A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Reclaiming Generation Y

Bill Lambert

Bill Lambert

GENERATION Y is short hand for the generation of the new Millennium, born in the mid-80s and later. They follow Generation X,born in the 60s and 70s, who are in turn the children of the Baby Boomers - the post war generation.

One of the saddest sights today is a church with few young people at Sunday Mass… particularly so for parents who watch the teenagers they have brought up as Catholics cast aside the faith of their fathers like a worn-out shirt.

A major part of the problem is the generation gap. We oldies don’t take so much account of it, but to the youngsters it is a yawning abyss. To see things from their point of view, let’s look at just how much ideas have changed….

Folk of my generation – I’m 82 – remember a society where the iron rule was conformity. All the houses in Wellington were painted cream with red roofs. If you wanted to outdo your neighbour, you painted your house a darker shade of cream. Motor cars were available in dull tones - dark blue, green, buff. Men ran the world; women ran the home. Public demonstration of emotions and feelings – like hugging or crying - was “not done.”

Growing up was to follow the example of your father or your mother and do things the way they did. And that applied particularly in practising the Catholic Faith. But it is a radically different society today.

So bearing this in mind, how do we attract “Generation Y” back to their faith? The Pentecostal churches are filled with young people – so it can be done. What are they doing that we aren’t?highchair

The answer is dead simple; they are keeping up with the times. They are catering for the enthusiasm, the idealism and the restless energy that drives the “Y” generation. Their songs are modern; their services are powered with enthusiasm and they make use of the effective communication tools of modern technology.

We may need different Masses for both generations. In my church of St Patrick’s, Kapiti, we have regular Masses in Maori. So why can’t we have a more up-beat Mass to appeal to the younger folk? The oldies can stay with what we have.

So how do we attract “Generation Y” back into the faith?

First, this programme should begin before they leave school – or you’ve already lost them. We need to embark on an effective programme to embrace “Generation Y”, starting with an overhaul of our Catholic education system...

It isn’t enough to assume that being brought up in the faith that they will continue to live it. Each one needs the opportunity to make a personal commitment to Christ, and to invite the Holy Spirit to take over his or her life. I believe this opportunity is provided by the sacrament of Confirmation, but we have advanced this sacrament to an earlier age when its significance is not fully appreciated. It should be the culmination of an extended Life in the Spirit seminar. …. a personal and major spiritual experience, and a turning point in their lives.

Returning to the “generation gap”, another big difference today is that the young have choices today which were not open to their parents. At school our religion was programmed into us, rather than taught. Firmer parental authority gave us no choice whether we went to Mass. Today parents have to influence their children to remain in their faith – but many are failing to do so.

We need special services for the younger generation - probably on a Sunday evening. They should be conducted by young lay leaders - perhaps a communion service rather than a Mass if we don’t have enough priests. There should be young people talking to young people, sharing spiritual experiences, giving testimonies.

If they are Masses, let them be Charismatic style with open demonstrations of faith, joy and worship – clapping and raising hands. Hymns accompanied by guitars are not enough. The music needs to be more up-beat. We could dramatise the Mass more effectively with modern communications technology and videos.

To keep them in the faith we should cater also for young families - provide support like baby sitting, social occasions. The Passionist Family movement is a step in the right direction. In a local Pentecostal church I saw high chairs! What does that tell you?

The laity will have to take increasing responsibility for ministering the Faith. In pre-Vatican II times the priest did everything. Now we have so few priests that the laity have to take a far more active part than they used to.

We don’t have to look around all the grey heads at mass and wonder who will be there in another 20 years. We need to do something about it now.  


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