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Youth Ministry: The Case for (the Right Kind of) Teen Ministry

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Youth ministry is my passion. Before I get any flak for concept-stealing, know that I got permission from my friend Lee Strobel, author of The Case for ChristThe Case for FaithThe 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 I should tackle this message. He, too, is convinced we need to reach this next generation of kids. And reaching them will require youth leaders, parents and pastors fully aligned with the right kind of philosophy.

I hesitate to even use the term “right kind of youth ministry.” That’s because I’m 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 business adage “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is also true for youth ministry. When the right kind of culture is present, 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. Failure is inevitable.

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?

3 Reasons Youth Ministry Matters

1. Urgency

This is something we all intuitively know: The VAST majority of people who put their faith in Jesus do so by age 18. I’m sure you’ve read the statistics that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to come to Christ.

My friend Shane Pruitt did an 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 results make it clear. 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 teens!

2. Effectiveness

Teenagers not only come to Christ quicker. They also 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 four times the average congregation size! The exponential reach of teenagers is shockingly large, and their influence on those they reach is amazingly deep.

What if we leverage that influence for the Gospel? What if we rebrand “The Great Commission” as “The Greatest Cause”? And what if this cause, The Cause, inspires a generation to reach their generation for Jesus?

It could create unprecedented momentum not just in our youth groups but in our churches. It could trigger a revival that makes its way to the church auditorium!

3. Long-term results

Teenagers who are trained, equipped and mobilized for the Gospel are much more likely to not just 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-vs.-gangster movie The Untouchables. Elliott Ness, played by Kevin Costner, is upset that he can’t find a good cop in all of Chicago. A seasoned and still-honest cop, played by Sean Connery, responds by giving Ness the solution. 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, they 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.