Rethinking Evangelism in Youth Ministry
Jason’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.
We live in a culture of sharing.
With the rise of social media, we can now share virtually anything (no pun intended). We share memes that make us laugh, selfies that make us look good, quotes and blogs that inspire us, pretty much anything our cat does, and we even share what we ordered for dinner at that trendy cafe down the street. And that barely scratches the surface of everything shared, liked, and reposted on social media every minute . . . by adults. Teens (and tweens) share even more and far more often than most adults not named Kardashian.
We live a culture of sharing that has produced a generation who is growing up sharing everything. For Generation Y and Z, what you share online is what defines you. It’s what you’re known for. It reflects who you are, what you love, and what you most value in life. The rise of social media has given us a virtual window into students’ everyday lives. We see how they feel, what they like, who they like, who they hang out with, what’s cool, what’s fun, what makes them laugh, what matters to them, what inspires them, and on and on and on . . .
With all this sharing going on, it begs the question . . .
If the students in our youth ministries really are willing to share everything that defines them and everything they want to be known for, then why aren’t more of them sharing their faith?
Is it that they don’t know how to share their faith—they just need more training?
Is it that they don’t know enough to share their faith—maybe they just need more information?
Those are two of the biggest assumptions we make in youth ministry when it comes to creating a culture of evangelism. But what if those assumptions aren’t true for our students? What if we’ve done the training and gone through the basics (again), and our students still are not sharing their faith? Or what if they’re the kids who have grown up in church, know all the answers, have heard it all before, but they aren’t doing anything with it?
Maybe it’s time to rethink evangelism and youth ministry—maybe we need to ask ourselves what we can learn from three basic things students share:
1) Students share what they love.
Likes. Reposts. Emoji-filled comments. Students share what they love for all the world to see. If a teenager is excited about something, chances are good that we’ll know about it within seconds. On the other hand, if this teen is on the fence about something, he or she won’t make an effort to share it. That’s where some of our students sit with God: on the fence.
2) Students share what they have.
From Facebook groups where a girl can share what her prom dress looks like to the Vine videos of Daniel and his white Vans, students aren’t ashamed to share what they have. If teenagers have something they’re proud of or want to be known for, it will be uploaded and shared. The flip side of that is that they can’t share what they don’t have, and some of our students simply don’t yet have a personal relationship with God to share.
3) Students share who they are.
Maybe this one should be students share who they want you to think they are. Either way, there’s an image to project and protect, and teenagers are really good at making sure that who they want to be known as is what they share online. For students, sharing their faith is like drawing a huge line in the sand—it labels them as Christians, and some of them aren’t sure that’s who they want to be known as yet.
What can we learn from these three things? What’s the takeaway here when it comes to rethinking evangelism in our youth ministries? Perhaps it’s this: More training and more information isn’t the answer. The answer is more Jesus—more of his life, more of his story, and more of his teaching. The more we make our ministries about helping students know who Jesus is, the more they will love him. The more we make our ministries about helping students see that Jesus gives us the things everybody wants (peace, hope, and purpose), the more they will see why faith in him is worth having. The more we make our ministries about helping students understand their identity in Jesus, the more they’ll discover that who they really want to be is someone like him.
The bottom line is our students will share their faith when they fall in love with Jesus, when they have a personal relationship with him that matters to them, and when they’re ready to be known as Jesus followers. It’s our calling as youth pastors and leaders to help them get there by making our ministries all about knowing, loving, and following Jesus together.
We live in a culture of sharing. What is your ministry doing to create a culture of sharing Jesus?
Jason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington state, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years. When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. He also loves to write, and you can find more of what he writes about at one of his blogs (www.verseotheweek.wordpress.com & www.pjasonmatthews.wordpress.com).
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.