children ministry

Redefining Altar Serving: How to Ignite Faith and Community in Youth

As a kid, I would spend my summers with my grandparents in Staten Island. When they found out I was an altar server, they were more than happy to get me up early (for 6:15 am Mass) and drag me to their parish to assist the pastor. At first, it was intimidating because it felt like the protocol at their parish was completely different than mine. They rang bells, but we did not. The altar servers had chairs at my parish, there was a bench at their church. But, as I look back at it as an adult, I appreciated them bringing me to Mass and encouraging my faith.

If it hadn't been for altar serving, I don't know what else I would have done as a kid in my home parish. It wouldn't be until later in my high school year that I could get involved in the youth ministry, mission trips, and other events (a blog post for another time), but for a long time, my involvement in parish life was through altar serving.

While altar servers and sacristans are not the only way the young church can serve, it is critical to see it as a huge opportunity to empower the next generation. Anytime I meet a parish that struggles to reach young people, I ask them about their altar servers and start there. If you want to use this ministry (or any) as a launching pad for engaging the next generation, make sure you make it more than volunteering. If anything:


Whether you have four or thirty kids that rotate each Mass and weekend, it's essential to have community. It's your opportunity to connect them, and their parents into Christ-centered relationships. When people experience community through the local church, they'll associate parish life with belonging. And that's a feeling that will stay with them for years.

To build the community, it all starts with prayer. Whether it's right before Mass, at a meeting, or any get-together, make sure you pray with the altar servers and show them how to pray.

Another way to build community is by encouraging students to get together outside of serving. Our parish will bring the altar servers to an amusement park, sometimes there is a cookout or just a chance to play basketball in the gym.

Lastly, make sure parents connect with one another. This will not only help with subbing, but it'll create a stronger bond amongst families. Serving at Mass with people you get to know and care about will make it that much more special.


Another way to build community, but also to emphasize the commissioning that occurs at the end of Mass, is to invite the group to serve. Whether it's once a year or every few months, invite your altar servers to engage in an outreach or mission project. Connect what they do in the liturgy, to what God is calling them to do beyond the Church walls.

Having your altar servers volunteer outside of Mass also brings the liturgy to the community. It can also create a positive impression on younger kids when they see the altar servers doing more than serving during the liturgy. Having kids serve in multiple ways shows others that their faith is a part of their everyday life.


In addition to building community, it's important to use this opportunity to help the altar servers grow in faith. Again, if you don't have a regular youth ministry, you can gather the altar servers every month, or for a few weeks during Lent or before Advent, to do a Bible study or explore a part of their faith at a deeper level.

Design the gathering to function like a small group, where you all pray together, discuss the subject matter, and apply it to life. Provide some fun snacks, and even incorporate a game. Talk about their faith, and help them see that what they do is more than helping out at church. Help them see that they are part of the Lord's Supper and that they are fulfilling the mission to go and make more disciples. Don't be afraid to teach them beyond what they need to do at Mass.

Again, this is something that can be translated to any other ministry, whether the volunteers are kids or adults. Encourage your volunteers to spend time together, especially when the focus is on praying and growing with one another. Show them the bigger picture of their role, remind them they are on a mission for God. With vision, they will thrive, and others will be drawn to follow in their footsteps, growing not only in their service but also in their personal faith journey.

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