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Leaving The Youth Room:  Revisiting The Inside/Out Youth Ministry Outreach Approach

Leaving The Youth Room: Revisiting The Inside/Out Youth Ministry Outreach Approach

As of late, I have had multiple conversations with many good looking and great thinking youth pastors who were wanting to know how to reach the unchurch kids when they (the unchurch kids) do NOT want to enter the church doors.  I have really been wrestling around (both in my head and verbally) with how to effectively do youth ministry outreach outside the church walls.

I feel really good about the Outside/In (unchurch students come to church) approach but I still cannot get my mind around the ideas on how to do the Inside/Out (church goes to unchurch students) approach really well.  I am really stuck.

If we are saying that 50-60% of kids are dropping out of faith after high school and that youth ministries are only reaching 25-30% of the kids in the community, then do we need to start leaving our youth rooms to go meet and befriend more kids in the community?

I really want to focus on reaching the students who are not even coming to church.  My dream is that many youth ministries begin thinking about how to go reach the students in our community who have never even considered church.  But how can our youth ministries do this?

As I look back through my blog archive–  I realized that I have many posts on youth ministry outreach.  I am almost obsessed with trying to figure out outreach for youth ministry.

The Outsiders:  Responding To Unchurched Students Who Show Up To Your Youth Group

Youth Ministry Outreach:  Creating 3rd Spaces That Are Warm and Welcoming

20 Ways Teens Can Be Local Missionaries

Serving In School Is Cool

5 Realities of Missional Youth Ministry:  Inside/Out Evangelism

Inside/Out Evangelism

Strategies For Youth Ministry Outreach

Theological Understanding of Incarational Outreach

I am finding that I tend to favor the unchurched kids when thinking about youth ministry programming and philosophy– which is why I am always revisiting the youth ministry outreach conversation.

What does an outward focus youth ministry look like?

 The School Campus-  It seems that youth ministry has forgotten about the school campus.  Students basically live here so how can youth ministries effectively go on campus and meet kids?  YoungLife does an excellent job at reaching the school campus.  YoungLife is so intentional about training their leaders to meet kids where they are at and get them plugged into their local club.  So how can youth ministries train leaders to charge the school campus and start doing great contact work?  Also do we think that christian clubs on school campuses are effective?  I have been apart of many and I feel like christian clubs at school sometimes behind another big holy huddle and mini-youth group.

Events Outside of the Church Walls-  Doing events for all types of kids always works if you do your research.  You need to ask your core students what they think others students would enjoy doing.  Students know what other students love to do–so pick their brains on a fun activity that appeals to all students.  Also select activities where you and the leaders can meet all the new kids so pick events that foster organic conversations betweens students and students and students to adults.  Some successful outreach events I have done are:  Battle of the Bands, Ice Skating, Dodgeball, Broomball, Throwing a Dance Party, Bowling and Overnighters.  The point is just to do things together outside of the church.

Disclaimer:  I never preached at these events.  I simply called these events the events we do IN CHRIST.  Basically we tell students we are Jesus followers and invite them to our entry level program and I required my leaders to follow up with all their new contacts and make personal invites to youth group. The aim of the event is just to hang out and get to know everybody and invite them to youth group– which is where the message of reconciliation to God must be communicated.

Service projects-  I am all about serving together regardless if you believe in Jesus or not.  Today’s students are not wondering when and how God might use them to rescue the world from its pain and problems.   Students know (regardless of their belief system) that they have demonstrate compassion and care to others.  One of the biggest advantages ministering to the students of the next generation is that they long for energizing visions worthy of pursuit and sacrifice.  I am a big fan of getting kids to belong to something before they have to believe.  Three simple ideas on how to get all type of kids to serve:

  1. Get them to serve the local community (food shelters, babysit for free, tutoring centers and trash clean up)
  2. Get them to serve the global community (compassion, 30 hour famine by world vision, take a work related mission trip)
  3. Get them to serve the older folks in your church (identify the needs of the elderly in your church and make students do the work for free)

So what really works well when you implement the Inside/Out outreach approach?  In another words, where do you do outreach and how do you do outreach?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Please help!!

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

9 comments

  1. The problem I have with your article is that the focus stays on what we, as youth workers, can do to reach all those unchurched kids. I think that’s where the problem is rooted. If we want to have a truly successful inside/out approach, then the youth ministry has got to be a place where we train THE STUDENTS themselves to disciples their non-Christian friends. I believe that as long as we focus on ourselves as youth workers, we’ll never be very successful. Events and service projects are great, but nothing is more effective or powerful than a group of teens who know how to bring their friends to Jesus. Like so many times, I believe with this issue, youth workers need to get ourselves out of the way and enable God to work through our students, not us.

    • @Will- I respect your point. But I think youth workers are still instrumental in training our students how to reach their friends for Jesus. I think this is still a pretty big task for youth workers.

      I agree,us, as youth workers need to get out of the way but students wont just start sharing the gospel without proper training, mentoring and demonstration.

      Another thing to consider is……we are basically training church kids to reach other cluster of kids. I think socially this model breaks down because it is really difficult for a christian tennis player who has straight A’s with a great home life to influence a skater kid who has a tough home life and is super disrespectful and not willing to listen to one of her peers who is a Christian. The landscape of adolescents is very diverse and complex and many student clusters don’t respect other student clusters– so how will our church kids get influence to reach the tough kids who don’t particularly like christian kids?

      I think this is where younglife is killing it. Because they recruit specific adults to go after particular student clusters because non-parental committed adults will always have more developmental influence over peers. In another words, sociological research illustrates that adults have way more developmental influence than peers.

      I appreciate your comment but I think peer to peer evangelism has some limitations but also is another great catalyst for spiritual growth for christian students.

  2. jeremy, like always this is such a great post and challenging. i so love your heart for those kids outside church, outside the pen, outside the care and prayer of the church and caring adults. and i think that you are wrestling right there in the sweet spot of the heartbeat of God to leave the 99 and run after the 1.

    but the real question is not so much what are we rescuing these students from, but what are we rescuing them into. once we connect with those kids, once we have won them over, once we have earned a right to be heard, and even once they say yes to jesus, then what.

    and while young life does a great job at everything i just stated and most really good youth ministries doe that as well, the fundamental problem remains and that is what next.

    we have to be done bashing the church and allowing the church to be the problem or at least the straw man problem. the church needs to cherished and loved, supported and cared for. we can’t just take jesus and leave the church. so many youth workers are trying so hard to do “inside / out” youth ministry, but are simply impressing kids with how cool they are because they don’t freak out when students share about the big no no’s like those lame church people would.

    because of their developmental place of life, i think there is no way we can count on students reaching other students apart from community, apart from the church, nor do i think that is a cop out or a bad thing. students are just in the middle of their process of individuation.

    what they need is a community that is complex enough and makes space for kids and their friends, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, to have our student ministries embody the incarnation, and as they work out their faith they can’t imagine being a christian a part from the body of christ. we need each other and we need to belong to one another.

    in a time when alienation is the main thin place of our culture, what better place of good news is an adopted family with instant brothers and sisters, to be co-heris with christ, to be given a place at the table, and to be though of so highly that we even have a job to do.

    wow, sorry for droning on. all that is to say, our heart must be for the one. but not at the expense of the church or of the student ministry. attractional student ministry is still king and still should be. we might need to change our language and some of the mores (is that how you spell that) to make space for those fringe and spiritual hungry kids how don’t fit the mold. but we must continually lift up the church, tell the good news of the bride and body of christ and not let it become the whipping boy of this next generation. because without the church, we can not be followers of christ described in scripture.

    (i hope we can still be friends)

  3. Your post reminded me of an article I wrote a few years ago… I reposted it this morning. In it I talk about the difference between a school-based paradigm vs a church-based paradigm in youth ministry. I think you’ll love it.

    http://markmoder.com/2012/09/28/where-the-students-are/

  4. Great thoughts Jeremy. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this as well. I started volunteering at my girls elementary school in my community as a way to support my girls and also build relationships with other students, teachers and faculty. I get away with this “contact work” because I’m the family guy (not just youth guy).

    Anyways, as I’ve done this over the past 3 years, one thing I’ve noticed…I’ve won the right with these students, teachers and faculty to the point where teachers talk to me about God and plugging their kids into my program (hopefully). Also, as my oldest child is now in middle school, I am probably going to start a community home group out of my house and invite all those new middle school students to it and begin to introduce Christ to them.

    Anyways, great thoughts. You are right on and I am beginning to experience out going outside the church walls definitely attracts others who wouldn’t think about coming to church otherwise.

  5. Love the site. Love the post. Outreach is huge. I know we have done some things that has left a big impact and awesome return of students to come back or at least check out a service. Our student leadership team is awesome. At one of our high schools, on the first day of school the students that went to that school went to school early and left an encouraging sticky note on EVERY locker in the school. The result was the principal called us, thanked us, and now has invited us on campus for more events. Pretty cool.

    We did tail gate parties at the parks near the rival’s school. Both sides were invited to come for free food and we had music and played some frisbee and football. There were war paint stations and we encouraged them to come all decked out in school colors. It was awesome.

    And students inviting students are the biggest and most effective ways to evangelize to friends. We do services called “You Own The Weekend” where each school takes over a weekend. It’s ran by the students (music, tech, teaching, etc) and students come to see. They want to see their friends on stage leading. It’s incredible.

    Just some thoughts! Hope they help! Below are some more articles that go into more detail!

    http://www.morethandodgeball.com/2012/10/21/guest-post-tailgate-parties/

    http://www.morethandodgeball.com/2012/10/14/guest-post-campus-outreach-ideas-supporting-student-government/

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