Posted January 13, 2004
A Success Story in getting teens involved with their church
Center run by National Evangelization Teams
By Julie Carroll
draws hundreds of teens
Catholic News Service
The Twin Cities' newest teen hot spot isn't the Old Navy store at the mall or the trendy nightclub downtown, but a converted gymnasium in West St. Paul known as the NET Center.
More than a thousand kids cram into the center on the first Saturday of every month to listen to Catholic speakers, sing at the top of their lungs and celebrate Mass together in a program called Lifeline. They come from all over the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and as far away as the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Iowa, for an experience many describe as life-changing.
Joe Roueche, outreach coordinator for NET Ministries, came up with the idea for Lifeline in 1995 as a way to make his organization more visible in the archdiocese, he said.
NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries is an international youth ministry based in the Twin Cities that challenges young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the church, according to the group's Web site at www.netusa.org.
NET Ministries offers training in youth ministry and leads over 1,000 retreats each year for youths across the United States, Canada and Australia.
Lifeline started small, with about 150 teens attending the first event. But every year since then attendance has skyrocketed, Roueche said.
Last year, an addition to the NET Center was built to accommodate more than 1,000 people.
"I think we're booming," Roueche said. "We just open the doors and they show up."
Roueche said he believes several factors have boosted Lifeline's attendance; they include the lack of parish-based programs for young people and Pope John Paul II's 1993 visit to Denver for World Youth Day.
Teens also enjoy the dynamic speakers, peer testimonies, lighthearted skits that send a spiritual message, camaraderie and contemporary Christian music, Roueche added.
"We make sure we have people here who can speak to youth, who have that gift," he said. "You can have the best message, but if they can't hear it or get it, that's tough."
Roueche doesn't underestimate the power of music to reach teens, but Lifeline is more than a concert, he said.
"The music might be what gets them here initially, but the truth is what keeps them coming back," Roueche said. The Mass is always the pinnacle of the evening, he added.
It takes a small army of volunteers to make such a huge event run smoothly. About 80 to 100 people, including 25 teens, help out at Lifeline every month, doing everything from selling T-shirts to handing out snacks to serving at Mass.
The teens, who commit to volunteering for one year, also are encouraged to attend a four-day retreat over the summer. Roueche said he has seen many of the volunteers grow spiritually from the experience.
"Two or three of the volunteers are giving serious thought to seminary life when they graduate," and some of the girls are considering religious life, he said.
In addition, one Lifeline a year focuses on discerning vocations. Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis celebrates Mass, with clergy and religious from many orders present. At the end of the night, those who are open to religious life are invited to approach the stage for a blessing.
"Every year, 200 to 300 kids come up," Roueche said. "It's amazing."
Teen volunteer Anna Carter, a parishioner at Holy Trinity in South St. Paul, started attending Lifeline a couple of years ago when friends invited her, she said.
"The first year I was coming here, I came not as much for God, but to hang out with my friends," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"At school, no one acts like a Christian, and you just kind of are like, 'Is there anyone who shares the same faith as I do?'" said the Hill-Murray junior. "You come here and everyone is alive in their faith. It's really great, really encouraging."
Nick Vandenbroeke, a teen volunteer who attends Guardian Angels in Chaska, said he likes the energy of Lifeline.
"You feel more free to express yourself," he said. "You can put your hands up here."