Spiritual Growth: shifting my approach to youth ministry

An interesting shift has taken place in our Sr. High large-group meetings. For a while I’ve felt pressure toward the end of each meeting to quickly wrap up our Bible study in order to end on time, not because we started late but because discussions naturally seemed to progress past our allotted time. I thought our typical hour of games, fun and relationship building followed by 30 minutes of Bible study was working okay — numbers were steady and no one was complaining — but when we started Dare 2 Share’s G.O.S.P.E.L. Journey, the 40 minute DVD sessions caused our meeting format to slowly morph into 15 minutes of games, fun, relationship building and worship with 75 minutes of Bible study. Even then, we still went another 15 minutes overtime before abruptly ending some of the most stimulating theological discussions we’ve ever had.

Throughout the time format shift I was concerned that we’d confuse some of the new believers in our group by going too deep too fast, but actually the Bible became more intriguing for them and they started asking deeper questions. They wanted to see that there’s an element of mystery to the Scriptures, not have all mystery removed by shallow Sunday school answers.

I also anticipated that some of the kids might start to drop out since the Bible study was now three times longer than usual, but actually the opposite happened — some started inviting friends on their own initiative. New students are still coming almost every week! Our Sr. High room is now jam-packed with kids filling every couch, sitting all over the floor and even spilling out into the entry-way.

I’m embarrassed by this realization: kids don’t come to youth group because they need me to organize dodge ball for them; they come because they want to be deeply challenged in their faith. They’re tired of superficial churchy Bible lessons from some one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter curriculum manufacturer — they want to move from spiritual milk to solid food (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:11-14) and I regret to say that my approach to youth group was not facilitating the process as it should have. No longer am I essentially bribing kids to church with fun stuff and then quickly throwing in some Bible stuff before they run out the door.

After gaining feedback from a couple high school students, we decided to continue with the current format of 10-15 minutes of games and/or worship with 75 minutes of in-depth Bible study. In fact, the two choices between which studies to do next were How To Study The Bible, based on my Bible college and seminary notes, or systematic theology! We decided to start with an in-depth 6-week series on the former (with homework!) and will pick up the latter next. Just last week I spent about 15 hours preparing for How to Study the Bible and I’m pumped! (Sorry, can’t share my notes here because it’s heavily based on copyrighted material from my former Bible college and seminary professors, but the book I’m distributing to the kids is: “Living By The Book,” by Howard Hendricks.)

Dare 2 Share’s Deep and Wide Ministry Thesis ties in exactly with what is happening at our Sr. High large-group meetings: as teens grow deeper in their faith, they become more passionate and reach more people for Christ. Likewise, Mark Batterson is drawing the same conclusions when he blogged last week, “It seems to me that emerging generations don’t want watered-down, dumbed-down, or soft-sell versions of the truth. I think they want to be challenged and confronted.” Willow Creek’s REVEAL study is showing that the exact same thing is also true for adults. In fact, Willow is changing their entire ministry strategy because of it, and I think I am, too.

Posted on April 15, 2008

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