I live in Tulsa. The buckle of the Bible Belt.
We have a lot of great churches in the area. We have a lot of large schools in the area, too. And we also have a lot of great kids from these schools that tour these churches. Most of the students I’ve interacted with “go” to at least two youth groups.
Got a few stories for you:
I met one girl on a Sunday morning that made it a point to quickly tell me she went to Big Church A and Other Church B, also. I said “Well it’s nice to meet you. I guess I’ll never see you again.” I haven’t.
Another time I was at our other campus and one of our student volunteers is wearing a t-shirt advertising the youth services to another large church in the area.
I met some students on campus for lunch and I started chatting up their friend. Immediately I got “I go to This Other Church.” Been recruited much?
My problem is not one of numbers. Numbers in youth ministry matter, but they really don’t (but they do). I’m not kicking myself because I’m “losing” students to other ministries (that’s ironic anyway). I’m glad students are connected and hearing the gospel because that’s the point!
My concern is that we are perpetuating tourism instead of making disciples. Students will come on our Fall Retreat, get the t-shirt, and move on to the next big thing in town, get the t-shirt, move on, t-shirt, move, shirt, move…
We need to invest in students.
We need to give them a reason to stay rooted, to find a home, to be fully committed followers of Christ. And I’m not talking about games and funny videos.
I’m talking about the biblical model of disciple-making found in 2 Timothy 2:2 and 2 Corinthians 10:15-16, which read:
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2.2)
Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. (2 Corinthians 10:15-16)
Disciple-making is about relationships. It’s about me investing in the lives of a handful of young men who will grow up in their faith as they watch me live mine. The follow-up is as they grow, they will continue the process, gathering guys around them and teaching them how to be a disciple of Jesus.
I don’t want to have a giant ministry that’s going to graduate apathetic tourists.
I want to train leaders how to invest in the lives of students, so they can make disciples who make disciples. I want to invest my own life in the lives of students, so they can make disciples who make disciples.
My hope is that, as the faith of my students continues to grow (and mature), they will then take that to their spheres of influence and repeat the process. And as this healthy discipleship perpetuates, we can then extend the gospel to regions beyond the church-kid-cycle. There are THOUSANDS of students who are not engaged, and my prayer is that ALL of us working with teenagers in Tulsa would make disciples and preach the gospel while challenging the students who float from program to program to settle down.