The Evangelistic Youth Ministry, If you grew up, like I did, in an American church youth group, it’s likely you will resonate with the following description of American youth ministry. You spent an hour or two a week in a “youth room,” sitting on folding chairs or donated couches, singing (with or without the aid of a praise band), listening to a speaker, playing a game or two, and breaking up into small groups for discussion (in no particular order). A couple of times a year, you likely had special events like retreats, theme parties (for instance, fall “harvest” parties), and/or all-nighters, and in the summer, you had the chance to attend summer camp or go on a missions trip of some sort. That was youth group in a nutshell. Oh, and pizza. Lots of pizza.
The following are characteristics of almost every church youth ministry:
- Youth group in a church building
- “Worship” led by a praise band
- Sermons on Christian living
- Focused on Christian students
- Rare or infrequent salvations
See the pattern?
Why are most youth groups so “cookie cutter”? A bigger question I now have is why aren’t most of these youth groups reaching the unchurched, unbelieving teens in our communities. Why is our focus on church kids when Jesus came to seek and save the lost and did so at all costs?
Instead of answering those questions, because I’m not sure I know the answers, I’m going to recommend a different style of youth ministry, and that is EVANGELISTIC youth ministry. I spent close to 17 years in Berlin, Germany doing youth ministry this way and getting to see LOTS of unbelieving, unchurched kids hear the gospel, trust Christ, and learn to follow Him.
Characteristics of evangelistic youth ministries
- Youth groups primarily outside the walls of the church building
- Extra worship times and/or Bible studies for believing students
- The Gospel is presented weekly!
- Focused on non-believing students
- Frequent salvations & baptisms
Here are some signs of a weak evangelistic focus. (These could all be applied to the church as a whole as well.)
- Don’t have unsaved friends.
- Lack of passion for the lost.
- They are not prepared to share the Gospel or give answers of hope to the hopeless.
- Prefer to be protected from the outside world.
- Raise money for mission trips but rarely practice it at home.
- Don’t invite their friends because youth group would be an awkward environment for an unbeliever.
Ministry to Christ followers and non-Christ followers looks very different. Youth ministry needs to be both! For sure, there need to be times of worship, instruction, and fellowship for Christ-followers, but youth ministry must extend beyond that. An evangelistic youth ministry will happen largely OUTSIDE the walls of the church building and yet work to introduce non-believers to Christ and the church. Non-churched kids are rarely going to come to you. We have to go to them. Coach a sports team/club, volunteer in an extracurricular program, serve the community in ways that put you in contact with unbelieving kids, tutor . . . Do whatever it takes and show your churched kids how to do it as well! You are the example.
A Gospel of repentance needs to be preached regularly! Students becoming followers of Christ should be the norm, not the exception. Imagine if unchurched students were being baptized at every church baptism service. Imagine if their families were being reached too.
Start imagining it differently. Think like a missionary.
Kristi Walker has spent the last 18 years in Berlin, Germany, as a missionary working with CrossWay International Baptist Church (17 of those years as the church’s Director of Student Ministries). She also directs the internship program through her church in Berlin and loves training young people for missions and ministry.