Every ministry looks different. Some groups are strictly church students, some are mostly unchurched students, and others are mixes of both. Groups also go through seasons where the dynamics look totally different.
Hopefully if you are taking the great commission seriously you do have some unchurched students in your ministry. If not, it might be time to rethink some strategy, change your group’s culture, and work on making obedience to those commandments a priority.
But on the flip side, many challenges arise when you have mostly unchurched students in your ministry. The dynamic is totally different and it can be incredibly difficult. So, how do you handle having mostly unchurched students in your ministry?
1. Thank God!
You are doing what Jesus did, and that is amazing! Thank God for brining you those students and allowing you to be used in such a mighty way. There are youth pastors all across the country tirelessly praying, working, and beating their heads against the wall trying to get new non-churched students to come. You have them and that is awesome; thank God for it, and recognize it as a blessing and an opportunity in the midst of the frustration it may bring at times.
2. Remember that outreach is messy
Outreach can be extremely messy because the students we reach are a mess. Most of my students have zero church background—their parents don’t go to church and some of them had never even been inside of a church before coming to youth group. It’s messy. We have fights, drugs, and major issues arise all the time and it is not fun. But the fact is we are all a mess and that is exactly what Jesus came for. Check out this post, Outreach Is Messy, Embrace It!
3. Change your expectations/goals
You will not have a group that reads long passages of scripture, prays for each other or worships with reckless abandon for hours, and never gets in trouble. That is not where your unchurched students are and you cannot expect them to be there yet. Your goal of having students be able to pastor their own church by the end of the year may need to shift to simply knowing who Jesus is and maybe having a relationship with Him. Take a look at your expectations and goals and make them match the students you have.
4. Present the Gospel often
In my experience, having many unchurched students creates a culture of inviting, which means it is vitally important to present the Gospel often because you never know who will walk through your doors. Also, it may take exposing a student to the Gospel five or ten times for them to understand it or for it to impact them. Share it often! Remember, students who haven’t heard it their whole lives need to hear it often, even if they have already accepted it and believe it.
5. Love without ceasing
Unchurched students often require a little more love. Sure, some of them might come from great households with loving parents but others may come from broken homes where they don’t feel loved, have never been taught any morality, and desperately need someone to love them regardless of how they act (again, read Outreach Is Messy, Embrace It!). Ministering to students who have not grown up in the church means giving a little extra love even when it isn’t easy and you don’t feel like it.
6. Keep doing what you’re doing
If you have unchurched students showing up, you are doing something right! Keep it up! Like I said earlier, many youth workers would give anything to have unchurched students show up to their ministry. Don’t take your foot off the gas; keep doing what you’re doing to reach lost students for Christ. God has you exactly where He wants you and you are fulfilling an absolutely amazing mission!
Unchurched students bring a unique challenge to youth ministry, but they are the reason we do what we do. Hopefully these six tips will help you on your journey of navigating this tricky part of ministry. If you have more questions or would like to inquire about ministry coaching email StokedOnYouthMinistry@gmail.com
Todd has been in youth ministry for over a decade 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