There's a certain level of patronization that happens to those who work with teenagers. Youth leaders will hear things like "When are you going to become a real pastor?" (As if being a youth leader was some kind of second class ministry position) or "It's good you are working with teens because, after all, they are the church of tomorrow" (making the bad assumption that teens can't do anything of spiritual significance today.) As the leader of a ministry focused on teenagers I get sick of hearing these kinds of pronouncments.
I was a church planter and preaching pastor for ten years at a thriving church. We started with 23 people and grew to 1,200 when I resigned having 62% of our congregation who trusted in Jesus as their Savior through our direct ministry efforts. It was a great and growing church. And I left it all to pursue reaching teenagers for Christ. Here's why:
1. Teenagers are a more open audience than adults.
We have all heard the statistic that 85% of those who come to Christ do so by the time they are eighteen years of age. If this statistic is even mostly accurate then it has tremendous ministry implications. If you were in sales and knew that the demographic most likely to purchase your product were 18 years of age or younger you would put the vast majority of your marketing money into reaching that age group. But that's exactly opposite of what the typical church does.
The average church puts the vast majority of its budget into building programs and other programs that cater to the needs of the adults. If there are outreaches they usually come in the form of expensive Easter/Christmas programs that no unreached teenager I've met would have a desire to attend. Maybe it's because adults "tithe" or can serve on a committee but churches are missing the mark when it comes to hitting the most spiritually open demographic...young people.
If our "currency" in ministry is souls and our "sales" is evangelism then why wouldn't we "cash in" on the audience most likely to say "YES" to Jesus? Forgive the crass analogy (evangelism is not sales) but it just doesn't make sense to me why the church doesn't focus more on teenagers.
I was once asked by a well known ministry leader why I focused on reaching teenagers when I could have a more appreciative audience by focusing on adults. I told him, "When you work with adults you need a jack hammer and a wheel barrow. You use the jack hammer to break up the concrete first (the hardened ideologies) and then wheel barrow out all the broken pieces before you can pour the wet cement. Working with teenagers I just get to pour the wet cement."
2. Teenagers are a more strategic audience than adults.T
eenagers can take the gospel further faster than adults. The average teenager has tons of online and face to face friends and, according to one study by NPR, the average teenager has 100x's more influence on their friends than a stranger does. If teenagers can be inspired, trained and unleashed to strategically and lovingly leverage this influence for Jesus the kingdom of God could exponentially accelerate in our nation through the young souls that are reached by young souls.
Jesus took a group of mostly teenaged disciples, trained them over three years and unleashed them to shake the world. He could do the same thing today. But we must stop looking at teenagers as pests or pariahs and see them through the eyes of potential. If we want to be strategic in reaching the world for Christ we must start with young people.
3. Teenagers are a more "un" audience than adults.
"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thingsâ€”and the things that are notâ€”to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
God loves to use the unlikely and underestimated to do the unimaginable. There are no more "un ones" than teenagers. And God wants to use them, not later, but now to advance his kingdom.
How can you get started unleashing teenagers (your kids, your kids friends, your friends' kids, the teens in the youth group at your church, etc)? Why not start praying for them and get them to join THE Cause of Christ.
Let's stop patronizing teenagers and let's start mobilizing them for the greater glory of God and salvation of humanity. What say you?