So how do you reach tweens with the Gospel?
In addition to the tens of things on your to-do list, the never-ending quest for balance in your ministry/personal schedule, the mounting list of emails that have gone unanswered and voice mails that you’ve saved for the last possible time: how evangelistic is the tween ministry in your church? Is your ministry committed not only to meeting the spiritual needs of Christian tweens, but also driven by the passion to see lost middle schoolers come to know the Lord Jesus Christ?
The great commission from Matthew states what I believe to be the heavenly mandate and hovering measure of our ministry – go and make disciples. I am increasingly convinced that this is the real eternal fruit of the work of our hands as ministers.
We will not be asked about how many flat-screen TVs we installed in our youth center, nor how many books/articles we authored and published. We will not impress Heaven with nor insulate from the purifying fire of judgement our massive church babysitting children’s ministry that’s the biggest in town. Nay (KJV), we are to make disciples… teaching them to observe all things that Jesus taught.
Making disciples involves two key aspects of ministry to others: namely, evangelism and discipleship.
Romans 10:14 (NLT) “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
2 Timothy 2:2 (NLT) “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”
In my dealings with ministry staff across the country the consistent theme of evangelism still conjures up an event-driven model of outreach. What does it bring to mind when I ask the question, “How are you going to reach the non-believing tweens in your community?” These are some of the initial thoughts student ministry leaders have when thinking through that question:
–What was the best outreach event that I’ve ever attended?
–How many kids were there?
–Who were the bands?
–What was the draw?
–I wonder how much they spent on marketing… Wait, all my budget’s gone… How did I even hear about it?
–I really liked the speaker. Would my tweens like the speaker?
–How will I get my tweens there? Wait… is this for my tweens or for the ones that aren’t going to church?
–I don’t know these kids… what do they like? Whom do they listen to?
And on and on those questions can go. They’re all very valid questions that deserve serious reflection and even a focus group of unreached kids to bounce it off of. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to event evangelism. Whether it’s outreach-based or an “attraction” model, it’s still a ton to wade through as you traverse the waters of modern-day proclamation evangelism event planning.
I would love to see another thought pattern emerge in the coming months and years of student ministry. But first, let’s review a few eye-opening stats and double-click them to see what opens up to us. Forgive me for bludgeoning the dead-horse of some of these stats, but they frame the context of a premise for a new approach to engaging lost tweens/middle-schoolers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the hopes of “making disciples.”
1. Our church kids are in trouble. Percentages ranging from 67 percent to 82 percent of our youth are leaving the church as soon as they get the chance. We know that there’s a chasm, generally speaking, between our young people and God.
2. Kids are still very tender for the Gospel. In fact, children between the ages of 5-13 are five times more likely to come to Christ than at any other time in their lives. Is there any doubt that reaching kids in this age is some of the most important work we can do as ministers of the Gospel?
3. Kids have tremendous influence on other kids. In fact, no one has the ear of a tween like another tween.
Take a moment and guess where I’m going.
4. A majority of our Christian students don’t know how to share the Gospel. Isn’t that staggering? These are Jesus-loving, born-again, “want-to-change-the-world” students that are faithful to our Bible classes. And they’re not equipped to share the Gospel with their friends and family! So, what exactly are we teaching them, I wonder?
If students reach students better than adults, sounds like at least one aspect of our evangelistic efforts should include equipping our Christian tweens to reach their friends with the Gospel.
At the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one of the verses we emphasize with the Dare to Be a Daniel youth evangelism project is 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV): “But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
As believers, we’re called to put Christ first. Without Him as the foundation of our ministry, no amount of entertaining kids will draw them into a loving relationship with the Father. But when we share our faith, we must do it in a way that demonstrates we value the other person and understand where they’re coming from. When it comes to reaching young people, in my experience, nobody can do it as well as another young person – if they’re given the tools to do so.
My advice: find a Christ-centered, Scripture-driven resource that can equip your youth to share their faith boldly yet with sensitivity. You can check out BillyGraham.org to find out more about how Dare to Be a Daniel may be useful to your youth group (more to come on that in Part 2 ).
If we want to reach a generation that is increasingly uninterested in the Gospel, we need to help our young people do the work of evangelism and discipleship. Remember: we’re called to make disciples. If we really are making disciples out of our kids, they in turn will be making disciples of others.
So how do you reach tweens with the Gospel? We ended our last time together with this premise (Part 1) :
If students reach students the best, sounds like at least one aspect of our evangelistic efforts should include equipping our Christian tweens to reach their friends with the Gospel.
So how do we make that happen? What practical ways are there to equip young people to wield their tremendous gift of influence?
Evangelism Training – Preparation
First, let me pose this question: what do you think of when you think of evangelism training? Both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggest that most churches’ evangelism/outreach training sessions deal almost entirely with a presentation method. Though from our pulpits we challenge folks with a relational gospel, we are equipping them with a formulaic presentation for engaging their friends. It’s as though we’re encouraging people to sell a “thing” rather than point others to a risen Lord.
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV) reads, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The first part of this verse suggests that there is a Lordship issue. If Christ isn’t Lord of someone’s life, it will be a “what” presented and not a “who” shared. This is one of the first aspects of any of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s evangelism training sessions (i.e. Christian Life & Witness Class, FM4:19, Dare to Be a Daniel , etc.)
The good news is, the discipleship training or three to five-year scope and sequence that you’re on now with your students for training that deals with character development and basic Biblical theology is key and quite fundamental to evangelism. The late great revival preacher Leonard Ravenhill was known for asking folks, “Do you have a living relationship with Jesus?” instead of “Have you been saved?”
I love the implication of that statement: are you walking and talking with Jesus? Are you dying daily to self? Is Christ in you? Then we should see evidence of “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). On that note, you would be amazed at how many people commit their lives to Christ in our Evangelism Training sessions.
Evangelism Training – Proclamation
After we wrestle the Lordship aspect of 1 Peter 3:15, we must move on to the proclamation part – “… always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you…” Here are some key aspects that we discovered will resonate well with tweens (and folks of all ages for that matter):
Bible Study Time
Whether you are using a tween evangelism training resource or not, you can still be conscious of what I call the “1P315” Factor. Study 1 Peter 3:15 and then simply ask the question of the text figuratively and of your students literally, “How does this lesson equip you to either share the gospel directly with someone, or live a life that would cause someone to ask you about the hope that you have?” Give a few minutes at the end of class to allow for one or two students to answer that question. Invite your students to ask that of you at the end of each lesson in case you forget.
I know it’s “old-school” but it’s dead on! Take your favorite Gospel sharing tool (e.g. BGEA’s “Steps to Peace” with God tract). Challenge your students to memorize all of the Scriptures associated with that tract. Then give them the tract. Let them see how Scriptures can tell God’s Story. You accomplish two major things when you use memorization for Gospel sharing. First, familiarity with the Gospel story helps keep them on track when sharing. Second, memorization helps them acquire the ability to share whether or not they have something in their hand.
Dare to Be a Daniel encourages kids to memorize Scriptures to communicate four essential truths of coming to Christ:
1. God loves you (John 3:16, John 10:10)
2. Sin separates you from God (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23)
3. Jesus is the way (Romans 5:8, John 14:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
4. Our response is to trust Jesus (Romans 10:9, John 1:12)
You can use these Scriptures or others, but the important thing is urging your kids to study and memorize the Word of God. For we know from the Word itself that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).
So, I’m fully aware that I’ve just added things to your plate to do during your class time. I’m also aware that you don’t have a lot of time available for other things in those 30 or 40 minutes. Here’s where you can leverage huge time-savings, and teach kids God’s heart at the same time. Repurpose your prayer time for “evangelistic praying.” Let me suggest a script to frame that time…
“OK Class, when I say ‘go’, I want you to break up into groups of two or three people per group. I want you to share the names of the people in your life that you know need Jesus – they don’t know Him and you want to see that change. So, when I say “go”, you’ll share just the names of those people; not their stories, just their names. Then the first person that shares will start praying for somebody else’s names. You’ll go around the group praying for these names until everyone has been prayed for. You might pray something like, ‘God, I know you’re big enough to save so-and-so; please work in their heart and bring them to You.’ I’ll close our time of prayer in 2 minutes and 37 seconds. READY – GO!”
You’ve taught your kids the importance of lifting up lost loved ones to God as a priority in prayer. You’ve reclaimed precious time for teaching and sharing. You’ve also brought them a little closer to realizing God’s heart for our lives – that others might know Him intimately and bring Him the glory He so rightfully deserves.
Evangelism Training – Mobilization
Finally, let them go. Equip your kids, resource them appropriately, pray for them faithfully, then let them go and live a life that matters! Show them, by your own life, what it means to live so that others might be drawn to ask you about the hope that is in you.
I know that you care about reaching young people for Christ. What we’re finding at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association through Dare to Be a Daniel is that your students may be the best means to do that – reaching their friends with the hope of the Gospel. Are they ready? Are you ready?
One of our “Daniels” (those who have completed the training) named Sarah Scheidt, a teenager from New Jersey, issued a bold challenge on a recent Billy Graham TV special. “If you really love God with all your heart,” said Sarah, “how can you stay silent about it?” To see her story, go to billygraham.org/d2bd
Amen. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Let us – and our youth – be about our Father’s business!