Entertainment Evangelism Winning the Battles, Losing the War


Ted M. Stump is the founder and director of High Impact Ministries. He holds a Master of Divinity from Columbia Biblical Seminary. Ted’s ministry experience includes study and travel with Dr. Ralph Neighbour, Jr., Josh McDowell, and evangelist John Guest. Ted serves as a national and international consultant to churches and youth organizations on developing and implementing Student-Led Cell Groups.

We have produced a generation of youth that are consumers with the attitude of, “Hi, my name is Jimmy, What are ya’ gonna gimme?” Our present methods of ministry reflect and breed this type of consumer.

I have recently resigned as youth minister of one of the fastest growing churches in the United States. It had at the center of its
mission, “Entertainment.” The strategy was to bring in the multitude and entertain them with quality music, drama, comedy, and
nonthreatening user friendly messages. It is even putting together a country & western service for those “Red Neck Jimmy’s.”

As the head of the youth ministry, I proceeded to offer the finest quality of entertainment to our youth. We had smoke, lasers, comedians, professional football and basketball players. We invited an Olympic pole-vaulter, Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and Mr. World. We took them swimming, fishing, skiing, surfing, and skating. We played broom ball, volleyball, fooseball, ping pong, wallball, and beach ball. After we got tired of following the bouncing ball, we would start over.

Then it happened; Jurassic Park came out and a group of Jimmy’s got together and threatened to leave the youth group if we couldn’t provide a live dinosaur. That was it. It finally happened – we couldn’t keep up.

Every night when the smoke cleared, the bands went home and hundreds of youth filed out of the door. With tears in my eyes I asked myself what we had really accomplished. Sure, we had shared the gospel and the youth responded, but I knew a multitude went away hurting.

This form of ministry reminds me of a show on TV years ago. A man would spin as many plates as he could on top of poles. He would keep adding to the number of plates spinning until he had to re-spin the ones that were slowing down. One by one, each plate eventually crashed to the ground, prompting howls from the onlooking audience.

It’s the same way with program-based youth ministries. We had a program for everything. When we finally had one program going well we would have to move on to another – only to return to the first to jump-start it. It is no different than the hectic pace of adding plates, running back and forth endlessly, knowing full well that the plates will eventually lose momentum and fall.

Perhaps entertainment worked in the 80’s, but this generation lives in a society that devours its youth. Teenagers in the 90’s face incredible challenges. Suicide remains the number two killer of youth today. In fact, it’s up 400% in just the last ten years. Teen pregnancies and abortions continue to steadily increase and gang violence has impacted virtually every high school across the country. In addition, divorce has left many teens without a sense of acceptance or belonging.

If we think entertainment evangelism can help this generation of the walking wounded, we need to wake up. We, as ministers of youth, will never be able to compete with what comes out of Hollywood, but let me tell you something. Hollywood can never compete with what comes out of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that can transform an individual’s life.

There is a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit around the world which has transcended denominational lines. It is the cell group church. I have spoken with countless youth pastors who have been prompted by the Holy Spirit to move towards a cell group youth model for their ministries. It is the answer to this generations needs.

Today’s youth have been called the “baby busters” – children of baby boomers. They were given the name because they have been handed a world that is broken. God is raising up a structure that will help put back the pieces.

In future articles, we will deal with some specifics of youth cell groups: how to form them, curriculum, leadership, administration,
training, and much more.

If you’re spinning plates, don’t give up hope – there’s another way.