Reaching the Young Church

Doug Tooke Builds the Church of Tomorrow

Date Published: Jan. 22, 2018

Doug TookeAs our culture has become increasingly secular, the Catholic church faces a serious threat: a shortage of young faithful. Unlike past generations of steady churchgoers, the number of millennials involved in their faith has slowly declined, posing a serious danger to the future of the church as a whole. Such is the perilous trend, but fortunately the Church has responded with a solution: an increased focus on evangelizing to youth. Among those at the helm of this movement is Doug Tooke, youth minister and Neuhoff School of Ministry alumnus.

Tooke discovered his call for ministry while serving as a camp counselor during his college years. “I fell in love with the social service of the work and the enthusiasm of the young Catholic faithful,” he reflected.

After earning his undergraduate degrees in theology and philosophy, he then went on to pursue a master’s in pastoral ministry. Since then, he has spent over twenty years in youth ministry, serving as the executive director of Reach Youth Ministry and traveling to bring the light of Christ to young adults across the nation.

In response to the dilemma of millennials falling away from the faith, Tooke said that while there is no single answer to the cause, the solution might be simpler than we expect, involving a new way of approaching youth ministry. While most efforts focus on organizing isolated social events, Tooke says that in order to truly attract young people to the faith, youth ministry must help them build relationships both with each other, and most importantly, with Christ.

"A deep, lifelong personal relationship with the person of Jesus is the heart of successful ministry."

– Doug Tooke

“The personal spiritual development of an adolescent must be at the core of successful ministry to, with, by and for young hearts,” said Tooke.  “Jesus is truth. This means, truth is a person. A deep, lifelong personal relationship with the person of Jesus is the heart of successful ministry and is probably the source of the lack of spiritual interest on the part of a generation.”

It is in helping young people form such relationships that Tooke has found the reward of a life spent in youth ministry. “Developing Christocentric relationships with teens and their parents over the past 20+ years has helped my own discipleship,” he said. “Seeing conversion in youth and parents as a result of the work of the Lord is more than a career perk – it is a defining gift to be celebrated by the universal church.”

“Seeing conversion in youth and parents as a result of the work of the Lord is more than a career perk – it is a defining gift to be celebrated by the universal church.”

Tooke stresses that the question of millennial involvement in the faith is not only relevant to youth ministers; it must involve the entire church. For it is ultimately in the hands of this new generation that the future of the church rests.

“This is their church,” said Tooke. “Whether an older generation wants to engage that reality or not is beside the point. A young adult generation must take ownership for its faith and demand the involvement it desires. An older generation ought to have the ears to listen and arms to welcome a fresh energy and perspective on modern discipleship. I think a millennial priesthood and women religious will rock the domestic Catholic church to the core with a fresh invitation to charism and renewed understanding of ritual.”

“Listen, walk with, share a meal, steer toward Jerusalem – this is the recipe for discipline given to us on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24."

Such a revitalized and renewed church of the future will only be possible if its ministry efforts today work to cultivate real encounters and relationships between Christ and the young faithful.  “Listen, walk with, share a meal, steer toward Jerusalem – this is the recipe for discipline given to us on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Why would it be any different for us today? A re-evangelization of a generation is the fruit of authentic relationship-building and the recognition of mutual gifts. A church willing to ceaselessly invite and endlessly extend pastoral hospitality will be bursting at the seams in the years to come.”


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