Being an avid baseball fan growing up, one of my favorite movies was Field of Dreams. It was the classic story of a novice Iowa farmer (Kevin Costner) that heard a voice while in his cornfield saying, “If you build it, he will come.” He then gets the vision of plowing over some of his corn to build a baseball diamond that eventually allowed several classic baseball players from history, including Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), to come back to play. Although the story is fictional, I’ve seen too often a similar mantra in youth ministry programming- “If you build it, they will come.”
We’ve all been there. We care about teenagers and we desire to reach more of them with the gospel of Jesus Christ but are our programs the only means to an effective missional strategy? If we build it, will they come?
This was the question that haunted me a few years back as a youth pastor at a megachurch that had programs galore! We had the budget, staff, and backing from our church to pull off some amazing events and programs. But, there was a problem. It wasn’t working. We weren’t being as effective in reaching students as I knew we could be.
That’s when I discovered that Dare 2 Share conducted extensive research to identify evangelistic effectiveness in hundreds of youth ministries across America. They discovered some had a high rate of New Conversion Growth. This number represented students that came to Christ directly through the ministry reaching them with the gospel (events, personal evangelism, sermons, etc.). They identified 7 key values of the ministries that demonstrated 25% or more New Conversion Growth.
Did you catch the last value listed there? Yes, ongoing programs reflected the priority of evangelism. Adapting the seven values in our youth ministry meant less wheel-spinning and more transformed lives. We grew as we saw the hope giving message of Jesus Christ raise spiritually dead teenagers to life! We quickly saw that God anoints people, not programs!
Here’s a challenge – Shift the focus, energy, budget, and your valuable time onto using programs to equip instead of entertain. Focus more on the Great Commission instead of great games. Spend more time in prayer for the lost than polished details of the program.
Here are 4 of the best practices that made the most impact for us:
1. Spend more time praying for lost friends than giving announcements. We committed to at least 5 minutes of every program to intercessory prayer. We use the T.A.C.O.S. (Thanksgiving, Adoration, Confession, Others, Self) format to guide them because…who doesn’t like tacos? Yes, it was awkward at first when there was silence but we built a culture of praying for lost friends by name and now it’s one of the parts of our programs that the students look forward to.
2. Celebrate what you want them to replicate. Bring students and leaders up to share the good, bad, or ugly story of them trying to verbally share the gospel with a friend that week. Don’t just bring the successes but it’s important for others to see that they still risked it all to share the hope of Christ.
3.Take time to train them on how to share the Gospel. We use Dare 2 Share’s Life in Six Words. We started a role playing element where we recapped questions they may commonly get when sharing their faith. Create the opportunity for discussing and growing the student’s evangelism efforts.
4. Share the Gospel yourself. We committed to close every program with a short gospel explanation and invitation to follow Jesus. Use a video, have a trained student or leader come up and do it, or make it part of your message. Just whatever you do, don’t miss out on the opportunity when students are present!
This by no means an exhaustive list but it’s a start. Do you have a best practice when it comes to leveraging programs for evangelism? I’d love to hear about it!
Keith is his high school sweetheart Caroline’s husband and is daddy to three rambunctious boys named Hudson, Graham, and Dawson. He has been on staff withMcLean Bible Churchin the Washington D.C. area since May 2008. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia International University with Youth Ministry and Bible Majors and an Outdoor Leadership Minor, as well as a Masters of Arts in Christian Leadership degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He serves as the Executive Director of public school campus missions organization calledEDGE Clubsand is a Certified Trainer forDare 2 Share Ministries. In what free-time he has left, he enjoys building vintage motorbikes forSeymour Cycle Works.