Deacon Greg over at Deacon’s Bench posts a lovely explanation about how the Altar Servers in his Parish work so well. It is written by the moderator of his Parish’s Altar Servers.
How to Build an Awesome Altar Serving Program in Ten Relatively Easy Steps!”
by David James
1) Sell, Sell, Sell
I think that finding ways for kids to be active participants in the church—and in liturgy, specifically— is incredibly important. Kids who are active in church at a young age turn into adults who are active members of their parishes. The choir members, EMHCs, ushers, lectors and parish council members of tomorrow have to come from somewhere. To say nothing of the fact that tomorrow’s priests, brothers and nuns don’t spring from the well as fully-formed adults. No matter how you choose to look at it, the leaders of tomorrow’s Catholic Church at every level are today’s children. If the only message we send them is to sit still, be quiet and don’t disrupt the mass, we are all going to face a real crisis in tomorrow’s Church.
Ask any teacher and they will tell you that students who are actively engaged with their material are the best learners (think back on your own education and I bet your favorite teachers were the ones that made you do something other than sit there and take notes!). So in order to create tomorrow’s Catholics, we need to get children to be actively engaged in the church. We need to start in one place, the quintessential part of the Catholic experience: the Mass.
Okay, so if getting kids involved in Mass is so important: how do we do it? The answer is almost as obvious as the question: have a sales pitch. The fact of the matter is that most kids don’t know that they should or can be involved with their church; many parents don’t know enough to teach them that they should. Those parents that do often don’t know how to get them involved without arguing with them. More importantly, they do not know who they can trust with their kids. Every September, I make appointments with all of the parochial school teachers and Religious Ed teachers in 4th grade and up. (For those curious: I start my program beginning in the 4th grade and open up to all grades for new recruits every year). I make registration forms and book the church for training classes and then I go and sell my program. I go to each class and introduce myself, tell them who I am and why I’m there. I explain what an altar server is and what we do (a lot of them don’t know). I tell them about all of the cool stuff that we are going to get to do. I tell a lot of jokes. I smile, a lot. Most importantly, I tell them why this is something they should really consider doing. I share with them why I started and why being involved in church is important.
Bottom line: kids are far more likely to sign up for something if they know who is in charge. They are definitely more likely to sign up for something that they perceive as fun and rewarding (and altar serving should be fun and rewarding. If it’s not, you’re doing something wrong. Or as I like to put it: we do a serious thing in a fun way!) I don’t put notices for sign-up in my church bulletin; I find them very impersonal. If you don’t have a school or a Religious Ed program to draw from, talk to your pastor. Ask if you could speak after the announcements for a few moments one Sunday. Let them see you and get to know you. You might be shocked who shows up!
2) Get to know the kids and I don’t just mean their names!
I have nearly 140 altar servers in my program. I make it my goal every year to learn every single name of everyone involved with my program. Then, I try to get to know them. I find out their favorite TV shows, video games, foods, sports, activities and music groups. If I’m not already familiar with them, I make sure that I am as soon as I can (I have listened to way too much Taylor Swift and One Direction the past few years). I make sure that every time I see them I ask about their weekend, their soccer team, their science test. I try to let every child know that I am interested in them and how they are doing.
However, if you want to connect with the kids on a real level, you have to be willing to share. Never ask kids to tell you about themselves without volunteering something about yourself. For example, every altar server knows that I love Starbursts, Dr. Pepper, Star Wars and Batman. I also talk about my faith, why I love being involved in church and about my crippling fear of ice skating.
It’s important that everyone feel welcome and included in your group. It’s also important that they feel like being there is important and that someone would miss them if they weren’t there. All of that starts with you and the tone that you take as you go about your work.
3) The kids are your audience! The parents are your partners! …