Catholic Faith Formation and Teens

What is the most important factor in a good Catholic faith formation program for teens?

The National Initiative on Adolescent Catechesis recently published an interesting report on adolescents and emerging adults in the Catholic Church. The study is based on the influential study by Dr. Christian Smith known as the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR).

NIAC Teen Catholic Faith Formation Study

You can download this study at the NIAC website. It provides a longitudinal analysis of the Catholic adolescents in the NSYR and shows the impact of faith formation programs and parental involvement in catechesis.

What has the most lasting impact on the faith formation of teens according the report? Parents.

Two general conclusions can be made based on the data:

  1. Some faith formation, whether it be in Catholic schools, parish religious education, or youth ministry programs, is better than no faith formation.
  2. Faith formation by committed parents has the greatest impact.

This really should come as no surprise to anyone. One conclusion, however, stuck out to me the most:

“These findings suggest that formal religious education by itself in the school or parish does not consistently have the intended outcomes on the beliefs and practices of Catholic emerging adults.” (p. 24)

If this doesn’t get you fired up about the work that you do as a religious educator, I don’t know what will. It is time for change and you can’t do it alone. Bottom line: If you don’t involve the parents of your children in your efforts to catechize, the statistical chances of you having a lasting impact is small. Connecting with parents is one of my personal catechetical goals for 2011 and it should be on the minds of every teacher.

Catholic Faith Formation Assessment

Although, this data should not be used as a basis for an argument against one of the modes of adolescent faith formation, I would like to point out some strengths in the most common forms of adolescent faith formation according to the study:

Catholic school and service. Based on the research, it seems that the biggest strength of Catholic schools is their commitment to service. Regardless of whether they were forced or not, the students in Catholic schools reported more service than the other groups that don’t require community service.

Youth Group and faith. It is clear that teens who are involved in youth group tend to take a more personal approach to their faith. They are more likely to pray alone, read from their Bibles alone, share their religious faith with others, and later become involved in college-based religious groups.

I encourage you not to react offensively to these trends. Youth groups do encourage community service. Catholic schools do foster a personal relationship with Jesus in their religious education programs. Unfortunately the statistics reinforce stereotypes of both forms of faith formation for teens. Personally, I think this is a good indication that we need to take larger steps to reduce the gaps between these two types of formation and focus on getting teens to have a long-lasting, personal relationship with God that inspires them to go out into the world and serve. But don’t forget…the parents are key.

What is your reaction to the report? Does this just confirm what you already know? What challenges are we faced with as we approach adolescent catechesis today?


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About Jared Dees

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Ave Maria Press and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach, and Praying the Angelus.


  1. Thanks for passing this on, Jared — I look forward to reading through the study.

  2. Jared,
    I completely agree. I have been trying to think of ways to inform parents by a weekly email or have students help with a page about what is going on in the religion classroom. After teaching morality to middle schoolers for 5 years, I would also like to find a way to communicate with parents the generation gap in electronics. I feel this is the biggest threat to my students’ souls. The devil is so easily accessible on the Internet/TV/Media/Music where good and bad are virtually right next to each other. Many parents do not follow their kids cell phone use, social networking, and computer use. Students have access to so many adult things that it is scary and of course at this age their curiosity can get the best of them. I work very hard to help teens understand the laws and moral issues that arise with all of their media accessability. I just need a good way to let parents know what is going on. Thanks for this article it definitely has me thinking in setting new goals to get information on technology and teens in the hands of my parents.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    I totally agree with this. Well said.