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The answer to a “crisis of discipleship”


OSV Institute

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 09/11/21

Ministry expert Pete Burak is on a mission to change “the young adult ministry death cycle.”

Have you had this kind of experience? You showed up for a young adult ministry event, and found yourself in “an ugly church basement with pearlescent lighting, sitting in a very rickety plastic chair around a white plastic table, eating pizza with lukewarm Mountain Dew,” and wondering, “Is this the best the Church can offer?”

This is a common experience of Catholic young adult ministry, and ministry expert Pete Burak is on a mission to change what he calls the “the young adult ministry death cycle.” 

“Many of our efforts to engage, form, and equip young women and men are stale, outdated, and uninspiring,” he said in an interview with Aleteia. “My generation has heard what to do and how to do it, but rarely why. We’ve been catechized, and sacramentalized, but not evangelized.”

He’s describing something that is an issue in much of the world. Pope Benedict XVI coined the phrase “crisis of discipleship” to describe this major problem in today’s Church. 

The reasons are complex, but the result is undeniable: Handing down the faith to the next generation is failing, on a mass scale: 

Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S … There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith.

All kinds of efforts are being made to change this trajectory. There are new ministries, innovative projects, and even books researching the subject. 

Each of these projects is having some effect. But perhaps the biggest change we need to see is not in our efforts, but in ourselves. At least that’s the proposal of Burak, who deeply understands evangelization in today’s world.

Pete Burak knows young adult ministry inside and out. He’s the director of id, the young adult outreach of Renewal Ministries. A 2010 graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, with a Master’s Degree in Theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, Burak is a frequent speaker on discipleship and evangelization. 

He also serves as the co-director of Pine Hills Boys Camp, co-founder of the Millennial Church Conference, a monthly columnist for Faith Magazine, host of a weekly podcast called The Hour, and a member of the USCCB Young Adult Advisory Committee. And in case he doesn’t sound busy enough, Pete and his wife Cait have four children!

In his recent OSV Talk, The Young Adult Ministry Death Cycle,Burak describes how Catholic young adult ministry is often lackluster. He’s found that the majority of Catholic young adult groups and ministers follow a three-year cycle before fizzling out. 

What we need is not more or better content. We need spirit-filled disciples living in communion to accomplish the mission of the Church, he says. The Talk contains his hard-won wisdom on how we can begin to end this young adult ministry “death cycle.”

The video is one in a series of OSV Talks, which shine a light on creative means of evangelization, springing from the wisdom and deep prayer that energize these approaches. The talks, which are similar to TED Talks but with a Catholic focus, are free and all available to watch at You can view Pete Burak’s talk here:

Burak uses the analogy of arrows hitting a target to explain how ministry needs to change. He says in his talk,

What we often do with young adult ministry is we paint a target of where we want to go, and then we produce all these arrows to hit the target … Most of the time, the arrows go everywhere … [But] it’s not so much about the arrows … It’s about the archer. We need to invest in the archers. Because a good archer can take a bad arrow and still hit the target. And a good archer can take a perfect arrow and really hit the target.

In other words, the usual efforts can only do so much. What really matters is forming young people who are living as intentional disciples of Christ.

“We don’t need the Gospel watered down, nor do we need Church entertainment,” he says. “We need leadership, vision, invitation, challenge, the dynamic biblical worldview, friendship, authentic community, and a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ.”

If you’re involved in forming the next generation of Catholics, it’s time for an honest assessment of what we’re facing. Yet this “crisis of discipleship” is not a reason to give up hope. Rather, we can be inspired to do something about it. We can find new ways to bring truth to a world that desperately needs it. 

“I want people to recommit to passionately bringing Jesus to the next generation with confidence, hope, and trust in the Lord,” Burak says. It’s time to ask ourselves, “How can we be the saintly leaders the Church needs?” It’s that kind of inner transformation that makes “the best the Church can offer” something truly inspiring, beautiful, and good.

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