WASHINGTON — Each year, Catholic ministry groups send out young men and women to various schools and college campuses, bringing the Gospel to teens and college students.
Encountering thousands of young people within the year, ministries face a similar problem every season: recruiting men.
Founded in 1981, NET ministries, short for National Evangelization Teams, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel by sending teams of young adults to evangelize teens throughout the nation through retreats and workshops. Young adults ages 18-28 spend nine months of their life serving on parish-based or regional traveling teams.
Matt Reiswig is the assistant program director for NET ministries, and a 2002-03 NET missionary alumnus. In a July 12 interview with Catholic News Service, Reiswig said that the organization was still searching for about 24 more men to fill their 17 teams that will begin training Aug. 17.
“We’re always still looking for men at this point of the year,” Reiswig said.
While still looking for more men to join their teams is not uncommon, this year is a little different.
“The last few years have been amazing where a bunch of men have applied at the end, and everything was just fine,” Reiswig said. “I don’t think that will be the case this year exactly.”
NET hosted interview retreat weekends throughout the country in July, hoping to find more men to join.
Even though the NET administration experienced some shifts in its recruiting team throughout the past year, Reiswig said he doesn’t believe that is the main reason why there are fewer numbers.
“We have four people working in recruiting, but we’re all pretty convinced that it’s not any of us, that we don’t recruit somebody to NET,” Reiswig told CNS. “It’s the Lord who calls people to NET, the Lord who brings them here. We can work hard and we should work hard, but we’re not going to make it on our own.”
This spring, NET ministries encouraged people to fast for the intention of finding more men missionaries.
“I think it was a realization for us that we could double our hours, and call every person multiple times, or we could just give that all over to the Lord,” Reiswig said. “And I think just watching the Lord provide throughout the past few years it is evident. Our founder always talks about how much we love NET, love the mission, love the ministry, but the Lord loves it way more than we do. And it’s not about any of us, He’s about a greater work through this than any of us could ever do.”
NET has had 98 women committed to serve with NET for the 2017-18 year since early April.
“Young men especially have a hard time with commitment,” Reiswig said. “When you come and serve on NET you are giving up your life for nine months and you’re giving it up in a really practical way.”
Usually, six men and six women will be on a traveling team, but if NET does not find 24 men to fill their open spots, they will proceed with smaller numbers of men.
Josh Santo is the national recruitment manager for FOCUS ministries, Fellowship of Catholic University Students. Founded in 1998, FOCUS this academic year will send 660 missionaries in teams of two women and two men to 137 college campuses, including two in Austria and one in England. They engage college students with Christ, evangelizing and investing in friendships.
While FOCUS was able to meet its goal of numbers of men and women for the year, the fellowship does find it more difficult to find men each year, according to Santo.
“I think that men in general have a little bit more pressure, whether that’s from family or professors or friends, that doing ministry after school will set them back in their career, and be a bad decision for their future,” Santo said in an interview with CNS July 18.
Two years ago, FOCUS began a team aimed at recruiting not just the right number of men, but the right men, according to Santo.
“The big things that we are doing is being more intentional with men,” Santo said. “Meeting men, investing in them, and just having great conversations with them and encouraging their discernment.”
“We are seeing a lot of fruit from that intentionality,” Santo said.
Santo spoke about how often boys are not being taught to be men, but how his ministry allows him to engage with young men in a new way.
“A key factor of having both men and women on a team is that there is a good balance that we need,” Santo said. “Women can show a man and teach him how to desire to be a better man, but men need other men to teach and show him how to become a better man.”
While ministries may find it more difficult to recruit men, the men who answer the call to serve, find great formation and growth.
Fr. Brian Park, pastor at Church of the Annunciation in Minneapolis, served as a missionary on NET ministries from 2003 to 2004, before working on the staff as a team supervisor for the next three years.
While his heavy vocational discernment happened during his college years, his work with NET still helped shape his future as a priest.
“Serving on a NET team taught me things that no seminary in the world could teach me,” Fr. Park said to CNS in an interview. “The way I was formed during those four years on NET are invaluable to the way I live my priesthood.”
The community of brotherhood and sisterhood that is fostered among the teams of NET, is something that is particularly emphasized for the missionary men and women.
“This is a great opportunity to serve, it’s a great opportunity to grow in your own faith, and it’s a great opportunity to come to a better understanding of who you are in Christ, as a son of God,” Fr. Park said. “It’s a great way to get some practical formation on what your future vocation might be. I guarantee you spend a year on a NET team, and you’re going to be all the better father, priest, brother, whatever God has planned for you.”
Jacob Currier first served with NET ministries in the fall of 2015, after he graduated from college. Seeing great happiness in a friend who served on NET previously, Currier was accepted to serve with NET and through their initial training period, experienced God reminding him, “Yes, I am worthy.”
“We need more men of God to stand up,” Currier said to CNS in an interview, July 17. “NET definitely takes a stronghold of men and focuses them on becoming men of God.”
After serving for his first year, Currier felt God calling him to serve on NET for another year, beginning in the fall of 2016.
“It is guaranteed to change your life to the degree that you submit yourself to God,” Currier said.