[Editor’s Note: Chris Stefanick is an author, speaker, and television host. His reality TV show, “Real Life Catholic,” videos and radio spots reach millions of people each month. He authored what has been called the best Confirmation program in the English language: Chosen. A graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Chris is also the founder and President of Real Life Catholic, a non-profit which operates as the headquarters for Chris’s various initiatives. He is also married with 6 children. He spoke to Charles Camosy.]
Camosy: Word on the street is that you have a reality show called “Real Life Catholic”
Stefanick: Yes, I do. It airs every Tuesday at 6:30pm ET on EWTN TV. It’s also on Amazon Prime. On “Real Life Catholic,” I dive into the everyday life of everyday Catholics, who are working, serving, building, and exploring the world with their faith at their side. We’ve gone crawfishing, hang-gliding, cheesemaking, surfing, and so much more — and there’s so many great adventures to come. Reality shows are a popular phenomenon, and we thought “why not” do a Catholic reality show, and feature really meaningful, soul-stirring journeys instead of what you usually see on reality shows on TV. It’s a fun escape, but watching it also makes you a better person! And it’s a great way to share your faith. It shows the beauty of faith in everyday life. It presents Catholicism as something very attractive.
In a world where the “nones” continue to rise among young Catholics, how have you been so successful reaching out to young people? What is working? What, at least in your experience, doesn’t work?
For better or worse they’re spiritual naval-gazers. So, I start my messaging with what they’re looking for. Everyone wants happiness. This is where I started with Chosen – and every lesson goes back to that fundamental longing. It’s also where I start my multi-generational parish renewal events. I ask “who wants an amazing life say aye!” Everyone says it, because everyone wants that. And Jesus came to deliver.
Now – while it seems like we’re catering to self-centeredness starting there, it’s worth noting that Jesus started his ministry in the Gospel of John by asking “what are you looking for.” So we’re in good company.
You’ve had remarkable success with your confirmation program Chosen. Over 500,000 teens have gone through the program and the reviews are amazing. Do you have a particular story you could share from this program that would illustrate why it is so successful?
I am an optimistic guy and tend to think things are going to go well, but this program has surprised even me. There are so many conversions, so many people I encounter whose lives are changed by a Confirmation program! This is making a serious impact on the Church in America–the level of catechesis, people’s knowledge of the faith and closeness to Jesus.
I had a youth minister tell me not long ago that they used to lose 90 percent of kids after Confirmation, and now they’re keeping 90 percent of them after Confirmation since using Chosen.
The one-two punch of Chosen is that we don’t hold back any content of the faith, any of the richness. Sometimes in youth ministry and resource production, I think people tend to water truth down in an effort to be relevant. There’s nothing more relevant than the truth that God made the human mind to find. This is the stuff we’re made for. There’s nothing less relevant than meeting people where they’re at and leading them nowhere. We can’t be afraid to deliver the truth of the faith.
Though a key distinction about that truth: Everything we’re doing in Chosen is not theology; it’s catechesis. It’s teaching to cause conversion and facilitate an encounter with Jesus Christ. It’s not just teaching to impart facts. It’s laid out like an RCIA program — to lead people progressively deeper and deeper into life in Christ. And it’s changing lives.
I speak around the country — a different state every week. Every crowd in every state that I’m in, I ask “Who’s doing Chosen?” and parents and kids give a holler to this program, their faces light up, and they’re genuinely excited…to be in a Confirmation class! That’s not the experience most Gen X’ers had. It blows me away. And we are just getting started.
For decades now I’ve been annoyed that we often speak of the sacrament with the phrase “getting confirmed.” I was pleased to see that your approach invokes the active choice of the candidate. How do you work to empower young people to play an active role in confirming their baptismal faith?
Most Catholics don’t have any sense of a “personal faith in Christ”, let alone an awareness of their baptism or God’s unique plan for their lives. By unlocking the “personal” – the relationship of the individual to Christ and his love for them – you can unlock a vision for their future that they never knew existed. When a relationship is presented as powerful, loving, trustworthy and exciting, young people are drawn in. They are attracted by the call to take ownership of something that leads them outside of themselves and into a relationship that can be the most fulfilling of their lives.
Studies show that kids now are less engaged in the faith than any other generation in history. The stuff teens are filling their heads with now is not leading them to happiness. Lives driven by social media are not fulfilling, and satisfaction is only momentary. Don’t underestimate today’s younger generations. Many come from broken homes, pressured lives, and lack of strong personal identity. When they begin to discover who they are in Christ, their lives take on new meaning. They are hungry, and when they meet Christ, they are immediately on fire and become beacons of light to their peers.
How can others who want to learn and grow from the insights of “Chosen” get more information?
Since Chosen was released in 2014, this program has touched the lives of more than 500,000 students, 200,000 parents, 200,000 sponsors, and so many others. It’s been an incredible journey, and we are really proud of what Chosen has accomplished in five short years. With new enhancements coming this summer, particularly the Spanish translation of the entire program, we are excited about what is to come.
Chosen continues to gain notoriety and momentum, and I expect that this will only continue to grow. It gives you so much hope for the future of the Church when you see young people, their parents, the facilitators, and sponsors, on fire for the faith and excited about a program like Chosen. Ultimately, it’s beauty that draws the heart. And when people hear the Gospel in a language that they can understand, it changes their lives. We can’t wait to see how this program continues to touch people’s hearts and lives for many years to come.
If people want to learn more about Chosen or order the program, they can learn more on the Ascension website.