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Burlington County parish seeks to energize, engage millennials

November 18, 2016




“Results, Results, Results.”

Not only are those the words printed across the top of the plan Father Daniel Swift has in store for growing young adult ministry in his parish, St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, it’s what he hopes to achieve in the Diocese working with his fellow Faith In Our Future Cohorts.

Father Swift, parish pastor, recently returned from California with three of his parish team after taking part in a Parish Catalyst conference on millennial discipleship. Parish Catalyst is a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that aims to build vibrant parishes through research and peer collaboration.

“One thing we know about this generation is they are doers,” Father Swift said of millennials, typically defined as those born from 1980 to 2000. “They want to be involved now – not when they’re 40,” he said.

Sean and Mary Bell, who lead the parish’s young adult ministry and took part in Parish Catalyst, said there was a lot of discussion at the conference about who millennials are and what they are seeking.

“Millennials are searching for authenticity in people as well as experiences,” the couple responded together in an email. “Millennials are also very cause-driven. They like getting involved in things they feel very connected to. These are some promising qualities we hope to tap into in the coming months to get more young people involved and coming to Mass.”

“Young adults are the here and now,” they continued. “Millennials are getting married, having children, working or getting jobs and buying houses. They are very much a part of the present. Soon, our generation will be the majority. It is important to find ways to get millennials in the pews and involved in ministries for the continued growth of the Church.”

During the trip, Father Swift and his team interacted with Parish Catalyst representatives, guest speaker “gurus in young adult ministry” and teams from 11 other parishes around the country wanting to reach young adults. Though Parish Catalyst advisers were on hand, each parish created its own plan of action tailored to its needs.

“Parish Catalyst gives you the tools to strategize. They feed your ideas and get you thinking outside the box,” Father Swift said. “We created a great strategic plan we wouldn’t have come up with on our own. It’s a commitment, yes, but it’s good stewardship,” he said, adding that the plan’s intent is to take the talent of young adults and “increase it for the Lord.”

To that end, the team returned with the idea to recruit young adults from not only within the parish, but also from their fellow Cohorts – the groups formed under Faith In Our Future, the planning process meant to strengthen and enliven the Diocese’s parishes and ministries.

The young adult team from St. Mary of the Lakes – led by the Bells – will be reaching out to the young adult leaders in the other southern Burlington cohort parishes to create a plan to personally greet young adults in each parish and invite them to a nice, sit-down dinner at St. Mary’s. The intent of the dinner is to create an opportunity not only for the millennials to get acquainted but to spur them to be part of young adult ministry.

“Hopefully by gathering a larger number of people, we can create a sense of community that will be inviting to other young adults,” the Bells said. “We also hope to gather many different ideas from these young people. We want to find out what young people are looking for and how we can incorporate that into our group as well as other groups.

“The goal is to triple our group size and ultimately get more young adults coming to Church on a regular basis. Our plan will hopefully energize some of the young people in surrounding parishes to start their own young adult ministries,” they said.

Information and ideas from the dinner will be collected, analyzed and put into action over the beginning months of the new year. In mid-spring, Father Swift and his team will return to Parish Catalyst to create a new plan in its ongoing mission. Parish Catalyst is an 18-month process.

“What I like is every time you go to Parish Catalyst, you come back with a strategic plan to put in place,” he said.

Father Swift, one of two assistant vocation directors for the Diocese, is no stranger to the nonprofit. He worked with Parish Catalyst two years ago when his former parish, St. Benedict, Holmdel, was selected to participate in the organization’s goal of energizing and engaging parishioners.

He hopes the young adult outreach is successful enough to be held up as an example for other parishes to utilize as well.

“[I hope] that we would be cutting edge enough that we have a thriving young adult ministry for the Diocese so other cohorts could replicate it.”

The Bells said they believe young people are looking for a sense of community. “By creating smaller parish communities for young people as well as the larger cohort community, we feel encouraged that other millennials motivated by Christ will join us.”

By Jennifer Mauro

Photo from left, young adult ministers Sean and Mary Bell, Christine Brandt, pastoral minister, and Father Daniel Swift, pastor – all of St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford – pose with their plan for millennial ministry during their Parish Catalyst trip to California. Photo courtesy of Father Daniel Swift

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