Youth discipleship growing at Holy Spirit Church, Fargo

by Aliceyn Magelky

The Faithful Five, a 7th grade youth discipleship group from Holy Spirit, Fargo, posed for a picture with their mentor, Jennie Rivard, following a weekly small group meeting. (submitted photo)

Discipleship is an apprenticeship in living a Christian life. Jesus knew he needed to personally care for and form a small group of men who would in turn do the same thing for others. In the end, this approach would multiply disciples and reach the masses, which is why he asked us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

This past fall, Holy Spirit Church in Fargo applied this approach to its youth ministry by launching Youth Discipleship Groups. The purpose is to create a parent-driven, small group environment of discipleship that meets the needs of teens to be understood, to belong, to be transparent, to engage in critical thinking about their faith, and to receive guidance.

Currently, about 60 middle and high school students at Holy Spirit are part of the Youth Discipleship Groups. Each group meets weekly and has five or six members of the same gender close in age who are ideally already friends. A lead parent collaborates with one to two adult mentors to establish meeting time, location, and the general direction the group will follow.

“The group meetings follow the format of connecting, discussing, and committing,” said Stella Jeffrey, Youth Discipleship Coordinator. “Students use resources from YDisciples found on Formed.org combined with diocesan mandates and other tools.”

The idea is that each group spends time gathering in fellowship, praying together, going through a lesson with discussion, and committing to applying what was learned to real life. Additionally, members meet for fellowship and provide services for others.

“The beauty of discipleship and this approach is there is time,” said Jeffrey. “There is more time to dissect and move through topics. It’s not just starting a fire, it is building and growing it. I’ll admit, a large group has a lot of flash but on a week-to-week basis, we live our faith in a smaller group.”

Pope Francis clearly states the importance of small groups in Evangelii Gaudiumm saying young people are searching for deep spirituality and belonging but often fail to find responses to their concerns, needs, problems, and hurts in the usual structures. In a small group, a teen can feel known, loved, and cared for.

“It is not just a group of kids listening to a lecture. They are able to address issues meaningful to them. I think its impact can far outreach any classroom setting,” said Lisa Swan, lead parent of the 7th grade Faithful Five group.

Michelle Dunn, lead parent for the 9th grade group concurs, saying, “It [small group] makes it more personal. In a small group, you can’t hide. You’re not invisible. Your faith life becomes more exposed and personal.”

While the general approach to meetings and activities are the same, each group takes on its own form based on the personalities of its members.

For example, the Faithful Five gathers weekly at the home of the group’s mentor, Jennie Rivard. Upon entering the cozy, warmly lit sunroom of Rivard’s house, the girls bless themselves with holy water and prepare for prayer and discussion. This group starts with a decade of the rosary and a lesson.

Though the group is new, already parents see a transformation in their teens. “My daughter is more open to tell me what they did and what they talked about,” said Swan.

“The group as a whole didn’t really know a lot about their faith, but I feel like they really learned a lot this year,” continues Rivard.

The girls noticed a change in themselves, too. During a recent meeting the girls reflected on ways they have grown in their faith. Several commented on their strengthened prayer lives and feeling closer to God.

Aside from meeting weekly, the Faithful Five volunteered at the parish’s annual Wine and Dine fundraiser, helped serve coffee and rolls on Sunday, and attended Mass together. They also focus on extra acts of kindness towards one another.

One way is through a birthday candle activity, which is an overwhelming favorite of the girls. The practice was started at Christmas where each girl had a chance to hold a candle. While each girl was holding the candle, the other girls would take turns giving that person a compliment. It was received very positively and now continues when someone in the group has a birthday.

Another group favorite is the 1-1-1 Lenten Challenge created in partnership with Life Teen. In this challenge, teens are encouraged to give up one thing, pick up one thing, and focus on one sin. The girls wrote down the things they wanted to give up, pick up, and focus on for the challenge and shared with the group in order to stay accountable.

While the benefits of youth discipleship are vast, this approach to youth ministry is not without its initial challenges.

“Getting over the change in format, a shift in mindset, and not having mentors in place at the beginning was very difficult,” said Dunn. “Our hope is to set the foundation of something concrete and consistent. It felt like a huge, risky step, but my child will be more invested in the end and the end results will be greater.”

Swan agreed, “Getting off the ground and finding a mentor were challenges but worth it. We are very grateful we found what we were looking for in Jennie.”

With the Youth Discipleship approach to youth ministry, lead parents connect with other parents to form a group. The parents then identify individuals to act as mentors for their group. By giving the lead parents and students the power to choose mentors, the relationship is stronger between the youth and the mentors. Plus, parents have more control of who is influencing their children.

Said one member of the Faithful Five, “it’s really nice to have someone committed to us. It’s great to be with someone that wants to be with us. She seems to enjoy us as much as we enjoy her.”

The reward for the mentor can be great, too. “You don’t realize what a blessing it is until you do it. It may catch people off guard when asked, but pray about it, and see if it’s right for you,” said Rivard. “I was leading a prayer group at Shanley that had fizzled, so I asked God to fill my void. I wasn’t seeking out anything, so it was a blessing when Lisa contacted me.”

This approach to youth ministry will continue to grow, especially if we have your help. For information, contact Stella at stellaholyspirit@gmail.com or (701) 232-5900.

Aliceyn Magelky is a parishioner at Holy Spirit Church in Fargo.