Youth Ministry Doesn’t Need Paintball Or Goldfish Crackers To Be Relevant

May 7, 2012

Shooting watermelons out of church bell towers and devising memorable acronyms for youth talks have been proven effective in reaching students, but understanding and embracing the relevance of the gospel is key in church and parachurch youth ministry.

Like Senior High pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane Michael Wittwer says, “The gospel is always relevant.  Good news is always relevant.”

People in positions of youth ministry can become well versed with strategically reaching out to students in ways that they will respond to.  Sometimes this means sending students through obstacle courses only to be covered in oatmeal in the process or letting them play hide and seek in the sanctuary and other times it involves creating conversation space for students to debrief a skit on self-image.

For anyone who has dabbled in either church or parachurch youth ministry, exposure to many different ways or working with and reaching out to students is almost certain.  Some ways have been very effective; some have perhaps left students bored.  Working with youth can often be a challenge for many reasons.  Making the gospel relevant, however, should not be one.

To Whittwer and his colleagues in student ministries, it is important to create high energy environments, but this is not needed to make the gospel relevant to students. Even with new technology and creatively thought up games, experts say that the gospel does not have to change to apply to students.

“We want to draw people into the presence of God,” Nathan Lewellyn, Student Ministries Worship Director at Life Center, says.

Lewellyn and Whittwer, who work together, work at not only making youth group fun and inviting; they also value presenting the gospel in a real, honest way.  The gospel, says Whittwer, is relevant to everyone; it just needs to be preached.

From the outside, the staples of youth ministry may appear to be goldfish crackers, icicle lights, paintball and summer camp.  Experts know that ministry is about much more.  Beneath the lights and high-fives, ministry is intentional in:

  1. Creating Space to share the gospel.

According the Lewellyn and Whittwer, youth group environments should be high energy, but they should also be places where students can meet with God free from distraction.  These spaces, says Whittwer, should be created with excellence; his church values giving God their best.

  1. Going to students and investing into them.

Zakk Uhler, who works with junior high and high school at Indian Trail Church in Spokane students says that investing into students outside of ministry environments allows leaders to be more effective in working with students.

  1. Understanding that the gospel is relevant.

Kari Olson, a general pastoral intern at Whitworth Presbyterian Church in Spokane who works in high school ministry says that the gospel is “incarnational and adaptable to any time and place.” She says that by showing up and being present with students, leaders gain authority to share the core truths that are essentially applicable in any time or place, goldfish or not.

Creative spaces, coffee dates and good music are platforms for presenting the gospel that is alive and is for everyone.  Youth ministry often gets the reputation of being the fun and crazy ministry with YouTube videos and games so weird they’re almost unreal.  These facets, while they draw students in and create a space for them to feel invited, are intentional introducing students to the reality of the gospel – one that is relevant and preached through genuine relationships, engaging, honest speakers and environments that cater to students.


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