Ron Luce on Youth Outreach
By Lynne Marian
President and founder of Teen Mania Ministries launched in 1986, Ron Luce hosts Acquire the Fire Youth conventions across the nation. He has also authored Guard Your Heart (J. Countryman) and most recently Battle Cry for a Generation (Cook). He sat down with OUTREACH magazine to share his thoughts on the current state of youth ministry and Teen Mania’s new Battle Cry Campaign aimed at seeing 100,000 churches double their youth groups each year for the next five years.
OUTREACH magazine How do you think the church is doing in its outreach efforts to youth?
Ron Luce We’re in trouble. The bottom line is we’ve done a lot in youth ministry in the name of outreach, but for all that has been done, the enemy is working harder, the media is working harder. This is the largest generation ever in America’s history, and yet, at the present rate of evangelism, we will soon only have 4% Bible-believing evangelical Christians, compared to baby boomers with 35% and their parents—the WWII generation— with 65%.
Pastors need to understand that 80—90% of people who come to Christ do so by the time they are 20. We have to capture them before that. And right now, the bellcurve of this generation is 15 years old. In the next five to seven years, they will all be in their 20s. We have to act now. And I’m talking about every pastor, every church. We better reach out in ways we’ve never even dreamed of before to rescue this generation. And we better take action, just like we took action after Sept. 11. I think Columbine was kind of a Sept. 11 for this generation, and yet, although we all got really upset after Columbine, we never took action.
ØM in the American church, do you believe youth ministry is on the priority list?
RL Many youth ministries exist simply to take care of the kids whose parents go to that particular church—have a nice youth room and then make sure they’re not on drugs, they’re not getting pregnant.
But if we are going to rescue this generation, it’s going to take a whole new paradigm. We must transform our churches into hospitals for the broken-hearted. And then we must get ‘youth-centric.’ Pastors need to fight for their youth ministries through financial support and communication. It can’t be one little sermon. They’ve got to use video clips of teenage interviews. They’ve got to talk about new data to constantly move their congregation to pray, to do something—bake cookies, be a mentor, volunteer. It’ll take all hands on deck. We cannot delegate our nation’s future to our youth pastors. It’s not their job. It’s our job as the body of Christ to rescue these kids.
ØM And parents are included in this, What do you have to say to parents?
RL It’s easy for parents to say they’re overwhelmed by raising their own kids and trying to keep their own kids on fire for Jesus. But the fact is, we can win our own kids and still lose! We lose America! Who will our children marry? What communities will they grow up in? Where will they raise our grandkids? And so, it’s not enough to say, I’m just reaching my own kids and I’m overwhelmed. What about taking four or five of their friends to church on Sunday?
We make excuses about church— not enough gas, getting up too early, etc. Well, we spend time on soccer. We get up early for cheerleading. Why wouldn’t we do these things for God?
And parents often think, Yeah, sure, our kids are in trouble, but no more so than we were in trouble when we were that age. Wrong! It’s 100 times worse. Just think about pornography; now 12- to 17- year-olds are the largest users of online pornography. For the first time, we have “point-and-click” porn. Kids don’t have to go to a store and be embarrassed to ask the guy behind the counter for a magazine. They can just go in their bedroom and click. And it’s wrecking our whole society.
ØM What is necessary for effective youth outreach? What do youth ministers need to be successful?
RL. They’ve got to spend time learning how to be a good leader. They need a good planner, a good manager. They need someone who can rally people around the vision.
Many youth pastors haven’t gone to college. Some are volunteers. But if they’ve got only a few of these leadership tools, they’re reaching a lot of kids.
ØM What is the biggest challenge in reaching the non- spiritual teen today?
RL Realness. Ministry can’t be a fake little Christian show. It can’t just be I got my Christian T-shirt, I got my weird Christian hat, and I’m a Jesus ‘rah-rah ‘person. It’s got to be real. Because youth read us all the time, and they’re wondering Is this a fake little show or is this real? Even the hardest kid wants to know if this is real or not.
And then the other thing is getting to know them well enough, finding out where they are broken and how the Gospel makes sense to them. That is what any good missionary does. The Gospel needs to make sense to the goth, jock or whatever he or she may be.
ØM To help the Gospel make sense to all teens, Teen Mania has a new campaign called Battle cry. What is the goal?
RL We are calling on 100,000 churches to get so compassionately committed to young people—so that the pastor gets it, the youth pastor gets it, the congregation gets it. And the driving goal is to double youth groups every year for the next five years. So, if the average youth group starts with 20 kids, we’ll be discipling 32 million kids in five years. But it’s going to take every kind of church, not just one denomination.
It’s like WWII. Everybody got involved. The men went to the front lines, the women went into the factories, and everybody bought war bonds. We knew if we didn’t do it, we’d be speaking German pretty quickly. So, we all jumped in knowing we had to win. It’s going to take that same kind of call to arms for the body of Christ to rally around this generation.
Excerpted from Jan 2006 Outreach Magazine
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.”