-80 percent do so between the ages of 13-23.

Other studies showed that Catholic youth have a hard time articulating what they believe to others, although that may be partly because some church doctrines and beliefs are complicated.

Part of this trend is because young Catholics today are raised in more diverse, suburban cultures instead of being “marinated in the faith” like they used to be in the concentrated, heavily Catholic urban communities of the early and mid-20th century, Milewska said during the “Transforming Adolescent Catechesis” workshop for parish youth leaders held at St. Peter Church in Columbia.

As a result, too many youth and adults, for that matter, are buying into what religious scholars call “moralistic therapeutic deism” which basically says: “There is a God and God wants me to be good and go to heaven.”

Milewska said this kind of faith is self-centered and offers little room for moral accountability, strong Catholic identity or a consistent ethic of service to others.

The key to vibrant youth catechesis is to become aware of the different needs of young people and families in a parish, provide many different opportunities for learning about the faith, and stress the importance of discipleship and service, he said. Those two things especially will help teens grow into adults with a commitment to Christ and serving others.

The workshop also included a session on using “Youcat” ( to help young people learn more about the basics of the faith. “Youcat” was developed by the German, Austrian and Swiss bishops’ conferences after a woman stood up at a 2006 discussion session on the catechism and said the format was not useful for young people.