Dream with me for a moment if you will: Image a youth ministry where you don’t have to remind students to bring their friends. Imagine that they just wanted to bring their friends along all the time. Imagine a youth ministry where random guests were made to feel comfortable no matter if they looked like or thought like others in the room.
For some reading this, you will see in this description your current ministry or perhaps a youth group you worked with a few years ago. For me, I find myself describing in part a pair of ministries that I have had the privilege to serve over many years. Though each church and community context was unique, a set of similarities warrant consideration as we consider if we are able to form within our churches a culture of outreach for youth ministry. I will briefly consider a few of the values that I believe enabled both youth ministries to serve as natural attractors of those outside the church and often even those who otherwise might not have any real spiritual interests, but who nonetheless still came to hear Christ presented and wrestle with deep spiritual realities and their potential impact on their lives.
- Thinking Climate – Cultivate a climate in which asking questions is encouraged not discouraged, where tough questions are not off limits, and where those asking
and expressing their doubts are clearly loved and accepted while they struggle.
- Cultural Interactivity – Whether it is through mission trips or intentionally interconnecting your group with youth from different cultures, different
economic backgrounds and different parts of the country, expose youth to the idea that church is a place for all people to know and grow in Christ.
- Long Vision of Ministry – When ministry is laid out with solid transitions and intentionally developed connections from nursery, to Sunday school, to VBS, to
confirmation and junior high youth group, to high school youth, to college ministry and beyond, pastors, DCEs and others are able to take a long view of the conversations that begin at one stage and allow for them to grow and mature.
- Modeling Welcoming Language and Behavior – Spend plenty of intentional time talking with and training youth in leadership positions on how to connect with and build authentic relationships with new students and in so doing create a culture in which entry into the group is natural and welcoming.
- Multiplicity of Relational Relatability – By connecting a variety of adults to your ministry–each with a true heart to connect students to Christ and your group–more variety of students will relationally relate to your group and find a mentor they can learn from. They all cannot connect deeply with just you.
- Empowering Students for Outreach – A colleague and friend, Jonathan Ruehs (Residential Coordinator of Spiritual Life at Concordia, Irvine), recently pointed out to me that a further value essential for the cultivation of an outreach culture involved the empowerment of students to reach out with the Gospel of Christ in
their “world.” Not all DCEs, pastors and other youth workers are able to spend quality time connecting with students where they are, on school campuses, hanging at the mall, etc. Our best missionaries are already there, our youth. Equipping and empowering them to be intentionally available to their friends in ways we as leaders cannot, extends the impact of our ministries in a multitude of ways. This equipping may mean apologetics training, basic witnessing skills, or simply making sure that they so clearly and so deeply understand the core of the Gospel that speaking it into their own teenage context is as natural as any other conversation they have.
There are certainly many other values that can be included, but these surface in my own ministry as contributing to the cultivation of an outreach culture for youth ministry.