An image shows the training manual for Sprint, an Anthem program to support and train parish youth ministers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Young people are the life-blood of the church, and it is vital that parishes do everything they can to reach the youth in their churches. Sadly, more and more of the younger generations are leaving Catholicism and identifying themselves as “nones” — no religious preference.

While parents are the most important figures in a child’s faith development, a strong youth ministry is vital to the health of any parish. That is why Anthem, the youth and young adult ministry of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has created the three-day Sprint program.

Modeled after a rapid-task completion technique popular in the private sector, Anthem’s Sprint program is designed to help parish youth ministers in their mission to instill faith and understanding in the young people of their parish.

By incorporating this program with innovative ministry methods like YDisciple as well as other faith experts, Sprint helps teach youth ministers how to build up an army of fellow ministers within their parish so that good youth ministry is sustainable even when those ministers move on.

“Part of the challenge is that (youth ministers) feel isolated and alone,” said Jacob King, director of Anthem. “The tendency is to go into savior mode” in which an individual takes on too many roles and tries to do too much. “The burnout rate for youth ministers tends to be eight to ten months.”

Having a strong team working alongside the youth minister, however, can lead to sustained success. King would know. He and Anthem teammate Megan Mastroianni have both worked as youth ministers, and they learned a lot about what it takes to be successful and just how important quality youth ministry is.

“The youth right now need a bridge of trust to the church,” said Mastroianni. “The age-old saying, ‘go out and make disciples’ hasn’t gotten old and having disciples dedicated to youth ministry gives great honor and dignity to the youth. It’s important for us to be advocates for those ministers.”

In the past, youth ministers often learned from traveling speakers or from attending conferences. But once these events were over, the ministers were on their own once more.

The Sprint program is different because it allows ongoing collaboration between fellow youth ministers and encourages them to co-innovate new techniques and tactics for fostering faith in the next generation.

The Anthem team assembled knowledge from some of the best and most effective leaders in ministry today, and molded it into something specifically catering to the Philadelphia Archdiocese. By coming together to learn as well as plan, youth ministers are able to tailor a plan specifically for their youth group, creating dynamic ministries that serve the specific needs and qualities of each individual parish.

Another advantage of the Sprint program is that it allows for a closer relationship between youth ministry and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Seminarians are already encouraged to form healthy relationships with the young adults in the archdiocese, and now Anthem is helping them get to know what youth ministers do and how important they are to a parish.

Instilling a greater appreciation for and understanding of youth ministry in the hearts of future priests is key to creating a vibrant and faith-filled youth movement in the archdiocese, Anthem leaders believe.

“We will do whatever we can to help parishes invest in the youth ministers, to help them be the best they can be,” Mastroianni said. “The youth bring life and joy to the church that it needs.”

So far, Anthem has conducted three Sprint sessions, which involved youth ministers from around the archdiocese on a trial run. These ministers gave both recommendations for how to improve the Sprints and feedback on how they felt about the program.

Zac Moren, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at St. Rose of Lima Parish in North Wales, said Sprint “is the professional development I’ve wanted in Philadelphia for years! It wasn’t like your typical training where you have a guest speaker come from out of town and teach everyone their views on youth ministry.

“The Sprint is a process that walked through the problems and needs specific to my own ministry and allowed me to work with my team to articulate a ministry vision that will allow us to form lifelong disciples.”

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To learn more about the Sprint program, contact the Anthem Philly team.