I’ve been in Youth Ministry as a student, leader and now pastor for 13 years. I’ve experienced tons, both as a student and as a leader. I’ve seen things work and things fail. I’ve done some amazing things that students loved and I’ve done some stupid things that students hated. I’ve also noticed a shift in ministry. Many have talked about the depth of the change such as MarkOstreicher in his book: Youth Ministry 3.0, Andrew Root in his book: Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry and Mark DeVries in his book: Sustainable Youth Ministry. All of which give amazing insight on what we need to do as Youth Ministries to shift with this change.
Once such change we need to make is the way we approach Outreach. There’s a new buzzword: “Pre-Evangelism” that I’ve been implementing into my Youth Ministry. It may not be a buzzword anywhere else, but here in NY it works. It has worked so well, that I’ve seen many students come to Christ through this effort. I will share one students story so you can see the effect I’m talking about. But before, I want to define it for you.
Most outreach events look like this: BIG event, where we encourage all of our teens to invite other non-church teens. Sometimes we trick them into bringing more non-churched friends by saying things like: if you bring 5 or more friends your name will be put into a raffle to win an iPod (not a good idea BTW, I’ll discuss this later). So, we have all these new teens we try to impress by our BIG event. We have an over-abundance of food, prizes and fun activities. THEN, it happens. We have a worship time and a speaker (as big a speaker as our budget will allow) and he tells these heathen kids about Jesus and how they need to be saved.
This approach has worked in the past! I’m not saying it was never effective, but now it isn’t. Many people asked me why I think this is ineffective. Here’s why: it comes off as disingenuous, fake and scam-like. Teens were invited by their friends who didn’t want to really bring them but wanted and iPod (that’s why it’s bad), some of these teens were extra “add-ons” by the people who invited them so they could meet the 5 person quota (another reason why the raffle thing is a bad idea). Then it was marketed to these “friends” as a BIG event with tons of fun. When they get to the event, they feel tricked, because no one mentioned a time of worship or a speaker. These teens are so put off by the trickery of it, they tune out the speaker and never want to come back to your group. Do kids come to know Christ this way? YES! Is there a better way to not only bring them into the Kingdom, but to get them closer to Jesus? YES!
The “Pre-Evangelism” approach would be a similar event (or a simple movie night, x-Box tourney or the like), without the 5 friend quota raffle and without the worship and speaker time. You are probably thinking: “take out Jesus? Take him out of the equation? Are you nuts? That’s blasphemy!”
The thing is this: the friends that were invited are going to be closer friends to the teens doing the inviting. These teens then walk through the doors of a safe-God centered place and feel comfortable. They don’t feel tricked. They then go away with a good time all the while hanging out with Christians. This type of event breaks the stigma that all Christians are boring freaks. And Jesus is NOT out of the equation, because the friends that brought them are Jesus-Followers who are now demonstrating how to have a good time, while being Jesus-Like.
This then gives this teen a RELATIONSHIP with You, the other Youth Group teens and the church itself. That teen now trusts you and WILL come back.
The student I mentioned earlier came to a movie night…where we JUST watched a movie. He realized that this place was safe, the students liked him, talked to him and encouraged him to come back to regular youth group where they told him about the talk time so he wouldn’t be surprised (This is key! They need to know if they come back what they will experience). HE CAME BACK! He felt so loved and comfortable that he said he couldn’t NOT come back. He began engaging with the talk time, asking questions about faith, love and Jesus. He began reading the Bible, doing devotions and seeking God on his own! His family didn’t like him coming because they are strong Catholics and they were noticing a change in their boy. YET HE CAME BACK! He loved baseball and his parents gave him an choice: Youth Group or baseball. He CHOSE YOUTH GROUP! That one event changed this kids life and all we did was create a safe environment for him to come and be loved on. He has since given his life to Christ and felt a call to Ministry!
He’s only one story out of many in our ministry who has been effected by this “pre-evangelism” approach. It’s intentional relationship building. It’s authentic, upfront and meaningful. We need to kill the trickery that goes into evangelism…teens see through it and despise being tricked. They desire authentic people, not phonies and when we “trick them into Jesus” they feel lied to and it perpetuates the churches name of being “phony” even if we had the best intentions.
Remember, this “pre-evangelism” event can be a simple movie night, bowling night, or basketball night. It doesn’t have to be big budget stuff. You could plan it for next week even. I truly believe that in order to see un-churched teens walking through our doors, we need to change the way we do things. This is just one simple change in outreach approach that I’ve seen go a long way for both our churched teens and un-churched teens!