Dear Fellow Youth Pastors,
You have probably heard this before but I will repeat it “stop playing games”. Stop with the dodgeball, stop with the paintball, stop with the concerts and stop with the bring a friend get a prize nights. Its ridiculous, selfish and stupid!
Now if your still with me understand my heart. I’m not saying that you should never do any of these things. I am simple saying that if those are what keeps your kids coming there is a problem. Want to know if thats what keeps them coming? Stop doing those things. Will you have a bit of a smaller ministry, maybe. Will you get asked why not as many kids are showing up? Probably.
Now you may be asking why? Why have I lost my brain and decided to go against the basic youth ministry code of “play games and they will come”? Its pretty simple, it doesn’t work and you know it. If you have been in youth ministry for longer than a few years you know that the kids that are disciples of Jesus aren’t the ones that want to play the games all the time. They are the ones that have the good questions, the ones that invite friends because they want them to hear about Jesus and the ones that will show up for both the paintball trip and the mission trip.
I hear youth pastor after youth pastor yelling about how so many teens are leaving the church. How study after study is showing that if we don’t do something now we are going to lose another generation of teens. I hear a lot of screaming but don’t see a lot of action.
So lets start with a few basic points:
1. Preach Jesus! – What you attract them with is what you keep them with. If you attract them with concerts, games, prizes and so on when those things are gone they will be too. If you give them the gospel mixed in with games its not bad is just a bad idea. If you give them pizza, paintball and preaching they may come, but lets be honest they can get pizza and paintball other places. All that does it build in them a habit and when they grow up and go to “big church” and there is not pizza and paintball they aren’t going to stick around. They will simply replace preaching with party (Pizza, paintball and party). Tell them about their sin, tell them about Jesus’ and His death and tell them about how He rose in defeat of sin and death. If you make sin small, Jesus will never seem big to them. Confront sin, present Jesus and see what the Holy Spirit does!
2. Be A Good Example – Your not perfect, either am I, but that doesn’t mean you have to speak like them to relate to them. I have heard youth pastors tell jokes that I would never tell another adult to get the kids to laugh and “connect” with them. They reference songs that are horrible to get the kids connected and then preach about how you should not let things that corrupt into your life. If you want your students to read their Bible, you read your Bible. If you want your students to pray, you better be praying. If you want your students to ask questions and grow give them the opportunity to do so and don’t let them off with simple answers. Dig in and get deep. Let Jesus continue to transform you so that the Holy Spirit can use you as a way to get to them.
3. Care About Them – This may sound like an obvious one. However there are many times where youth groups will be one sided. They will only appeal to one kind of kid (jock, nerd, rebel, etc). To be honest this is a struggle for me but one that has to have balance. If you only have one type of student in your group it will hinder the growth of those students. They will never be forced to deal with people different than them and in turn will never see how the Gospel can bring people together that are from two different worlds. When many different types of people come together to learn and worship Jesus we there is something special that happens. Its not longer just about what Jesus did for me, its becomes about what the Holy Spirit is doing through all of us as a community.
Look, I love you. I am with you in this mission. I’m a youth pastor too, but we can’t keep up the same old thing that youth groups have done for so long. I have had three sets of youth groups go through my doors. Each time few stay and many go. I started to see a pattern. I was too focused on games and the “cool stuff” to get them there. At best I have four years with them, at worst I have one night. I’m not going to waste that on trying to make them think that Jesus is cool. I’m going to tell them that they, like everyone else, is a sinner of need of Jesus. That He died for them and did the impossible by raising from the dead in DEFEAT of sin and death. That because of Him we no longer are enemies with God. We are free from sin and free to live for His glory.
If your not preaching Jesus your not preaching at all. Now I’m going to go plan the next paintball trip. 🙂