Over the last two plus decades I've had the privilege of engaging thousands of youth leaders in conversations about the subject of outreach and evangelism. During that time I've gathered a ton of great thoughts and ideas from youth leaders in the trenches when it comes to reaching out to the next generation with the good news. Some youth leaders are killing it when it comes to advancing the good news among teenagers in their communities.
Sadly, I've also witnessed a pattern of mistakes and missteps in the youth ministry world when it comes to outreach. I've boiled them down to 5...
1. Forgetting to saturate their outreach efforts in prayer
Jesus set the pattern for saturating outreaches in prayer. Mark 1:35-39 reminds us of this, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: 'Everyone is looking for you!'Jesus replied, 'Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.' So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons."
If Jesus, the Son of God, saturated his outreach efforts in prayer then we should too! Actually Jesus almost missed the outreach event because he was so involved in his prayer to God! And it was during this time of prayer that God re-directed him to hit the road and saturate the villages with the gospel. In the same way the power we get from on high through prayer will super-charge our outreach efforts and re-direct us to adjust our strategies when the Father so chooses.
Effective outreach is saturated in prayer from start to finish. And it is on-going prayer that is key to the spiritual growth of those who come to Jesus as a result of our outreach efforts!
How are you prioritizing prayer in your outreach efforts?
2. Viewing outreach as just a meeting or program
When I talk to many youth leaders about their outreach efforts they immediately start sharing with me about their latest monthly or quarterly outreach meeting. And therein lies the problem. Our outreach efforts should not just center around meetings where unreached teenagers are invited to attend. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big believer in attractional evangelism. But our biggest outreach meeting is not a pizza night, lock-in or Dodgeball tournament. Our biggest outreach meeting is the teenagers themselves!
Could you imagine 400 teenagers attending your outreach meetings? Well, guess what? That's about how many online and face-to-face friends the average teenagers has according to the latest research! If your teenagers reach out to their own circles of influence (school, work, sports, social media, etc) they can make an exponential evangelistic difference far bigger than the number of teenagers currently attending your youth group!
Yes, have the Dodgeball tournament but make sure you put an even bigger, on-going emphasis on mobilizing your teenagers for the spread of the good news of Jesus in their own social circles.
3. Refusing to train teenagers to engage gospel conversations
Do your teenagers know how to bring Jesus up, articulate the good news and navigate a gospel conversation with their peers? If not train them and equip them to do just that!
Far too many youth leaders are sloppy and spotty when it comes to this. At best they give their teenagers the latest, greatest technique of evangelism. At worst they do nothing at all to equip their teenagers to engage gospel conversations.
This, by the way, is where Dare 2 Share can really serve you as a youth leader. We have conferences, curriculum, and even an app to help you and your teenagers start and navigate natural gospel conversations with their peers.
Get your teenagers engaged in gospel conversations (not merely evangelistic presentations) and you will see both your students and youth group grow in all the right ways. To help kick-start your efforts get 100 free Life in 6 Words gospel conversation starting outreach books on Share6Campaign.com. These highly designed little books carry a big punch and will help your teenagers bring Jesus up in a natural way.
4. Giving weak or inconsistent gospel presentations
Do you give the gospel every week in your youth group? If so, way to go! If not, why not? And please don't tell me that you only have Christian teenagers in your group (how would you really know that anyway and since when do Christian teenagers need to stop hearing the gospel?)
I love Charles Spurgeon's response to someone who asked him his style of preaching. He said, "I take my text and make a bee-line for the cross." To preach a sermon without giving the gospel is like telling a joke without giving the punchline or climbing Mt. Everest and stopping three feet from the top!
Giving the gospel adds gravitas and power to any sermon. As 2 Corinthians 2:2-5 reminds us, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
But sometimes the problem is not with our consistency in sharing the gospel but the actual substance of the message we are preaching. Far too many youth leaders give a human-centric version of the good news that is all about what their teenagers must do to get right with God instead of what Jesus did on the cross so that he could declare them righteous through faith and faith alone. I call this a "turn, try, cry" gospel that focuses on what we must do for Jesus instead of what Jesus has done for us.
This brand of "good news" is not good news at all. Instead it's a slap in the face to Jesus and all he did for us on the cross. We receive the free gift of eternal life through simple faith in him, based on hid death and resurrection (Romans 3:21-25.) And, of course, after that we get the privilege of serving him and going all in, not because we have to in order to be saved but because we are saved!
Youth leader I strongly encourage you to give the gospel consistently and clearly. When you do your teenagers' understanding of the gospel will grow and they will know that anytime they invite a friend out, that friend will hear a clear gospel message at some point.
5. Avoiding outreach altogether
With all the swirling opinions about what constitutes effective outreach and how to pull it off in a youth ministry setting, some youth leaders have dropped it altogether. Evangelism is no longer a priority because it is nowhere to be found in their programs.
I strongly encourage you to not forsake outreach. This generation needs reached with the timeless message of hope only found in Jesus. God has strategically placed you in your community to lead the charge in this process. If Jesus "came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10) and if we claim to follow him, then his mission becomes our mission!
Take that mission personally! Start in prayer, equip your teenagers, "gospelize" your talks and watch what God will do!
What are some other mistakes youth leaders make when it comes to outreach?