If you want a nice, clean youth group then outreach is not for you. But on the other hand, if you want to follow Jesus and obey His commands then it needs to be for you.
Outreach can be extremely messy because the students we reach are a mess. I have experienced this first hand. Out of the 180 students that are in the attendance program we use only about 20% of them have any type of church background. Their parents don’t go to church and before coming to youth group some of them had never even been inside of a church. It is absolutely amazing to be a part of what God is doing and reach so many students, but it is also very challenging. We have had to confront multiple students who have shown up high to youth group. We walked in on a fist fight right in the middle of the youth room, and we hear swear words often. The students we reach come with a mess.
But guess what, the fact is that we are all a mess and that is exactly what Jesus came for. Jesus said it Himself in Luke 5:31-32 “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” And I am so glad that He did, because I was that mess and you were too.
There is a lost and dying world that needs Jesus and we need to provide a place for students to find Him no matter how messy, and how much extra work it might be. I am not trying to sugar coat it, it is definitely more work! But we need to remember that safe and easy is NOT what we have been called to. I have often thought about the mess we have to deal with because of the students we reach and dream of how much easier and safer it would be to just have the church kids. I personally don’t want to deal with the mess, and the parents of the church kids don’t want the mess that comes with these students either, but we need to forget what we want and remember what Jesus wants.
Thom Rainer said it best when he said “When preferences of the church members are greater than their passion for the Gospel, the church is dying.” This quote applies to way more than just reaching students but it all comes down to our willingness to do what God has called us to. Here is what I hope we understand about outreach…
1. Don’t be afraid of the mess
Because Jesus wasn’t afraid of yours! Everyone has a pre Christ story and they are all a mess! Maybe you weren’t involved in as much as the other person, but the fact is you were dead in your sin and a slave to it until Christ gave you a new life. That is exactly what He wants to do to every single person who is lost in their sin as well. Don’t be afraid of the mess that comes with reaching students for Christ.
2. Make an effort
It is way easier to simply not make an effort and be ‘okay’ with just doing ministry for the church kids. But like we have talked about, God has called us to more! Make an effort to reach the mess around you.
3. Change your idea of safe
One of the biggest objections to being outreach focused is that when we allow students who are a mess into our ministry we run the risk of the ministry not being a “safe” environment for our church kids anymore. The problem is we are thinking about “safe” the wrong way. I agree, we need to make our ministry a safe place. But our ministry needs to be a safe place for students who are a mess to come and hear about Jesus. That is where the safety needs to happen, because outreach is messy. I am not saying that your ministry shouldn’t accommodate your church kids as well but we need to teach and model to our church kids the importance of being outreach focused and creating a safe place for students far from God to come hear about Him.
Yes, outreach is messy but it is a mess that Jesus has asked us to be willing to be involved in, embrace it.
Todd has been in youth ministry for over 10 years and has a passion for reaching lost students and training youth workers to do the same. He is the founder of Stoked On Youth Ministry, a speaker, author, and pastor. When Todd is not writing or speaking he enjoys surfing, baseball and most importantly hanging out with his awesome wife and three beautiful daughters. You can connect with Todd on Twitter @TheTodd_Jones, Instagram @Todd_Jones or for speaking inquiries visit TheToddJones.com