I recently have seen a bubble of growth in the student ministry I lead. But it’s not the kind of growth I hope for – it’s been church hoppers. By church hoppers, I mean Christian kids that attend another youth group and are now attending ours too. It’s not that I don’t like these students or anything like that, it’s just that I’d like our student ministry to grow with unchurched kids. I don’t want our student ministry to become known as the church that is happy to “have the numbers” because we’ve taken students from other churches. I want to us to be known as a youth group that calls students to reach their unchurched friends and commit to Jesus’ bride.
So how should a youth pastor respond?
Recognize You’re On the Same Team - every youth pastor is on the same team. We’re all trying to tell students who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Champion other youth groups in your city so you don’t get caught up with thinking that your ministry is the best and only one worth their time. You’re not as cool as you think.
Find Out Why - this is huge. Knowing why a student has come will help you know how to best address them. If they’re in the process of leaving the church for a good reason, then welcome them. If they’re family has decided to go to your church because it’s less of a commute then get them involved! But if the reason isn’t a God-honoring reason then…
Utilize the Teaching Moment - students tend to be looking for the “next cool thing” and this might be your student ministry. Or they might like your band but like the other church’s teacher. Or they might think that they need to be involved in “Christian activities” all throughout the week because that’s what Jesus wants. If these are the reasons then you have an opportunity to call them to commit to Jesus’ bride…just one. Tell them to pick one church (I’d recommend the church they came from) and be fully committed to it.
I’ve noticed that students attending more than one church tend to not serve or give…they just consume. And they can’t become fully developed Christ followers unless they start serving and becoming a part of a single church family. Calling students to a commitment is best for the student and the body of Christ as a whole. So let’s all be on the same team and call our Christian students to a commitment to the local church. If we address it now, our students will bring a healthy, servant-minded attitude to the church they attend after they leave your student ministry.
Gary Hale is the Student Ministries Director at High Pointe Church in Puyallup, WA. Check out his blog he created for youth workers in church plants - Student Ministry in a Box.