Decoding Student Culture

Jacob Eckeberger
August 25th, 2016

We’re excited to have Chuck Klein as one of our NYWC speakers for the YS Explores session on partnering with schools. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating at NYWC. Check out more information HERE.

There is nothing quite like connecting with the student body in a community, it is one of the most rewarding experiences of student and campus ministry.

But it has to be treated a little like a missionary going into a foreign land, seeing the tapestry of the people, and understanding the cultural laws. The more we understand, the more we can contextualize & maximize our ministry. This story is an illustration.

Charlie’s Story

When Charlie first walked on the high school campus in California he made two quick observations: the school security guard had his eyes on him, and the weather was sure different from what he had left in Minnesota.

Charlie was taking a new youth leader job in SoCal and he had just convinced his Sr. Pastor that reaching out at the local high school should be high on their priorities. Some kids from his youth group were part of the student body, so once he got his visitor pass at the office he looked for the location where they said they would meet him for lunch.

He found the kids and sat down to visit. It wasn’t long before more students gathered around and Charlie had a chance to meet some kids he had never seen in the youth group. At first he felt a little uncomfortable but he had decided before he came on campus that the best thing he could do was simply be himself, be friendly, and let God open the doors. And so he did, and by the end of lunch he had met 4 or 5 new students and felt like he had just made some friends. That night at youth group he asked about the new students and found out that they were some of the more influential people on campus, kids in the know who could connect him with more students.

And so they did, and over the next few months as Charlie visited the campus twice a week (administration would not allow more visits), he met a whole lot of students, most them seldom attending a church. He discovered that each student pretty much related to a group or “tribe” and the campus was made up of a number of these tribes. Each group had a sort of leadership hierarchy, some were undefined groups that just hung together, others were connected through sports teams, music, or some other activity.

Charlie took an interest in several of these tribes because that was where some of his youth group kids hung as well. By the end of first semester some of these new students had come to his outreach meetings and several had trusted Christ. Others met with Charlie (and a couple of his YG kids) at the local burger place where they had time for some good conversation, and where some of the kids had some very interesting questions. It forced Charlie to sharpen his knowledge with evidences for the Faith, but in the end several of these students also received Christ. It pumped his youth group kids to say the least, and their growth accelerated.

But Charlie had more to learn about sensitivity and the culture, specifically with the school administration.

There had been some problems on campus the year before with outsiders, and so Charlie was being watched carefully. He was young, but he made up his mind that he would get to know the principal and try to build some trust. His first meeting was a little awkward, but he assured the principal that he was there to help and to abide by the rules, which meant meeting with kids only for lunch and no distribution of religious materials. He agreed, and the principal allowed him to keep coming on campus.

Then one day a parent complained to the principle about having religious people at school. The principal called Charlie in to talk about it. Charlie expected the worst, but he assured the principal that he was abiding by the rules. The trust he had built was paying off. The principal allowed him to keep coming back.

A Student of Students

In the course of that year Charlie became a student of students, and his youth group grew as his knowledge increased in several areas:

  • the student culture
  • the school and administrative culture
  • helping his church connect with the culture of the school
  • insight into the families of the students Charlie was meeting.

[bctt tweet=”Penetrating the secular culture puts us in touch with the very people who need the Gospel most.” username=”ys_scoop”]

It is something we see modeled often in Scripture including Paul on Mars Hill with the Greeks, Joseph with the Egyptians, Jesus with a sundry of different people. It is the adventure and one of the great rewards of campus ministry.

NOTE: Not every school allows outside visitors, but regardless of on-campus opportunities, youth leaders and students can team up, decode their campus and connect with kids who otherwise would never be reached.  

For more on this topic, check out this free resource.

Chuck Klein gives national leadership to the Campus Alliance, a coalition of 60 organizations and church denominations that share the vision of seeing a ministry to every middle school and high school student and campus in America. The Campus Alliance sponsors everyschool.com, where students and adult leaders can adopt their schools and connect with resources for campus ministry. Chuck is also an author and video producer. He and his wife, Clare, make their home in San Diego, California.

Jacob Eckeberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.