Although fishing is not my favorite hobby I've done a lot of it. My grandpa was a fisherman and he took me often when I was young. He taught me all of the basics of fishing: what kind of bait or lures to use in certain situations, the best times of day to fish and, of course, how to gut a fish once you catch one. But the most important lesson he taught me is that if you want to catch a fish you have to go where they are. If there's no fish in a pond there will be none in your frying pan.
What's true of fishing for fish is also true of fishing for teenagers. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 4:19, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." And, as I just heard a youth ministry leader say, "Fish travel in schools."
If you want to "catch" teenagers for Christ then you must go to the ponds where they are swimming 7+ hours a day, the public school campus. And the number of fish in America to catch is quite large. There are over 24,000,000 teenagers, most of whom go to one of over 69,000 high schools and middle schools.
Although these numbers are staggering and could seem overwhelming there are 3 action steps youth leaders can take to make the dream of catching massive amounts of teenagers for Christ possible.
1. Be an asset to the school.
If you make it your goal to lead teenagers to Christ on the public school campus personally you could get your fishing license revoked pretty quickly. Instead, try volunteering a few hours a week. Be a coach, a class assistant or tutor. Be the youth leader that teachers can't wait to show up in their doorway, not because you are going to evangelize their students, but because you are going to help them grade papers.
Public schools are at a massive funding deficit in many counties across America and need as much help as they can get. My wife has been a teacher at a public school for almost two decades so I know this firsthand. Volunteers build relational equity with teachers and administration and have more freedom to positively influence students.
2. Teach your teenagers to fish.
When Bill Clinton signed the Student's Bill of Rights he ensured that public school students had the right to engage other students with the message of Jesus Christ. Teens of every religious persuasion have the legal right to try to persuade others to their beliefs so we need to leverage this opportunity for the spread of the gospel on campus.
Perhaps you've heard the quote, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." In the same way your goal should not be to try to catch all the fish yourself but to teach your teenagers to fish for their friends. Equip them them to relationally and relentlessly love their friends, bring Jesus up and share the good news with them in clear and compelling ways. If you need help with tools and training check out www.dare2share.org. And remember that your presence at a public school can infuse your Christian teenagers to be bolder with their proclamation of the gospel.
3. Make prayer your first priority.
Before you start volunteering or even equip your teens to share their faith, start praying. Pick a school in your community to pray for and have your adult sponsors or other adults in your church do the same. Get teenagers to start praying for their own school. Use www.everyschool.com to get them to adopt their school for prayer.
As you, your adult sponsors and teens pray for these schools strongholds will fall and doors of ministry opportunity will swing wide open. Colossians 4:2,3 reminds us, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ...."
Let us pray for our schools and recruit others to do the same. Let's serve our schools and create relational equity. Finally, let's equip our teenagers to go fishing at these schools. As they reach their friends for Jesus we will see lives changed and catch well beyond our "limit" with the good news of Jesus!