[NOTE: It’s an early-morning travel day for some of the ym360 Team, as we’re headed to an awesome youth ministry conference. As such, we’re rerunning a previously posted article, one that generated a lot of great conversation. Hope you enjoy (and add your thoughts in the comment section below). Back with fresh content tomorrow!)
Stop telling your students to invite their friends to church.
Well, wait. … Don’t do that. I’m getting ahead of myself. …
Let me start over. …
Somewhere along the way, we began to communicate to students that the best way (or maybe even the only way) to help introduce their peers to Christ was to simply invite them to church. (My hunch is that this emerged out of the program-centered mentality of the church-growth movement, though I can’t say for sure.) This mindset is well-intentioned and innocent enough. After all, church is where we talk about Jesus. It’s where we worship. It’s the gathering of the Body of Christ! What better place to bring people to get them saved, right?
Telling your teenagers to invite their friends who don’t know Christ to youth group isn’t wrong, per se. But as a PRIMARY (or worse, THE primary) strategy for encouraging your students to share the Gospel, it’s actually not your best foot forward.
And yet, the mentality is pervasive. If I’m being transparent, I’m guilty of it myself. There have been times in the past where, in the context of a discussion on sharing the Gospel, I’ve encouraged students to get their non-Christian friends to youth group. I bet you have, as well. I mean, there’s a good chance you said it last night or last week.
Again … am I saying this is wrong? Of course not! Should we want our students to involve friends who don’t have a relationship with Christ in our ministries? Of course we should. So what’s the problem?
The problem is when this becomes the main thing our students hear when we talk about evangelism.
Here’s what I mean …
It’s Not Very Biblical—We can search Scripture all day looking for examples of Jesus telling His followers to bring people to their local churches to get saved. What we will find is virtually zero examples of this. But we will find example after example of Jesus modeling an evangelism that passes through individuals. The biblical model of Gospel spreading is not through programmed presentations, but through personal interactions.
It’s Not Very Effective—There is a massive body of research showing that Millennials in large part have a distrust of institutions and authority. (Books like You Lost Me by David Kinnaman express this very effectively.) Couple this with study after study (such as the one referenced in this USA Today article) showing our culture becoming increasingly nonreligious, and you have a mountain of factors working against a “you bring ‘em, we’ll save ‘em” mentality.
It’s Kind of Arrogant—This is the one that gets me. None of us would ever do it on purpose, I don’t think. But when our main evangelistic strategy is to tell kids to bring their friends to church, we’re subconsciously saying, “Leave the real work to the professionals. This is adult stuff.”
So, I don’t want to be that guy, the guy that throws stones but doesn’t offer solutions. Here are a couple of thoughts on what I believe is a better way.
Community First, Institution Second
Listen, we want teenagers who are apart from Christ to know Him, and to experience His Kingdom on this earth. What better way to do that than challenging your students to engage friends who don’t follow Christ in real relationship long before they invite them to church. Empower them to invite their peers into their community so that they experience the difference Christ makes in their lives for themselves.
What if those three or four girls who are best friends began doing life with the girl on their cheerleading squad who doesn’t know Christ? What if this girl experienced what Christ-centered community was really like by simply being real friends with girls who are living for Christ? Isn’t this a better first approach than asking these girls to start by inviting their friend to a Wednesday-night worship service?
Better yet, what if you were to change your programming to push “church” out of the buildings and into places where your teenagers actually live their lives? What if your small groups occasionally (and strategically) met at the mall food-court, or the coffee shop, or the park behind the ball fields? How much easier would it be for an “outsider” to take a chance in this environment as opposed to the formal, and intimidating, environment of navigating your church’s campus and culture?
So, those two tips are a start. There’s certainly more to be said. But I want to hear what you think. Do you think I’m missing it? Or that I’m not going far enough?
At the end of the day, I simply believe it’s high time for many of us to stop operating like the best first step to the faith is coming to a church service.
What do you think?