Questions about Deep and Wide Youth Ministry

Deep and Wide Youth MinistrySomeone recently emailed me with some good questions about my youth group’s vision to go Deep and Wide. Thought I’d share them with you here, along with my responses.

1. What difference has the deep and wide program made to your youth ministry on the ground compared to any program you used before?

Going “deep and wide” is not a program. Taking kids “deep and wide” is our mission statement, purpose statement, core values, strategy, and our philosophy all in one simple vision for teenagers. It directs and determines our programs, the content we teach, the relationships
we build, and every other aspect of our ministry, but it is not a program.

2. What are the positive (and negative) you could share with me about it?

There’s really nothing negative about it. It follows Jesus’ commission to “go into all the world” (go wide) and “teach them to obey everything I have commanded” (grow deep). It’s also the great commandment to “love the Lord your God” (grow deep) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (go wide). Everything is wrapped up in those two inseparable aspects of Christianity: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, missions, everything.

If you want to read more about it, Greg Stier (of Dare 2 Share Ministries) wrote a thesis on it that goes into more detail.

3. One concern I have about the material is [your] use of the word “push” which could potentially have negative connotations in terms of “pushing” young people to make a commitment. Maybe this is a difference in our theologies but there have been several ministries…over the years (of which I was involved in one as a young person) that have “pushed” young people and for many this has had long term negative fallout. I agree that we ought to be hastily encouraging young people to have relationship with Jesus and to share it, but I am keen for that relationship to be long term. Do you have any thoughts?

I understand your hesitation with the word “push” and I agree with what you’re saying. Too many churches are very passive when it comes to encouraging teens in their faith. We think that if we talk with them once a week at church for an hour about it, then that’s sufficient to help them grow. But in comparison to everything else in their life — academics, athletics, band, family, relationships, whatever — they are definitely pushed. There are expectations and boundaries for each of those things that are much more rigorous than what we expect of teens spiritually. Mormons, for example, expect their kids to go to seminary for classes every day early in the morning before school and the Mormon drop-out rate is almost 0! We barely expect that they show up at youth group.

So, when I use the word “push” I mean we need to raise the standards and expectations of spiritual growth in kids lives. According to my theology, we are all naturally sinful and rebel against the things of God. Pursuing Him does not come natural for any of us. That’s why it requires some gentle, sometimes forceful, pushing. In my experience, never has a kid rebelled against that. In fact, they always rise to the challenge and start seeing Christianity as something more than just a wussy thing on Sunday mornings.

The kids who are spiritually apathetic need to be challenged the most. Jesus said, “teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded.” Sometimes we have to challenge kids to just try what Jesus commands in an area of their life, and as they see that it really works, that this
is real and not just old Bible stuff, they start to become more interested. As they continue to obey and follow the Lord and see Him at work in their lives, then they move to becoming more excited about their faith and then passionate. That doesn’t mean teens (and even myself) don’t fluctuate spiritually, just that we are striving to obey the Lord in every area of our life.

Ultimately, you’ll have to be sensitive to how much you “push” a kid. It’s different for every teenager. Some need a lot of accountability, challenges, and follow-up. Some only need to be “pushed” once.

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Posted on June 29, 2009

  • Hey Tim, great post. When we first came out with the Deep and Wide paper I think that we made a mistake by pitching it as kind of a program. I agree that it is better described as a philosophy/strategy, etc. It is nothing new but something very old (I believe "ancient" is the postmodern cool operative word.)

  • As for problems with it I have discovered one kinda big one. The graph doesn't show how the deep and wide work together synergistcally. In other words, how the deeper a teen goes in their faith impacts their witness and vice verse. So we've come up with another back up kind of analogy to describe the synergy…a hurricane. A hurricane is both deep and wide. As a matterof fact the deeper (or higher) a hurricane is the more power it has on the ground. And it's messy. I also like the "eye of the hurricane" analogy as a student's rest in the Holy Spirit. And it's messy (I say it again because discipleship is more hurricane messy than graph clinical.) I have an article on "the hurricane" as an example of deep and wide youth ministry coming out this Summer in Group Mag that explains more.____Of course where the hurricane illustration breaks down is that it is an instrument of destructiion whereas youth ministry is a vehicle of transformation. Minor detail :)

  • gforster

    Although the title wouldn't go far in today's society, it is really a "Roots and Fruit" mentality. Being grounded in the Word and then reaching the lost. You can't truly have one without the other. It has been interesting to see shifts in youth ministry and ministry in general. From a program mentality to a relationship mentality. From a deep study to commercialism/relativism back to deeper study. I am glad to see people seeking a biblical balance.

  • Good stuff Tim. I love how D&W has impacted your youth ministry. Thanks for all you do in the trenches for the Lord.

  • I love the directive and concept and I plan on using it to direct what I do as new youth leader in a small church. One thing that stood out to me is what you said about Mormon youth. They do have a higher expectation of their teens. I think probably the big reason they have such a low dropout rate is that their parents are so involved in the spiritual upbringing of their children. I've read some recent material, some may have even been yours; the statistics are quite revealing in the youth that have a stronger relationship experience with the Lord are the ones that have parents active as leaders in their spiritual life. Becasue the parent is pro-active enough to be involved they naturally expect more from their teen and they tend to get it. One of my friends is Mormon and I think its Monday night, but every week without fail, they have family night with all the family together. Because of this material I've read recently I've decided that my role is going to include activities to involve parents as much as possible and encourage (push) them to go deep & wide as much as I do their teen.

  • @Greg
    I love your new-and-improved hurricane-synergistcally explanation of the deep and wide model. I think that is right on and clears up the linearness and pushiness of the model. I am excited to read about Deep and Wide Model 3.0 in Group!. Also, thanks for putting up with my whining and crying about the previous deep and wide model.

    Our youth group just finished the GOSPEL MAUI series. Great stuff.

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