Before I get any flack for concept stealing, I want to let you know that I got permission from my friend Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for Christmas and, The Case for….just about everything dealing with the subject of Jesus, to spin his “Case for” theme toward youth ministry.
Lee wholeheartedly agreed that this is a message I should tackle. He, too, is convinced that this next generation needs reached and that it’s going to take youth leaders, parents and pastors fully aligned with the right kind of philosophy to reach them.
I hesitate to even use the term “right kind of youth ministry” because I’m actually not referring to any particular youth ministry model or program. Models and programs are fine and necessary, but what makes or break them is, not the program itself but the philosophy behind them.
The old business adage, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is also true for youth ministry. When the right kind of culture is present in a youth ministry almost any model or program will work. And when the right kind of culture is not present then it doesn’t matter what program or model you have in place, because it’s doomed to fail.
But, before I make a case for the right kind (philosophy/mindset) of youth ministry, allow me to make a case for youth ministry in general. Why is youth ministry strategically important for the church?
Firstly, and this is something we all intuitively know, the VAST majority of people who put their faith in Jesus do so by the age of 18. I’m sure that you, like me, have read the statistics that the younger a person is the more likely they are to come to Christ.
Last week my friend Shane Pruitt did his own unofficial survey on Twitter. Here’s what he Tweeted afterward, “Just let the implications of this poll set in for a minute. 2,694 people polled about the age they surrendered to Jesus: 77% before they were 18. 95% before the age of 30. It’s imperative that the next generation be reached with the Gospel right now, or they may never be.”
These kinds of survey results make it clear that, if you’re a church leader who claims to be serious about reaching your community for Christ, you must seriously focus a good portion of your efforts on reaching the most spiritually open demographic in your community, children and teenagers!
Secondly, teenagers not only come to Christ quicker but they can spread the gospel faster and further than adults. According to Pew Research the average teen has 425 online and face-to-face friends. Think about that, the average teen’s social media reach is more than 4x’s the average church size! The exponential reach of teenagers is shockingly large and their influence on those they reach is amazingly deep!
What if we leveraged that influence for the Gospel? What if we rebranded “The Great Commission” as “The Greatest Cause”? What if this cause, The Cause, inspired a generation to reach their generation for Jesus?
It could create unprecedented momentum in, not just our youth groups, but our churches! It could trigger a revival that started in the youth room and made it’s way to the church auditorium!
Thirdly, teenagers who are trained, equipped and mobilized for the Gospel are much more likely, not just to keep their faith past graduation, but to advance it for the rest of their lives. As on-fire-for-Christ teenagers grow into adulthood, they’ll bring that passion to the adult congregation. Our churches will be much more healthy tomorrow if we focus on making and multiplying teen disciples today!
There’s a great line in the classic cop-verses-gangster movie The Untouchables, where Elliott Ness, the character played by Kevin Costner, is upset by not being able to find a good cop in all of Chicago. In the film, a seasoned and still honest cop, played by Sean Connery responds by giving Elliott Ness the solution to his problem. He tells him, “If you can’t find a good apple in the barrel, go to the tree.” With that they go to the rookie training center for police officers and recruit the rest of their team…and, of course, end up beating the bad guys.
Focusing on youth ministry is “going to the tree.” So many times it’s hard to find adults who are on fire for Jesus and willing to share their faith. I’m not saying they’re like corrupt gangster-era Chicago cops, but there’s a good chance they’ve been institutionalized by the consumeristic “What’s in it for me?” typical church-going experience.