I was recently at a fast food chain (think a clown and arches) and I witnessed a group of teens talking, eating and laughing. I felt transported to my own youth when my friends and I would gather at a local restaurant to do the same. The beginning of summer was always celebrated by a trip to the local hamburger place.

I couldn’t help but think about how friends and food go together. It has been this way since the beginning of time and probably always will be. Christ knew this and used a meal to give us the gift of Himself. He too, gathered His friends around a table. They talked, laughed, shared and then, He gave us Himself in the gift of the Eucharist.

Youth group numbers in many parishes are dwindling. Kids are home, connecting on Internet chat spaces, texting, and talking on their cell phones. While these can be wonderful tools to connect with others, nothing replaces the feeling of sitting around with friends and sharing a good meal.

My daughter once dated a young man that she had a wonderful relationship with… on her cell phone. They would text each other many times a day and they shared some deep thoughts. However, when they were together, they barely had anything to say! Communicating in person requires another set of skills completely. As youth leaders and youth ministers, we need to reach out to today’s teens and help them develop all types of communications skills. Enjoying a meal together is a good place to start.

Whether we are hosting a retreat, youth Mass, movie night or meeting, including food is a good way to encourage a better turn out. Donuts after youth Mass or pizza with the movie night brings people together.

As summer approaches, parish picnics and CYO baseball/softball games are all around. Using these opportunities to get to know the young people in our parishes can increase the numbers we will see in our youth groups in the fall. Consider a pot luck youth dinner. The theme could be to bring a dish to pass and a friend to meet. Youth ministers are required to go out and do more recruiting than we used to. Our teens still need the Church and the youth groups, but we are competing against technology and busy schedules. By using food as an incentive, we can feed their bodies and their souls as well.