I've been musing more about the youth ministry post (which I wrote and re-wrote several times before posting) and it struck me that one thing we need to decide in order to decide what we want in youth ministry is in some ways so simple, and in others, so complex. Namely, we need to decide "What is the Church"? If the Catholic church is simply those who self-identify as Catholic when asked to name their religion, or who respond affirmatively to "Are you Catholic" then my understanding is we are doing pretty well at retaining our kids, at keeping them as members of the Church. On the other hand, if we indentify the Church as that group of people who assent to all that the Church teaches and at least try to live up to it (and admit that when they don't, it is because they sin, not because the Church is wrong) then the Church is a very small, very exclusive group to which most of those who self-identify as Catholic do not belong and do not particularly want their children to belong.
Should the local parish be a place visited on Sundays and Holy Days and a place to educate or kids about the faith or should it be a place where all family members spend time, not only in prayer but also in socializing? What draws more people: trying to meet them where they are (such as the music in Lifeteen masses) or showing them where they should be (such as preaching about the evils of contraception or the necessity of confession)? Are they necessarily exclusive? If we are nothing but a social club then we are clearly missing the boat yet I've heard of more people leaving the Catholic church because they had social needs that were met at the church down the street and not at their local parish than I've heard of people leaving because they disagreed with Church teaching.
I guess what I'm saying is that while I see the danger in youth ministry that is all social or which has only a veneer of Catholicism on the plank of a social club, I think that there is a reason Christianity is not a solitary religion. While I think there are necessary parts of our faith that cannot be changed just to attract people; there are externals than can be, and in my opinion, should be, if they draw people in to hear the truth. It does little good to preach the truth to an empty church. If Gregorian Chant draws the crowds, then chant away. If Christian praise music does, well crank up the amps as far as I'm concerned. If teens want to run with other teens (which I think most parents will agree is what teens want to to) then I'd provide a time and place for them to run with other teens. However, once they are there, I think there needs to be solid teaching. Without it, you just have a social club and if that is all there is, once kids move beyond that group of friends, there is little reason to go to church.