An Open Letter to EWTN

Before I begin I should remark how grateful I am that EWTN exists. I thank God constantly for the wisdom and courage he gave to Mother Angelica some 30 years ago to establish a cable network to help enrich the lives of Catholics everywhere. Now whether on my tv, the internet, or radio I have access to Catholic music, teachings, theological discussions, and even the daily mass. Some of the greatest minds in the Church have fed me spiritually and helped lead me and sustain me in my journey as a Catholic.

However, I have one question. Why does the focus on youth ministry within EWTN seem, well, rather lacking at best? If I am unable to attend daily mass I have four opportunities, throughout the day, to watch it on your network. If I seek to enrich my prayer life I have multiple chances through chaplets, benedictions, and rosaries to do so.

I understand shows like Life on the Rock exist, and EWTN does devote a lot of coverage to World Youth Day. Yet, that seems to be it. An hour every week, and then a week or so of coverage every three years. Even then the hour that is devoted to teens, Life on the Rock, presents itself as a cheaply ran syndication almost screaming how little thought goes into producing the show. The music and set take me back to a time of Molly Ringwald and a short furry alien who ate cats on Friday nights.

Perhaps, EWTN missed the memo where Catholic young people are leaving the church at an alarming rate and joining the ranks of the second largest religious group in the United States; Catholics who don’t attend Mass on Sunday. Call it the fallout still occurring due to the adverse effects of Vatican II. Call it poor catechesis within home parishes. Call it indifferent parents. Whatever the label is it doesn’t change the fact that teens are leaving. The majority of whom won’t return.

Now is this EWTN’s fault that youth throughout the nation aren’t having the ins and outs of their Catholic faith presented to them properly in their home parishes? Of course not. However, I do ask what part is EWTN playing to reverse this trend. How are they presenting the Catholic faith to young people so as it becomes more then just outdated rhetoric, but a living, breathing lifestyle they can connect to and with.

Sadly, I have to say if Life on the Rock is EWTN’s attempt to keep teens committed to their faith and in church throughout their high school and college years they are failing. Now am I suggesting that EWTN take an Evangelical approach to their teen outreach? No, the last thing EWTN is turn their programming into something that resembles a rock concert or rave scene more then a Christ centered gathering.

What I am suggesting is that EWTN become more purposeful in what their doing for the young Catholic population. Here are a few ideas to improve EWTN’s outreach for the 13-21 year old demographic.

  • Update the programming you have; as in make Life on the Rock feel like it was produced in this millennium and not by the people who made Saved by the Bell. Without naming names and getting too personal several things including the intro song, graphics, set props and layout, as well as the hosts could use a face lift. How is that some of the great minds from LifeTeen couldn’t spend a week at EWTN and give this show a makeover that would greatly improve its quality.
  • If you want teens and young adults to feel like you truly care give them more then just an hour of programming a week. If you’re going to make Thursday night the time you air Life on the Rock, albeit at 10 EST, then block off the entire night, 8 EST – 11 EST, for teen and young adult programming. Simply put this means you expand from an hour of programming to three. Continue to let Life on the Rock be your anchor show, but surround it with some sort of preaching and teaching from one of the many great young leaders in the church, a reality show of some sort, and a show focusing on several Life Teen parishes giving teens some fire and inspiration to take back to their own church. If teens discover that their parish can be just as exciting and lively as others what is to stop them from wanting to start that same fire in their own church?
As a youth pastor for 5 years I have learned both easily and hard that teens know when you care about them, and they can see it in the care you put into your work for them. When your messages are sloppy and thrown together 5 minutes before service they know. When your last lockout looks and feels like the last three your parish had they know. When it appears you care this little about what matters most to them it speaks volumes. However, when time, money, and effort are invested the teens see that too.
Will changes like this stop Catholic young people from leaving the church? Probably, not. However, if EWTN will invest more time, money, thought, effort, and love into the work they do for teens perhaps they can help reverse the trend.


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