Key findings about Catholic youth and young adults

Key findings about Catholic youth and young adults

Young people take part in one of the gatherings convened by the National Dialogue. Photo courtesy of the National Dialogue.

The conclusions of a recently completed examination of the pastoral needs of youth and young adults are important information for all vocation ministers. The National Religious Vocation Conference was one of approximately 75 Catholic organizations that took part in an extensive, multi-year process of listening to the concerns of young people and those who minister among them. Representatives from the NRVC attended several meetings during this process, providing the perspectives of professional vocation ministers.

The conclusions are significant for two major reasons. First, they matter because the form and process that led to the conclusions of the National Dialogue were highly inclusive and exhaustive. It’s important to listen to what emerges from such a thorough appraisal. Secondly, the conclusions of the National Dialogue matter because one of the key things young adults are asking for is accompaniment in vocational decisions, vocation in the broad sense of the word, not strictly entrance to a religious order.

Vocation ministers operate from two platforms and often move seamlessly between them. On the one hand, they invite people into their communities and walk with women and men interested specifically in religious life. On the other hand, vocation ministers also walk with young people who are uncertain about life direction and want the wisdom of the church to help them live Christian discipleship in general, not necessarily discipleship as a consecrated person. The National Dialogue report is a strong reminder that young people desire this second form of vocation ministry.

Following are excerpts directly from the final report of the National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults. Find the full report at

Context and rationale for engaging in the National Dialogue

An Opportunity for Ministerial Renewal, Growth, and Change

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis inspires us to confront the status quo of pastoral ministry. All who are involved in pastoral ministry with young Catholics must take a hard look at the sobering realities we face. These realities include:

• Families who often lack the capacity to fully form their children in the faith

• Parents and other adults who continue to leave the church in significant numbers

• Youth and young adults who are frequently inarticulate about the faith

• Hispanic (and other) young people and families who regularly find a less-than welcoming reception or helpful pastoral services

• Youth and young adults with little opportunity for a quality education that will assist them in becoming meaningfully employed and fully participating citizens

• Youth and young adults who are on the margins of society and church due to delinquency, gangs, drugs, criminal activity, and/or poverty

The pastoral challenges posited by Pope Francis and revealed by discerning observation, demand new ideas, creative energy, and a commitment between both laity and institutional church organizations to work together to spread the Gospel with authenticity, compassion, and mercy.
An important aspect of the National Dialogue was to bring together different models, approaches, movements, and ministerial contexts involved in ministries to youth and young adults to identify a shared commitment amid different models and contexts.

Ten main recommendations emerged

The recommendations, based on the National Dialogue data and conversations, include the following:

1. More intentionally connect the life of faith with the lived experiences of young people.
The National Dialogue observed that even active young people feel the Catholic Church does not show how faith is relevant to their daily lives, transitions, and lived experiences.

2. We all need to do more synodal listening to one another.
The recent experiences of the Synod, the V Encuentro, and the National Dialogue show that synodality is essential, especially listening to those from the peripheries and bringing in the voices of those who are not around the table.

3. Address the “authenticity gap.”
The National Dialogue revealed that the church needs to show more empathy and authentic engagement with the young, rather than empty platitudes or impatient judgment of the young and the disaffiliated.

4. Increase the investment in accompaniment.
We do not walk alone, and we need each other. The National Dialogue, echoing Christus Vivit, saw that the church must train more people in “the art of accompaniment” with youth and young adults, especially in the area of mental health.

5. Expand ministry with young adults.
All age groups and conversations with the National Dialogue noted the church’s significant lack of attention to young adults (ages 18-39) and expressed a strong recommendation to increase, invest in, and expand this ministerial area.

6. Reimagine faith formation.
There was regular encouragement in the National Dialogue to move away from a classroom model and toward more relevant learning models featuring mentorship, small groups, accompaniment, faith sharing, and
authentic witness.

7. Reconsider preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
There was a clear call to re-examine and reconsider how the church prepares young people for Confirmation.

8. Partner with parents and enhance family ministry.
Due to the concerns of ministry leaders and parents expressed in the National Dialogue, there must be increased dialogue and collaboration with families and the domestic church, including the growth of intergenerational/family ministries.

9. Transform ministry leadership.
It was evident in the National Dialogue feedback that the church needs to seriously address the formation, support, and resourcing of ministry leaders and create a culture of collaboration and unity across ministerial and ecclesial lines.

10. Embrace complexity.
Because of the plethora of findings from the data, and recognizing the needs of young people, families, and leaders are so vast, there is no “one size fits all” approach that can be taken; rather, leaning into this complexity is highly recommended.

Trends that emerged from the process

• The young people in these conversations are actively engaged in their faith, yet still struggle with the church.

• There is incredible diversity among youth and young adults in terms of culture, ecclesial perspective, spirituality, and lived experiences.

• An awareness and responsivity to this diversity may at times be lost in ministries with a diverse community of young people.

• Young people and ministry leaders want more listening as was found in the model of the National Dialogue, the V Encuentro, and the Synod.

• The participants, by and large, wanted to see church leadership and their fellow Christians be more authentic and less judgmental and divisive.

• The young people in these conversations have a very strong sense of mission; they want to change the world.

What young people are asking for

Youth asked the church for:

  1. a re-imagining of faith formation and Confirmation preparation, away from a classroom model

  2. greater intergenerational support, dialogue and mentorship

  3. more youth ministry programming

Young adults asked the church for:

  1. a more integrated and relevant approach to faith and everyday life

  2. more guidance and accompaniment during young adult transitions and vocational discernment

  3. more ministry opportunities for them as young adults, inclusive of increased funding and support for this ministerial area

About guidance and accompaniment

As young adulthood is a time of great transition, young adults want to know—from the church—how to best discern God’s call. The young adults themselves noted that discernment needs to be deeply enmeshed in the church’s ministry with their age demographic, and not just regarding priesthood or consecrated religious life; rather, discernment was called for in a broader sense. The young adult conversations discussed the need for the church to accompany them through the transitions in their lives, such as the journey from youth to young
adulthood; graduations (high school to college, college to the working world, etc.); new jobs and career paths; constant geographic movement and migration; serious relationships, engagements, and marriage; and parenting, among other major moves.

There is a strong call for mentorship and accompaniment, similar to what was asked for by the youth; however, in this context, it was focused on mentorship through those transitional experiences. The call for a cultivation of friendships and accompaniment pointed toward fostering peer relationships of support and accountability within church settings. This was echoed by the youth and ministry leader participants in the National Dialogue, but was heard strongest from the young adults.

Read the full report at

Excerpts reprinted with permission from National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults Final Report,

The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) digital assets contained in this work are used with permission and do not imply an endorsement by NFCYM.

Published on: 2021-11-02

Edition: 2021 HORIZON No. 4 Fall, Volume 46

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