The range and variety among congregational
programs themselves is not so great as many believe.Art Farnsley, senior research
associate at The Polis Center, wrote the report’s analysis. Even though many
congregational programs describe themselves as “unique,” says Farnsley, “when
we looked at programs closely, we were struck more by their similarities than
by their differences.”
Youth outreach programs have four basic emphases,
with most possessing elements of each type. Evangelism programs
emphasize Bible study and religious instruction, usually mixed with recreation
or some other element. No programs studied were solely evangelical, and only
10 percent were found to have evangelism as their primary focus. Evangelism
programs tend to focus on young children.
Most compensatory programs are aimed
at adolescents. Thirty-nine percent of the programs observed offer some sort
of social compensation, such as tutoring, job training, crisis counseling,
and leadership development. These programs generally have the widest networks
of support and partnerships and reach furthest into the community.
Safe space programs (31 percent) offer
a place without drugs, alcohol, or violence where children or youth can gather
to socialize and play. These may or may not have an evangelical component.
The recreation program at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church mixes members (generally
white, middle class and suburban) with nonmembers (generally black, urban,
and often poor). For these two groups—who might otherwise never interact—the
program provides a safe space to meet.
Service-oriented programs (20 percent),
many of them Catholic, enable the youth of a congregation to serve others.
Usually, these programs are not part of a network, but represent the effort
of an individual congregation. A notable exception is Beggars for the Poor,
a program operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society that involves a number
of congregations. As part of their congregation’s involvement, youth from
St. Luke Roman Catholic Church collect food and clothing and distribute them
to homeless people.
The report identifies variables that account
for some of the differences among youth programs, including religious tradition,
race, size of congregation, leadership, , and relationship to
“The most obvious difference among religious
traditions,” Farnsley points out, “is that Catholics, unlike Protestants,
tend to divide their service areas geographically.” Catholic congregations
see themselves as responsible for the spiritual care of all Catholics within
their parish. Further, they extend their services to others in the neighborhood,
particularly the needy. Many Catholic parishes operate schools that are open
to all who live within the parish.
The study suggests that black and white congregations
often establish youth programs for different reasons. Programs of white congregations
are more likely to be for membership development. Black congregations, especially
Baptists and Pentecostals, often include the young in adult worship and social
activities, rather than place them in separate programs. Black congregations,
when they are in poor neighborhoods, are more likely to have an outward focus
on the pressing social problems around them.
Large congregations500 or more membersconstitute
about one-quarter of the congregations surveyed, but they sponsor two-thirds
of the outreach programs that serve 100 or more youth per week. Not surprisingly,
large congregations are more likely to have full-time staffs devoted to their
In more than half the programs, directors
have no formal credentials for the position. Of those with credentials of
some sort, only 10 percent have training rising to the level of a college
degree. Karen Thome Feitl, now a project administrator with the Indiana Youth
Institute, was a research assistant on the study. She observes that youth
work is seldom a career destination among people seeking pastoral ministry
positions. “Some clergy go into staff positions in youth ministry right out
of seminary, but then often move on within a few years to other kinds of ministries,”
Most congregation-based programs rely on volunteers,
which is both a strength and a weakness. Volunteers are dedicated and bring
a caring attitude to youth, and often serve as parental role models to those
who otherwise lack such models. But volunteers are often untrained and ill
equipped to deal with many of the problems faced by the young people in their
Congregations with youth outreach programs
tend to be more connected to their local communities than congregations without
such programs. When trying to reach and serve a youth population other than
their own members, congregations usually find that group right outside their
doors, even though the members of the congregation are likely to live throughout
the metropolitan area.
While the study did not focus on religious
schools, it found that many congregations operate schools, and often these
serve a large number–even a majority–of youth drawn from outside the congregation.
This is especially true of day care and preschool programs that serve younger
children. Congregations typically view these programs as ministries.
Throughout the course of the study, researchers
discovered that, among the majority of congregations that do not sponsor outreach
programs for young people, many expressed the desire to do something positive
for youth in the broader community. In most cases, the reason cited for not
doing so was lack of resources, either staff or funds.
Paula Schmidt-Lewis, president of PLS and
Associates, Inc., and a local expert on youth services, says that, when delivering
social services to youth, congregations have the flexibility to react quickly
to needs, but she agrees that resources limit the role they can play in this
arena. “Even the wealthier congregations will tell you that they are stretched,”
she says. “It’s not a given that they can reach deeper into their pockets.”
David Licht, research associate at The Polis
Center, conducted field research for the study. He points out that even programs
with limited resources, however, manage to “serve and engage young people.”
While the study differentiated among the programs according to primary focus,
he notes that most of them cover multiple bases. “All the programs create
safe spaces. All the programs are intended to improve the lives of the youth,
though they have different underlying motives, whether evangelism or social
service. All are compensatory in the broadest sense–they are trying to meet
He adds that the needs far exceed the capacity
of congregations to address. “These programs do good work,” Licht says. “There
are just not enough of them.”
For more information on faith-based youth
outreach programs, contact The Polis Center.
A SAMPLING OF YOUTH OUTREACH PROGRAMS IN INDIANAPOLIS
St. Luke Roman Catholic Church/ Beggars for the Poor
Beggars for the Poor is a “special work” of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.
Participating congregations distribute food and clothing to homeless people
in downtown Indianapolis. Youth from St. Luke Roman Catholic Church participate
as part of the community service component of their confirmation class. For
further information contact: Beggars for the Poor (317) 262-4999.
Victory Memorial United Methodist Church/ Fountain Square Youth Corps
The Fountain Square Youth Corp is a leadership training program geared toward
junior high students. The six-week summer program focuses on community service
and group building. Teams of youth clean lots, assist senior citizens, and
run a program for younger children in a local park. For further information
contact: Victory Memorial (317) 637-2684.
Calvary Temple Assemblies of God/ Caring Place Saturday Sunday School
Calvary Temple conducts a Saturday ministry to elementary age children from
east side neighborhoods, employing a large paid staff and volunteers. The
primary focus is evangelical. For further information contact: Calvary Temple
Faith Teaching Church of Deliverance/ Youth Program
Faith Teaching Church hosts a weekend program in which youth are invited
to stay overnight in the pastor’s home. Participants play sports and receive
basic tutoring in reading, writing, and job preparedness. For further information
contact: Faith Teaching Youth Program (317) 974-0494.
Tabernacle Presbyterian Church/ Recreation Program
Tabernacle Presbyterian’s program, in existence
for 75 years, serves more than 2,000 young people annually with a variety
of organized sports. Children age 6-14 come from all over the city to participate
in its recreation leagues. The church provides a full-time director and support
staff, while much of the coaching and supervision is provided by volunteers.
For further information contact: Tabernacle Recreation (317) 926-9426.
PRAGMATIC IDEALISM: Religion’s Response to Juvenile Delinquency in the
At the turn of the 20th century, reformers across the country
waged a crusade to save children from the city’s negative influences that
too often led them into the criminal court system. The most vocal and well-known
of these child-savers were clergy and lay leaders. In 1901, Marion County
Circuit Court Judge George W. Stubbs, an active Methodist, established one
of the nation’s first juvenile courts in Indianapolis, based on principles
of Christian idealism and civic practicality. These elements have governed
responses to juvenile justice for the past century.
Stubbs felt that if the religious community would only reach
out to them, troubled youth could be rescued by their encounter with juvenile
court. Who better to serve as foster parents and probation officers than religious
people of good character? He believed that involvement by churches and synagogues
would create an atmosphere of sobriety, decency, uprightness in social and
business relations, and a spirit of general public concern.
Originally, Stubbs recruited eight pastors, both Catholic and
Protestant, and three pastor’s assistants to serve as volunteer probation
officers for delinquent youths. Young offenders called before the court would
be assigned probation instead of jail time, if they brought a neighborhood
minister with them. Probation officers saw their charges weekly and helped
them find work and stay in school.
Reformers in the early part of the 20th century saw all their
work as religious, and devised ways to combat juvenile delinquency through
means other than the court system. They founded public schools, kindergartens,
playgrounds, health programs, libraries, boys and girls clubs, and Sunday
schools. They worked to improve children’s lives and instill them with the
morals and character they would need as adults. In 1925, a local survey reported
that churches were doing more for youth than ever before, even as professional
social workers moved to the fore in dealing with troubled youth.
By the 1930s, juvenile court case loads had risen to the point
that individual attention began to give way to the impersonal “processing”
of cases. The religious community responded by establishing agencies to work
with juvenile delinquents. The Catholic Charities Bureau provided trained
caseworkers to work with youths brought before the court. The Church Federation
worked with the Indianapolis Police Department to have Protestant youths referred
to local churches for supervision.
In the 1960s, the public grew dissatisfied with the handling
of juvenile delinquents. Efforts to counsel and reform gave way to punishment,
as increasingly the youths in the juvenile court system were repeat offenders
accused of serious crimes--cases untrained workers could not handle.
Today, juvenile court is again focusing its efforts on prevention
and first-time offenders. As it did a hundred years ago, the court is calling
on the religious community to help address the problems of young people.
RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Two fundamental American tenants, freedom of religion and separation
of church and state, sometimes come into conflict. Public schools in particular
must balance individual rights against community sensibilities and the strictures
imposed by law.
A national project to study religion in the public schools was undertaken
by Elliot Wright of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist
Church, with sponsorship by the Religion Division of Lilly Endowment Inc.
Wright contracted with The Polis Center to conduct a local case study of an
Indianapolis public school: Washington Township’s North Central High School,
selected because the district it serves reflects the demographic and religious
diversity of mid-sized American cities.
The study examined the role of religion in academic, cultural,
and moral instruction; the individual expression of religion; observance of
religious holidays and customs; and the ability of students to join in religious
clubs on school property. Some general findings of the study:
Religion is not a source of much conflict within the school.
School officials have emphasized pluralism for the past 20 years, and today
pluralistic values and practices are taken for granted by students and their
Teachers receive little specific training in how to deal with
the expression and presentation of religion.
Different standards apply in classrooms and extra-curricular
activities. Sports teams may pray before games, though prayer is not allowed
in classrooms. On the other hand, a game will not be cancelled for a religious
holiday, though classes may be cancelled on the same date.
Religion is seldom broached by school officials as a topic for
public discussion. Changes in school practice regarding religion are low-key
and gradual, and are generally accepted by students and parents.
School officials sense that the consensus of community opinion
on this topic is fragile, with some justification. A survey of residents indicated
that many in the community want more religion in the schools. As well, the
survey indicated a trend among younger residents toward more conservative
religious values, and significant differences between black and white respondents.
Compared with those in neighboring communities, residents of
Washington Township are not strident in their dealings with local educators
concerning matters of religion in the schools. North Central maintains a balance
of practicality, common sense, and respect for religious diversity.
Filling the Void: Juvenile Court and Faith-Based Organizations
In the 14 years that Marion Superior Court
Juvenile Judge James Payne has been on the bench, he has worked with many
traditional programs designed to help troubled youths and their families.
But he always felt that something was missing.
“We have had a readily available asset in the community
that was under-utilized, and that was the faith-based organizations and churches,”
Faith-Based Home-Based Guidance Services, a joint
project of the Juvenile Court and the Marion County Office of Family and Children,
is Payne’s attempt to fill this void.
In the Faith-Based Home-Based program, the Office
of Family and Children and the Juvenile Court contract with churches, religious
organizations, and other faith-based groups to work one-on-one with troubled
youths and their families.
Participation is voluntary. Clergy, counselors,
family advocates, and volunteers meet in homes, schools or a parent’s workplace
an average of four hours per week for about six months. The time may be shorter
or longer depending on the need and degree of success.
The program differs from traditional home-based
or other intervention programs in that it requires youth, parents, and counselors
to incorporate discussions about values, morals, and religion into counseling
The judge believes the Marion County program is
the only one of its kind in the country.
Faith-Based Home-Based Guidance is in its early
stages, yet organizers see promise in its ability to help where other programs
have failed. At the same time, they point out that there are no quick fixes
or easy answers. What works for one young person may not work for another.
Troubled youths often have long-standing family problems that cannot be solved
in the six months that providers are expected to spend counseling a family.
Payne and others are willing to give the program
a try as a viable alternative to traditional home-based programs.
The idea came about in the early 1990s when Payne
learned about Advanced Training Institute (ATI), a non-denominational, Christian-based
residential project housed at the old Stouffer Hotel on Meridian Street. ATI
matches young people one-on-one with mentors. Students live in the residence
and are put through a stringent course of organized programs, including scheduled
meals and chores, exercise, prayer, schoolwork, and counseling.
Juvenile court sent several youth through the program.
What impressed the judge the most was that the kids who went through the ATI
seldom showed up in his courtroom again.
“There were more children and families needing
these kinds of services, and the traditional programs did not have the capacity
to meet this need as quickly as we felt would be necessary,” Payne says.
The Office of Family and Children and the juvenile
court sent a request for proposals in December 1997 to more than 100 congregations
and groups. A review committee¾made up of representatives from the Mayor’s
office, juvenile court, religious organizations, Office of Family and Children,
and the academic community¾received 12 proposals. Eleven agencies met the
criteria; currently, eight agencies are participating.
Of the eight, six are black: Westside Community
Ministers, Courage Family Life of First Baptist Church North, Faith Teaching
Church of Deliverance, Jesus Christ Gospel Church/Jus Harmony Counseling Services,
Martin University Institute of Urban Ministries, and St. Paul AME Church (The
Leah Project). Open Hand, Inc., and St. Matthew Lutheran Church are majority
white. All are Christian-based and accept clients regardless of race or denomination.
Payne’s office has spoken with representatives
from the Jewish and Muslim communities, and they have expressed interest in
working with families. But so far, none of the families have requested counseling
from those groups.
The majority of the faith-based providers are African-American
and male. The majority of social workers who ordinarily handle these cases
are white females. The hope is that these men might have better success with
youth, who can readily identify with their older counterparts.
“With positive role models, young people are more
likely to stay out of trouble,” Payne says. “If we can hook youth up within
a community that has a support base for the young person and the family, then
we have linked that family to a network that can be there long after the child
is disconnected from the courts.”
The Rev. Ralph Spears, senior pastor of St. Matthew
Lutheran Church, on the near east side, has worked about a dozen cases, with
mixed results. Some have ended with a recommendation to the court for an end
to the young person’s probation. In other instances, the young person was
assigned to a program that offered more intensive assistance, such as placement
in Boys’ or Girls’ School.
“There are a lot of circumstances to
consider when you look at a case,” Spears explains as a reason for the differing
outcomes. “It might be family. It might be the setting. The problems that
these kids have didn’t happen yesterday. Some are easily answered and others
aren’t as easily reversed, at least in the time that we have them.”
Judge Payne agrees. “It’s impossible
to predict who will be successful and who won’t. There’s a myriad of issues
in the home to consider,” he says.
“Some kids have enough support to hook up with
someone in a counseling setting and succeed while others do not. You will
find that with any program. It’s like trying to figure out why a kid with
everything stacked against him makes all A’s while another kid who seems to
have everything has all kinds of problems.”
For most Faith-Based Home-Based providers, the
program is an extension of the services they already offer their congregations,
clients, or community, says Spears, who has counseled inner city youth in
ministries in Cincinnati and New Jersey.
The pastor finds that youth are curious about religion.
They ask questions, which he eagerly answers, but he emphasizes that providers
understand that it is not their role to convert families.
“We can offer, ‘Have you prayed about your situation?’
as an option to solving the problem. We can also give them instructions on
how to do this,” Spears says.
As with any new program, Home-Based Faith-Based
Guidance has its challenges¾record keeping in particular, Payne said. Expectations
and administrative styles of faith-based groups differ from those of government
The Rev. Rod Smith is a family therapist with Open
Hand, Inc., a not-for-profit home-based juvenile counseling center on the
north side. Smith has counseled 16 families.
“I asked an attorney recently why the program is
working. He said it is because finally someone cares about the young people,”
Smith said. “The child protection services workers and probation officers
care about the young people, but there are so many cases that it’s overwhelming
and kids get lost in the system.”
Smith, a former high school counselor, said his
role is to help young people and their families understand probation. He talks
with them about keeping curfew and making court dates. He helps them establish
relationships with teachers.
Smith said he tells the families, “I’m from
the courts, but I’m not of the court. I’m not a policeman. I’m the
agent they need to walk through this process with them.”
Payne stresses that faith-based programs are not
for every family. “Giving them a choice is important, though. The concept
of ‘each one teach one’ and one person helping another in need is what the
faith-based community is all about.”
While organizers say it is too early to determine
whether the program is working, Payne believes Faith-Based Home-Based Guidance
will make a difference.
“If there was something that could turn lives around
quickly and solve all the problems, everyone would be doing it. There is no
quick fix. This is needed, but it won’t happen overnight,” he says.
“Lots of people are doing good work, so it will make
a difference. Faith-Based Guidance is another resource to help some in the
community with their problems.”
The Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) promotes the healthy development
of children and youth by serving the institutions and people of Indiana who
work on their behalf. IYI offers advocacy programs, training and development,
and an extensive resource center. IYI publishes the annual Kids Count in
Indiana Data Book: County Profiles of Child Well-Being. The updated 1999
edition is now available. To receive a copy, call (317) 924-3657, extension
Marion County Commission on Youth, Inc., (MCCOY) is an independent,
non-profit organization that convenes youth and youth-serving agencies to
foster communication and discussion on a broad range of issues facing young
people. MCCOY encourages collaboration between the various systems that work
with and for youth. For more information, contact MCCOY at 3901 N. Meridian
St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46208, (317) 921-1266 or 1-888-4-YOUTH-8.
United Way of Central Indiana mobilizes people in the community to
care for one another. The agency serves youth by supporting a number of community
programs. Youth As Resources challenges young people to identify and solve
community problems. Youth-led, not-for-profit groups can apply for small grants
(under $5,000) to implement ideas. For more information, call (317) 921-1224.
Indianapolis Center for Congregations helps area congregations find
solutions to the challenges and opportunities they face by connecting them
with local and national resources and by providing printed and electronic
materials, consulting services, educational programs and workshops, community
agencies, and more. For more information, call (317) 237-7799 or visit the
office in the Gateway Plaza building, 950 N. Meridian St., Suite 950.
Indiana Youth Services Association (IYSA) is composed of county and
community organizations that serve youth and families in their neighborhoods.
Its focus is on juvenile delinquency prevention, information and referral
services, community education, and youth advocacy. To learn more, contact
IYSA at (317) 238-6955 or visit the office at 309 W. Washington St., Suite