By Don Boucher
One of the great joys and blessings of my ministry life takes place every two years, and although it’s one year away, the planning and preparation has already begun. The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), a biennial experience of faith and church for 23,000-plus youths and their adult leaders, will take place Nov. 21-23, 2019, once again in Indianapolis. I know many pastors, ministry leaders and parishes have supported the participation of their young people in this experience. This encouragement and support has resulted in our diocese having one of the largest delegations to NCYC. In 2017, with 824 attendees, we had the seventh-largest diocesan delegation in the country!
Success, however, is measured by the effect that such experiences have on the faith life of participants. I have heard that some question the return on investment, i.e., the cost of the experience, the fundraising needed and all the organizational work vs. the visible difference seen in youths when they return. In other words, people sometimes don’t see the results they’re looking for in young people after NCYC.
I have often wondered how to “measure” the effect that this experience has on one’s faith and Catholic identity. So, for NCYC 2017, I decided to try to measure it.
Borrowing an NCYC practice of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, which in 2017 had the largest diocesan delegation in the country at 1,800-plus participants, I asked our youths to complete an online survey while they were on the road returning from NCYC. One-third, or 197 youth participants, completed it. Here’s what we discovered:
• 154 (78 percent) had been confirmed, 57 (29 percent) attended a Catholic high school and 178 (90 percent) attend weekend Mass twice a month or more.
• Youths chose to go to NCYC to “to grow in my faith,” 107 (54 percent); “to learn about my faith,” 39 (20 percent). The remaining 51 responses (26 percent) were spread out among four other choices.
• When asked to indicate satisfaction on a scale from 1-10 (“Extremely Dissatisfied” to “Extremely Satisfied”), 166 of them (84 percent) chose 8, 9 or 10.
• Asked to choose from 16 statements on how well NCYC fulfilled them, participants could respond “Absolutely,” “For the Most Part,” “A Little” or “Not Really.” The top statements with an “Absolutely” rating:
• 158 (78 percent) — NCYC provided me with opportunities to experience reconciliation and Mass.
• 154 (78 percent) — NCYC made me feel comfortable being Catholic.
• 152 (77 percent) — NCYC made me feel like a part of a larger, universal Roman Catholic community.
• 141 (72 percent) — NCYC provided prayer experiences that were engaging and empowering to young people.
• 126 (64 percent) — NCYC helped me to feel loved and valued.
• 125 (63 percent) — NCYC helped me become more open to the idea of religion.
• 124 (63 percent) — NCYC helped me deepen my relationship with Christ.
• 119 (60 percent) — NCYC encouraged me to pray more.
• 112 (57 percent) — NCYC was what I needed, even if what I needed was different from other people at NCYC.
• 103 (52 percent) — NCYC gave me an opportunity to learn about the traditions and teachings of the church.
• 100 (51 percent) — NCYC helped me to make better moral decisions.
As the numbers show, NCYC evangelizes, deepens faith and strengthens Catholic identity. In the many years I have been leading delegations to NCYC, I have personally seen or been told about lives changed by this experience, either through a deepening of one’s faith, a deeper realization of God’s tremendous love and mercy, a realization of one’s place in the universal church or by a simple seed of faith being planted in a heart that blooms years later. I know of young people who met their future spouse at NCYC!
Is NCYC an experience for everyone? No. Is organizing and fundraising for NCYC taxing and demanding? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Should NCYC be offered to the young people of your parish? Absolutely. To not offer young people this opportunity is to deny them and their families the opportunity to experience God, Jesus and the breadth and depth of the Catholic faith and the church in a way that no other experience can or does.
In the early years of this century, a national study was conducted to try and determine what really works in youth ministry. The Effective Practices of Catholic Youth Ministry study found that “Extended trips, camps, national conferences and World Youth Day were important to youth and to the development of youth ministry.” NCYC falls into this category. With proper preparation of attendees prior to the experience and follow-up afterwards, NCYC can make any parish’s youth ministry much more effective.
Do your parish a big favor and offer NCYC for 2019. Give your young people the opportunity to see what it truly means to be “Blessed. Broken. Given.” (NCYC 2019 theme) The Office of Faith Formation has many resources to help your parish consider this opportunity, such as scholarships, preparation, follow-up resources and mentoring for first-time leaders and parishes.
Our diocesan team stands ready to assist you and your leaders.
(Don Boucher is coordinator of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Davenport.)