I became a Christian not so long ago interestingly because of a youth group. I was perplexed and intrigued. As I became friends with the group, they kept telling me about their relationship with Jesus. In addition, they backed their words up with a lifestyle that reflected their walk. After a few months, I decided to give the youth group a shot. I went on a camping trip and was completely blown away by this group of people who loved each other and took God and the Bible very seriously. Seeing them love each other and living lives of faith had an immediate and eternal impact on me. This group was certainly “salt” and “light” (Matt. 5:13-16). In fact, they were so bright and so salty that they changed my life forever. Soon afterwards, the Lord moved me to Shekinah Christian Ministry where I’ve spent the last 2 years. As I examine the youth ministry scene, I tend to see very few groups like the one in which I became a Christian.
Bought the Lie
Most groups have bought the lie that, to be an effective youth group, you must put on a night of entertainment so that the local young people will come, have a truckload of fun, hear a short message from the Bible, and then maybe come back next week for more. For many people, the local youth group is nothing more than a glorified pub—a place to hang around, have a fun time, come back next week, and start all over. That is, until you move on to better, more fulfilling entertainment.
When many youth workers (or their senior ministers, key adults in the church, or even the kids, themselves) think about success in youth ministry, what’s the picture that comes to mind? For many, it’s a crowd of sweaty, smiling young people running around the church hall, playing a rowdy, mindless game, and trying to have fun.
The image of youth group as an entertaining place and safe environment is so etched in our collective thinking that it’s almost impossible to shake. It’s why most of our youth groups spend the majority of their time playing silly games or running around in mindless races. It’s also the reason why many of our Christian youth groups have names that rarely reflect the good things of Christ. In the church it isn’t unusual to find youth groups named: Rampage, Rage, Bomb Squad, Collision Course, etc. The leaders think these names are trendy or attractive to the non-Christian young person. They aren’t, and personally I’d rather not name my group after a bodily function or an activity associated with terrorists. Basing your group on entertainment is a very rocky road to travel in youth ministry. In my experience, it’s deeply flawed, quite possibly anti-Christian, and, in the end, nonproductive.
Why have I completely rejected using entertainment to reach the non-Christian? Here are a few reasons:
If we base our programs on entertainment (be it games or bands), we are using deception instead of the power of the gospel. The front door or entry level to the Christian faith mustn’t be an enjoyable time or a safe social environment. Rather, it must be built on the call to follow Jesus and a call to join the people of God (2 Cor. 4:1-5, 10:4-5 and 1Thess. 2:3-6). All of us here present is committed to bringing young people into a relationship with God. We don’t need deceptive entertainment to do this. Rather, we must show them Jesus, clearly and truthfully (Rom. 1:16-17).
It Hides the Real Source.
The message of Jesus can be distilled down to a message of “Come to Me.” He’s the bread of the world, the living water, the resurrection and life, the gate, the good shepherd, the light, etc. The Bible tells us that Jesus is attractive enough without fancy programming. We must offer him to the world on his terms, not through clever nights out or flashy entertainment. Trying to entertain hides the true source of attraction—Jesus.
It Hides Christian Community.
We’re to be a place of love, salt, and light. Our attraction lies in this, not in activities or entertainment. It’s the changed life and the loving Christian community that must attract the outsider. We are to live “honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they may malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.” (1 Peter 2:12). Reflect on Acts 2:42-47. Here we see how the early church lived, which reflected Jesus and was deeply attractive. Note the end of the chapter, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
It Distorts the Call.
The words of Jesus are straightforward and clear. If any man is to come after him, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34). In fact, when you read about Jesus, you find that at almost every turn he asks people to make the hard choice. He thinks nothing of telling someone to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. He tells another that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, literally. He tells a young man to let the dead take care of the dead. Jesus never portrays the Christian life as the easy road or a life of entertainment. Our youth groups must reflect the fact that we walk the narrow road. We’re here to challenge and change the world, not to entertain it.
It’s Hard to Keep Up.
If you’ve ever tried to run a youth group along these lines, you’ll find that it can be very difficult to keep at it. The average shelf life of a leader these days appears to be under 18 months. In my opinion, this is because the desperate need to provide entertainment becomes too much. Most youth leaders lose momentum and burn out along the way.
It Takes Resources.
Most churches are stretched to the limit, and most youth groups don’t have a lot of resources, so we end up making poor choices. We rarely have the resources to both entertain and disciple our kids.
It Produces a False Dichotomy.
Fun or serious? Most youth leaders are deeply convinced that they’re unable to run a program that’s thoroughly Christian and attractive at the same time. This is an unhelpful pattern because it teaches young people that church is either entertainment or boredom. We need to run programs that are thoroughly Christian and enjoyable at the same time. It’s however not surprising these days to find crusades on church program with circular guest artists and comedians.
The Way Forward
Quite simply, the way ahead is to run Christian youth groups which are simply what they are—Christian.
We must come to see the local youth group as a place for building strong Christians and then using what’s built to reach out to the non-Christian. We must run groups that are unashamedly Christian and characterized by Christian disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, loves, holy living, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This group will help young people to follow Jesus, live for him, pray to him, and make a difference for him in their local community. As the group does this, they’ll try to live in harmony as God’s people. Their time together will reflect that they are a community that seeks to live for Creator. The group will seek to have an enjoyable time as they do these things, not instead of them.
The group will encourage the members to reach out. Each member of the group is actively being equipped to reach out to those with whom they’re in regular contact by going out to bring the message of Christ to the non-Christian and by living differently in their communities. Tell them that as one lives differently, one may be asked to make a “defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15).
Finally, our minds should not be fixated on entertainment as the strongest and quickest tool to bring the non-Christian to God, If we capture them with the Gospel, then we won’t have stress with spicing it with Godly entertainment like worship concerts ,etc . Isn’t that fun enough? Let us thus
~ Salvador Dali