Evangelism Through Youth Ministry
By Rick Caldwell
Perhaps nothing is talked about more, but actually done less, than evangelism. We plan elaborate, expensive choir tours for the purpose of evangelism. We conduct city-wide crusades featuring celebrities, sport personalities, and musical groups with the desire that evangelism will take place. We even hope it will be the end result of our church league softball, basketball, or bowling teams. But the truth is, not much evangelism is taking place in many youth groups.
For years I busied myself with the good things of youth ministry, ignoring the very best thing that Christ has called us to do: evangelism. It was after recognizing that I was working hard, yet failing to change the lives of youth for eternity, that I began to get serious about the role of evangelism in youth ministry. Since then I have sought to make evangelism my priority. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the change this has brought about is to recount the following experience.
Mike, a senior in high school, visited our Wednesday night youth celebration (called S.WA.T, which stands for Spiritual Warfare and Training) over a year ago. He came at the invitation of Ricardo, a young man I was discipling and training for youth ministry. Three weeks after that first visit, Ricardo was able to lead Mike to Christ and into the church. Shortly thereafter Mike was giving his testimony publicly and reaching out to his friends with the gospel. He attended our basic discipleship seminar and learned to tell others of Christ. During the past year, an unbelievable chain reaction has taken place.
First, Mike’s parents and older brother came to church. They were not attending church anywhere, nor were they professing Christians. Mike’s new found faith and radical change of life-style aroused their attention. Ultimately, the three of them received Christ and are now actively serving the Lord in our church. Mike’s parents have just volunteered to become church youth sponsors, and his brother has become involved in a ministry group on his college.
This summer Mike reached out to a good friend named Greg. Greg has since come to receive Christ and has been instrumental in leading two of his friends, Kelly and Ken, to Christ. Greg, Kelly, and Ken have recently reached two other guys, forming a ministry team of five who come early each week and set up for S.W A.T
Just about a year ago this exciting process, which has resulted in seven conversions, was begun because Ricardo reached out to a friend for the purpose of introducing him to Christ. This incident is a classic example of principles that will be discussed later in this chapter.
It is important here at the beginning to state my philosophy of evangelism. Simply put, evangelism does not happen mystically, apart from the actions . Three observations support that statement.
First, God is sovereign; He is able to bring His will to pass. But He has to involve man on both sides of the process of proclaiming and receiving the gospel. So He has assigned us the awesome responsibility of sharing His Redemptive message with the entire world. But it is extremely important that we give a clear and culturally relevant presentation, for those who receive it also will be held responsible for their response to that message.
Certainly the Holy Spirit must be at work through us if we are to evangelize youth in today’s world, but it has been my observation that the Holy Spirit is more ready to do the task than we are. We must choose to make evangelism a priority in our ministries. I have discovered the hard way that evangelism does not happen automatically. That is the second observation.
Finally, Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19) and concluded His ministry with the words “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). It is significant that the Lord emphasized our responsibility to evangelize at the beginning and end of His ministry.
In light of these observations, the following pages contain principles for (1) establishing an evangelism awareness, (2) equipping people for evangelism, (3) planning event-oriented evangelism, (4) establishing relationships that result in evangelism, and (5) creating an environment for evangelism.
Establishing an Evangelism Awareness
It is our responsibility to communicate to our youth that evangelism is something they can and should be doing. For months I bombarded our youth with films, speakers, and programs designed to help them see that evangelism was their job.
Here are some ideas that worked for us.
1. Testimonies. Almost weekly I had young people give testimonies of how they came to Christ and who was used by God to influence them in that decision.
2. The tract. I printed a personalized tract, using photographs of four group members accompanied by their testimonies and a gospel presentation. The tract cost less to print than the ones we bought from bookstores, and our students really began to spread them around.
3. Ads in school newspapers. We finally wised up and quit putting a picture of a staff member or the church building in our school advertisements. Instead we put pictures of young people and capsule versions of their testimony.
4. Ten-most-wanted list. Monthly we encouraged our youth to list ten of their friends that they wanted to see come to Christ or become involved in church. We focused on those kids through our outreach activities and visits.
Equip Youth and Workers for Evangelism
After establishing an evangelism awareness, it became crucial that we train young people to do evangelism. This is where most of us fail. No amount of hype, guilt, or motivation will work if we fail to train thoroughly our people to speak of Christ with confidence. There are two methods that we have successfully employed.
The Short Term Seminar
This kind of weekend workshop is a great way to expose a lot of people to the basics in a short amount of time, but it should be followed up with a more lengthy program. Most short-term training programs focus on at least six basics of evangelism:
1. The terms for witnessing
2. The techniques for witnessing
3. The testimony – having students learn to give their personal testimony
4. The tract – having them practice using a gospel tract
5. The transition – having them practice moving a conversation from a secular subject to a spiritual one without creating tension
6. The decision – actually leading the person in a prayer to receive Christ
In most cases, these brief seminars or workshops create an interest in learning more. In even the shortest seminar it is important to include time for actually going out to visit with someone who knows how to witness.
The Thirteen-Week Course in Evangelism
In my opinion this is the best method for evangelism training. This approach has been popularized by Evangelism Explosion, which was developed by D. James Kennedy. That particular program involves thirteen weeks of classroom time and actual weekly field experience under the supervision of a certified trainer.
Each participant must complete required homework as well as make assigned visits weekly. At the conclusion of the course, the participant is required to pass a certification test at which time he is qualified to train others, thus creating a multiplication effect. The advantages of this program are (1) its thoroughness, (2) its accountability, (3) its field training, (4) its emphasis on memorizing Scripture, and (5) its transferability.
Over the past two years we have seen more than 125 students and youth workers complete this kind of training. It has proved to be extremely effective in equipping our people for evangelism.
One exciting story that came out of this particular method of evangelism training involves Phil, a parent of two teenagers. He had been a deacon and Sunday school teacher for twenty years, but he had always lacked the confidence to witness boldly. Phil was anxious to overcome this weakness, so he signed up for our thirteen-week evangelism course. During his fifth week, while out on a routine Sunday afternoon call, he visited in the home of a sixteen-year-old runaway. She had returned home two days previously. She was strung out on drugs, malnourished, and pregnant. She had visited church that day at the request of her family, who had become Christians while she was on the run. Much to Phil’s surprise, Becky was eagerly open to his choppy gospel presentation. At the conclusion of what he calls a butchered version of the gospel, Becky gave her heart to Jesus.
Becky has been a Christian for just over a year now, but it has been quite a year. During that time Becky completely recovered from her drug habit. She also produced a healthy baby girl, which she chose to give up through a Christian adoption agency, re-enrolled in school, where she has become an honor student, led six classmates to Christ, and was elected president of her school’s Christian Youth Council. Becky also completed the thirteen-week evangelism course and has served as a trainer for the past two thirteen-week sessions.
Whether you choose a short seminar approach to training, the thirteen-week seminar, or both, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to begin immediately to train your people in evangelism.
If evangelism is to be a priority within our ministry to youth, then it is time for us to wise up and begin planning our programs with a purpose. I used to spend much energy and time planning events and outings that I hoped would some day pay off in evangelism. Then I came to the realization that with just a little more effort, I could add an evangelistic edge to most of the programs. Since coming to that realization, more than 200 youth have received Christ through hayrides, concerts, cookouts, swimming parties, breakfast meetings, and even at all-night lock-ins.
To program for the purpose of evangelism requires several things. First, we must get unbelievers to the event. It is impossible to have an evangelistic thrust unless we can get non-Christians to attend. Here are several suggestions toward that end. Some may seem a bit sensational but can be handled in good taste.
Serve food at the event. Whether it is pizza, ice cream, hamburgers, or tacos, youth usually come in big numbers for free food.
Have your youth work hard to bring their nonchurch friends. One church I know charged the admission price of one nonchurch friend in order for its own kids to attend an activity.
Plan the event at a neutral site. Often a park or the backyard of a church member’s home is a better location for attracting nonchurch youth.
Include youth in the program (especially new Christians). Non-Christians will come to see or hear their friends give a testimony or sing. At one burger bash, four new believers shared their testimonies. Each of them brought at least five friends who came out of curiosity.
Second, we must present the gospel at the event. For years I erroneously thought that the church was the place for spiritual things, and youth events away from the church were for social things. One day I recognized that more nonchurch youth attended the social outings than the spiritual meetings. Why not start presenting the gospel at events attended by youth who really need to hear it, instead of preaching it over and over at meetings attended by mostly Christian youth? Looking back now, I cannot believe how foolish my old approach was.
It is very important to present the gospel in a positive but non-pushy way, if you choose to program one of your social events for evangelism. You must clearly communicate the gospel to the students attending, but they should not be coerced into responding.
Youth listen to their peers better than they listen to the youth minister. This has caused me to begin to rely on young people to communicate the message of Christ at our evangelistic outings.
Recently we sponsored a late Saturday night outdoor concert on a mall parking lot, right in the middle of our community “cruising” zone. Even before the band began to play, a crowd of more than 100 young people gathered just because they saw sound equipment being unloaded.
As the band began to play, about 250 people crowded around. The vast majority of them were non-Christians, many were smoking, and some drinking. The band, which was composed of guys from our church, played very progressive, contemporary Christian music for twenty minutes, and then one of the members told of his conversion and commitment to Christ. Many of the crowd knew him from his days as a leader while in high school and his involvement in a rock group. They listened intently to his powerful but non-pushy presentation. Then came the most important time of the evening. It was announced that the band would be back in fifteen minutes to play again, but during the break each person in the crowd would have a chance to talk with someone about their relationship with Christ.
As soon as the break began, almost one hundred students from our ministry began to witness to the people around them. By the end of the evening, nine people had prayed to receive Christ and were taken to a nearby truck where we registered their decision and gave them follow-up material.
The following factors helped make this event work.
1. The band was committed to making the event evangelistic, not just entertainment.
2. One hundred of our youth were willing to mix into the crowd, meet new people, and lovingly share Jesus with them by using a gospel tract.
3. Our young people had met earlier in the evening for prayer and a thorough explanation of what would happen at the event.
4. Proper security measures had been taken, and necessary legal arrangements were made with the city and the mall management.
5. The one-on-one witnessing was open and direct, but no one was pushed to make a decision or even to talk about Christ if the person chose not to.
6. Each person making a decision was visited and followed up by a team of workers from our ministry, which resulted in several of them getting involved in our church.
Another event that was programmed for evangelism was a backyard “burger bash.” Students from several junior high campuses were given printed invitations at school. The invitations had the names and phone numbers of several people from various schools who were hosting the event. That made it more attractive to the non-Christian youth than if we had promoted it as a big church event.
As they began to arrive at the designated backyard, they were greeted by the smell of cooking burgers and the sound of contemporary Christian music. When the crowd of 150 was through eating, we had fifteen minutes of fun oriented group singing led by a leader in our ministry. Then came the focus of the evening, a ten minute slide show highlighting our past summer events. The slides focused on youth well known to those in the crowd. At the close of the presentation four group members stood and told how they had met the Lord and how He had made a difference in their lives. Although I spoke at the conclusion, I am confident that it was the testimonies of the four students that God used to bring sixteen teenagers to Christ that evening.
Third, we must plan to draw the net at the event. Giving an invitation or extending an opportunity for students to receive the Lord is a very delicate area. We have used just about every method you can imagine. Some have proved effective; others have not. Two examples of our most effective ways of harvesting those who desire to make a commitment to Christ are the response card and the personal response.
The response card is a tool we use often in events such as the burger bash, lock-ins, or almost any activity. We call it an Evaluate the Event Card. On one side it allows the student to record his name, address, and phone number and make a comment on his opinion of the event. The other side of the card allows him to record what kind of decision, if any, he made that night.
Here is how we used it at the burger bash. After the four young people gave their testimonies, I spoke briefly asking each person to examine the tract and specifically notice the prayer of response printed toward the end. I prayed the printed prayer with the group, asking those who had never received the Lord to do so by praying silently. Following the prayer, the evening was concluded by instructing each student to fill out his Evaluate the Event Card. I especially encouraged them to share any decision they made or any need they had on the back of the card. This card has provided a simple but valuable means for recording decisions, and it gives the information necessary for follow-up.
The personal response is another method we often use. This simply is extending an opportunity for the youth to receive Christ and then indicate it by raising their hands while heads are bowed in prayer. Following the prayer, I encourage those who made decisions to obtain a follow-up booklet from one of our youth staff. We mention a designated place where we will be standing and always go directly to that place. I never go into the crowd to button-hole a person who lifted his hand. If he is sincere, he will come to me. When we give him the follow-up booklet, we record his name and address and attempt to schedule a time when we can come by and visit him.
The public invitation is an approach used only occasionally. It is most appropriate for youth crusades and concerts.
Programming with a purpose is the key to event-oriented evangelism. We must pray through and plan out the occasion, all the while thinking about it we can do to give it an evangelistic edge.
Establishing Relationships That Result in Evangelism
We are being a bit idealistic when we expect large numbers of nonchurch-oriented youths to flock to our weekly worship services, drop their emotional defenses, and embrace our messages with repentant hearts. Most unchurched high schoolers feel like fish out of water when they attend the average evangelical worship service. In most cases, they even feel uncomfortable at our high-energy youth meetings.
A nonchurch-oriented youth is like a newly captured animal in a cage. He’s on the defense and frightened. His new environment threatens him. It prevents him from being open or at ease. The one element that can make a difference in his anxiety level is the security of a familiar face, especially it belongs to a person that has cared enough to initiate and develop a personal relationship with him. So if we are to breach the emotional walls surrounding their hearts, our ammunition must be relationships rather than religious rhetoric. That may be more threatening to us, but it is the most effective way. The process of building relationships with kids outside our youth group and church comfort zone may seem frightening to many youth ministers and volunteer workers, but it is a hurdle that must be overcome if we are to establish a vital ministry of evangelism to the nonchurch-oriented youth.
Article “Evangelism Through Youth Ministry” was excerpted from “The Youth Workers Handbook”. Written by Rick Caldwell. .
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”