As youth leaders, and people in general, there are many things we learned in the long months of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Not surprisingly, we realized how vital it is for teens to have live interaction with one another. Despite the Gen Z propensity to be absorbed in screens, being forced to work and socialize remotely took a draining toll on youth. Even after coming back to “near normal,” many churches are still struggling to revive relationships and re-establish routines, but we recognize how essential it is to embrace face-to-face socialization. Outreach is an important part of this, and now is a key time to consider tools for community engagement. Outreach ministry with youth should focus on multiple facets: not only does it offer an opportunity to draw outsiders into the church, but it also allows teens experience in serving, and demonstrates genuine care for others in Jesus’ name. Outreach planning should be targeted and intentional to maximize the benefits of events and activities.

Why Bother with Outreach?

Outreach is an essential component of youth ministry, although we sometimes neglect to emphasize why or how we should use it. It can be tempting to see outreach events as a chance for carefree entertainment, or as a source for new youth participants. These might be side benefits, of course, but not the main purpose. Gathering greater numbers for youth or congregations is great, but there’s far more to the process.

At its core, outreach is about serving our community and sharing the love of Jesus. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) We are the body of Christ and should be fulfilling His mission to love and care for others. We want others to have the gift of saving faith in Jesus alone. Outsiders should view the church not as a group of insular hypocrites, but an institution dedicated to genuine support of those in need. This goes for general outreach and especially for ministry to teens. Outreach activities let outsiders know that they are cared for, by God and by the church. They also allow the students already in our churches to selflessly serve and help other people close to their age.

We can model Christ and His ministry. “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34) Jesus taught the crowds, but He also fed and healed them. He truly had compassion and took care of the needs of the people. As we approach outreach, we should look for ways that we can meet the needs of those around us and teach students to do the same.

What Should we Do?

So how do we do it? There are a variety of specific methods and activities to use for outreach ministry. Some of these are geared more to service. They may or may not bring in new participants but can provide students with methods of helping others and caring for the community. Examples of these events include:

  • Hosting a free car wash at church
  • Visiting a nursing home to sing or talk with the elderly
  • Assisting at a food pantry or homeless shelter
  • Making “blessing baskets” to benefit local workers (bring them to a hospital or fire station, for example, and create notes or cards to accompany)
  • Putting up a free breakfast table at a school (check with schools to see if this is possible)
  • Providing babysitting for parents, especially near Christmas or back to school shopping

Other outreach events can provide incentives for teens (and families) to attend and make great opportunities for students to invite friends and for leaders to make new connections. These should include fun activities. A devotion or lesson should be part of the agenda but consider making it simple and understandable for those who may not be familiar with the Gospel. Some ideas for such events include:

  • Family barbecue or potluck (especially useful after a big event like VBS)
  • Sports day tournament (this could include popular things like soccer or softball, as well as silly “sports” like pillow kickball)
  • Game night (board games, group games, etc.) or game day
  • Ice cream social
  • Challenge course, trampoline park, or fun center
  • Mini concert or talent show

If the group is hosting an event that visitors are encouraged to come to, consider covering a portion or all the costs of those outside the church. Allow students to relax and have a good time but encourage all to interact. Have additional supportive adults around to meet visiting students and urge the more extroverted teens within the group to approach and engage with visitors. Demonstrate an authentic warmth and welcome for all who attend.

Follow Up and Don’t Give Up!

During and following events, express genuine interest in those who participate and are impacted. Where appropriate, gather contact information for those who attend outreach activities. Follow up with teens and check in on how they are doing. Invite them to future events, but also show care for their general welfare and see how you might continue to love and serve them in any way possible. Pray for them. If you reach a broad span of people or your group is large, assign students to those who visit and encourage them to check in with their peers. Be consistent in engagement and try not to grow discouraged. Outreach ministry can be a lengthy process and even when the Holy Spirit is at work, we do not always see immediate and enormous results. Continue to prayerfully engage and minister to the community, even when progress seems slow.

Get Out There!    

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:27-28

Jesus did not just come for those inside the church; He came as a suffering servant, loving and reaching out to those in need. As we approach outreach for youth groups, we can keep things fun and engaging but also genuinely care for students, in and out of our congregations. All the Church’s actions ultimately focus on the task of sharing Christ in our words and deeds. Remember the purpose of the programs and seek to truly serve, sharing the Gospel of Jesus to one soul at a time.