Effective Youth Ministry Press Blog
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This blog is designed for anyone who wants to think seriously about youth ministry. It is for: fulltime youth leaders, part time youth leaders, volunteers in youth ministry and those who are thinking about youth ministry in the future. The goal is for us to think practically and strategically, with our Bibles wide open. Remember, it is crucial that the word of God shapes our methods and not only our message in youth ministry. Read on…
Where I live is an interesting place. It is filled with people who do things that I have never done, and may never do. There are zillions of various non-Christian ‘youth groups’ that exist for one purpose or another. There are hockey clubs (we’ll get to that in a second), and there are quilting groups (don’t get them angry, they are always armed). There are those folk who love taxidermy (stuffing animals) and there are those who are committed to keeping the animals away from the stuffers.
For just a minute I want to wrestle with the question “in a world of options, how should these various clubs try and keep their movement alive through new converts?”
Let’s take a quick look at one of the most common groups for youth in Canada—the local hockey club. If I am the leader of this club I will probably, at some stage, deal with the question “How do I get new players to join our team?” In other words, if the local hockey team wants (needs) converts, what should it do? It is an important question if you love hockey, isn’t it?
Well, imagine that the Great One (that’s Wayne Gretzky to you non-hockey-ites) were to ask those involved in youth ministry that question – “how should I attract newcomers to hockey?” What answer would he receive? He might be told, by some, “Think about trying to attract them with something other than hockey. Maybe you could have some ‘entry level’ activity that will attract the youth and you can then tell them about hockey at the end of the night.”
Now just try and think about what Gretzky would do with that answer. (“To attract youth to the hockey club, do something other than hockey.”) I really can’t imagine him saying:
“I guess I understand the logic, sort of… I mean, there are different types of youth, not all of them are sporty or into slamming into each other at full speed on blades of steel. To attract those who are not into hockey… maybe I should find out what interests them, run that activity and then slowly introduce them to what it means to play hockey – in other words, I’ll attract kids to hockey with something other than hockey!”
I’m not sure that type of logic would fly err, skate, with the Great One.
I’ve got some hockey players in one of my classes. They sit in the front row—a full row of toughness and muscle. As you would say in Australia, “Tough looking blokes these.” (Great guys though!) If I said to them “Do you love hockey?” They would look at me with their false teeth and say “heck yeah!” If I asked one of them, “Why did you join the hockey team?” He would say, “Because I grew up loving it and it is AWESOME!” Now of course, each hockey player would have his own story but the bottom line is, they were attracted to hockey, because of hockey!
And that is exactly the way it should be.
The point is simply this, if you want to attract someone to something, you don’t hide what you are trying to attract them to. Nor do you masquerade it as something else. We as Christian youth leaders must be very clear on this. Jesus is awesome, God’s message is awesome, God’s people are awesome. Being a Christian is AWESOME! This is what we hold out to this dark and dying world. Nothing more, nothing else.
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
“The way we’re doing things is already not working. We are failing at our calling. And deep down, most of us know it”. (Mark Ostreicher, Youth Ministry 3.0 p. 11.)
Things are shifting very rapidly in youth ministry in North America. For the observer with sharp eyes, this change is filled with bittersweet irony.
For many years, youth ministry across the western world has been based on the Attractional School of youth ministry. You know the drill, put on something that is exciting to attract youth to your group. You then hope to see them come to something a little more serious, a little more Christian with a little more Jesus. You want them to move from first to second base in their spirituality so to speak.
The irony here is that the Attractional model of youth ministry, so prevalent, so pervasive, and so passionately argued for in many circles is dead (or certainly dying). And what has slayed this once mighty beast? Better attraction! You see, when we took up the sword of the entertainer and the shield of pleasure, we entered into an arena where the world excels. We thought we could slay the mighty dragon because we believed that in our corner was Jesus right there cheering us on. It seems that not only was he not there, but left us alone in this playing ground. My feeling is he watched us enter through these wide doors with great sadness in his heart. For those who seek to fight on his side, this is not the way of the warrior.
We now find ourselves standing in this ‘attractive arena’ finding that our weapons are dull if not completely useless. How can we compete with the gods of this age when our weaponry is material and not spiritual? This is no David v. Goliath scenario, this is an army of slingshots v. an army of nuclear warheads. Bottom line, when it comes to attraction through entertainment, we just cannot compete. And, we never were supposed to.
What has killed the Attractional Model of youth ministry? We have seen the enemy, and it is more attractive than what we can offer. Attraction has killed the Attractional, pure and simple.
We need to leave this arena posthaste and join our master in the new school of Attractional ministry. We must shine like stars as we hold out the word of life (Phil. 2:15-16). We must be salty and act like that city on a hill (Matt. 5:13-16). We must live good lives, be unified, and show this world that “God is really among us” (1 Pet. 2:12, Ps. 133, 1 Cor. 14:25). We must show this world very clearly the mighty power of the gospel that transforms all who bow the knee.
This is our attraction, this the battlefield on which we can win. This is where we belong and this is where Jesus wants us.
(I want to say a farewell to my friend Eddie Whitchurch. A friend for over 25 years who gave wise “country” counsel to me and stuck with me through good times and bad. A friend to all and a mighty man of God. Eddie, I’m glad your battle is over and you are with the King. Enjoy it.)
There is a change underfoot. Can you feel it? People are waking up and realizing that some aspects to youth ministry that have been held so dear for so long are…well, they’re just not working anymore.
You can read this in the new group of youth ministry books coming out of America (i.e. in Mark Ostreicher’s book, “Youth Ministry 3.0” he quotes Kendra Creasy Dean as saying, “The way we’re doing things is already not working. We are failing at our calling. And deep down, most of us know it”). Mark DeVries has blogged that it may be time to “rethink the funnel” as it “could be dead” as a viable strategy for evangelism (http://ymarchitects.com/3251/is-the-funnel-dead/).
Yep, the times are a changing. The trouble is, well there are two issues:
1. The things we want to change (or even remove) are in the very DNA of our youth ministries. Most of us just can’t imagine a youth ministry that is not committed to attraction through entertainment. Nor can we imagine a youth program without games or social activities as integral to the weekly meeting.
2.What do we replace it with? Many of us have not been taught how to reach youth in any way other than to show them a good time with a gospel message thrown in somewhere. Nor do we know how to fill a two-hour program with solid, spiritual content that is also enjoyable to all.
Isn’t the solution to “things just aren’t working anymore” simply to go back to what was working…way back to the early church and what we are told to do in the Scriptures? Let’s take a look at Acts (i.e. 2:42-47) and see if we can create a ‘youth version’.
In addition, we need to learn how to create an environment where we have community, engage in fruitful spiritual disciplines while having an enjoyable time together. We mustn’t hark back to the funnel (or baseball diamond or wedding cake—whatever diagram you use) where we have a split between fun and serious. For example, how can we run a Bible study for grade 7 & 8 boys that is solid in content, highly interactive and enjoyable at the same time? This is the type of question we need to answer.
How about these two ideas:
1. Spend a day or a few nights with your leadership team (if you have one) brainstorming over this question, “How can we make our Christian stuff fun and our fun stuff Christian”?
2. Think through some of the activities that you have been so committed to in the past—is there any way of beefing them up a bit with better content? In other words, can you morph these activities into something slightly more profitable than simply entertainment?
Final words, change is underfoot in youth ministry, you simply can’t avoid this fact. And it is a good thing!
‘Fun’ thoughts Vol. 1: When people hear “we have chucked out sport or the silly games in our youth program” why do they hear we have also gotten rid of fun?
I have run or helped run a number of youth groups. Other than my very first experience (where I was committed to a Friday night of games and mayhem in the name of Jesus), I have tried to get rid of the straw in our program and build with gold (1 Cor. 3:10-17). When I tell people that we have “tried to eliminate purposeless games in our youth group” they seem to hear me say, “and we have made our group boring as well!”
I have had this experience many, many times. No matter how many times I try to explain the simple concept of having Christian fellowship where “the fun stuff was Christian and the Christian stuff was fun”. People just keep hearing me say… “boring is better”. In fact, I’ve even had one parent say to me (a few years back) “We are surprised that our daughter loves youth group so much—even though you don’t believe in having fun!”
Maybe I can take a minute or two and try to bring a touch of clarity to this issue…here’s to hoping.
5 Common misunderstandings of running a “Bible-based, we are trying to be a Christian community that has done away will those old purposeless games program”
1. Getting rid of ‘fun’ means we can be lazy or boring.
Just the opposite in fact! Running a program that is committed to being a Christian community that is built on spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer is not an excuse to be boring. In fact, it must cause us to be super creative and diligent as we craft a creative, enjoyable program. We must always be thoughtful of our target audience—youth! This means we need to get to know our group, and put together a fast-paced, interactive, solid in content program. It also means we need to think think THINK!
2. No sports or games ≠ no fun.
A good thoughtful Christian program can (and should) be more fun than one built with sports and games. There are many young people that want to be involved in a Christian program that don’t enjoy sports or crazy games. We have not spent the time we should in developing enjoyable, interactive, Christian programs. Nor have we learned to think creatively when it comes to building true Christian community.
3. Following on from that, having a Christian program does not mean that you never have socials or retreats etc.
A healthy program will include four key elements: the main weekly youth gathering, discipleship groups (small groups), regular socials (going out as a group together for a ‘fun’ activity), and retreats/camps. It does mean however, that you will not hold a social EVERY week, as a social program is not your main focus. One social very four to six weeks or so is a good amount. Also, hanging out after youth group or Bible study is a must. If the youth want to shoot some hoop before or after youth group, great. If they want to hang out and eat—fantastic. Just don’t make playing basketball and part of the program that everyone must participate in. There are plenty of youth who just don’t want/need to do that.
4. Do what you like as long as you use the Bible.
This is a common myth with my friends from more conservative circles. The thinking goes like this: “We have a good solid time in the Bible. This frees up the other part of the program to do things that kids like to do like play games or sport.” The Bible is not an insert or appendix to your program. It informs both your message AND your program. Furthermore, the Bible gives us a number of activities that we can do when we meet together (Acts 2:42-47, Eph. 5:19-20, Col. 3:16, Jude 20). Again, we must learn to do these in a youth friendly, enjoyable way.
5. A non-Christian youth ‘outreach’ event must not have too much spiritual content.
This is all too common and simply doesn’t need to be true. Did the early church reflect this? Is this the model of Jesus and the Apostles? Clearly being Christian, and showing this world that Christ informs whom we are and what we do is the best way to reach out. Let’s put on programs that are enjoyable, creative and clearly designed to impact the lost around us.
(P. S. There are two books that may be helpful here. One is Creative Christian Ideas for Youth Groups. Sorry about plugging one of my own but it may be helpful. Another is Craig Steiner’s Moving Forward by Looking Back. While he spends a little too much time, in my opinion, advocating games, it is a solid book on creative programming.)
There’s a question for you—what exactly is successful youth ministry? What are we aiming to do and what will we be satisfied with in our youth programs? Is it crowds? Fun? Pleasing parents? Having youth in church?
I’ve been thinking about this as I’m teaching my Foundations of Youth Ministry class (the mighty YM 191!).
In the end, I want to give a brief answer and then a slightly longer one.
The bottom line is that successful youth ministry seeks to...Build disciples of Jesus.
The goal is to fulfill Matthew 28:19 and to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Fairly straight-forward and not all that earth shaking.
Here’s my longer definition:
Successful youth ministry builds disciples who meet together in Christian fellowship and community. These disciples seek to witness to this world through word and action.
This youth ministry is informed by Scripture rather than by culture or successful church models (although these are factors that can and sometimes must be reflected in practice).
Successful youth ministry is a group of youth who gather together in the name of Jesus and seek to bless each other and grow in their love for each other. Their hope and goal is to bless each other and to bless their part of the world. They do this because this is what Scripture tells them to do…not what “a large church located in another culture that may have discovered some formula for success” tells them to do.
The goal of disciples meeting together for fellowship and blessing puts a number of other goals on the back burner—or even removes them from the kitchen altogether (having fun, gathering a crowd, pleasing parents etc.). It also frees us up to not worry about those activities or goals that aren’t all that important and concentrate on what really is—discipleship.