At 14, growing up in the inner city of Houston, TX, I was labeled as a troubled teenager. That all changed when a local church began to come to my apartment complex. They understood what most troubled teens like me needed – personal attention. That’s exactly what they gave me. I will never forget the day two gentlemen walked on the basketball court where we were playing and asked us to give Jesus five minutes of our lives. Initially, we were not interested. So they walked on the court in the middle of our game, snatched the basketball and ran. They were running because we were chasing them. (True story.) What we got back instead was much better. They shared the message of Jesus Christ that day and changed my life forever. Sooner or later every youth ministry will have to address the question of how to reach unchurched teenagers. Let me give you some simple strategies you can use to reach the unchurched students in your community.
You must recognize the characteristics of unchurched teenagers in order to understand their needs:
- They have few adult role models in their lives and are not quick to trust anyone.
- They have little to no relationship with God, and therefore look to their peers and the world for emotional support.
1 Corinthians 9:19 encourages us to be a servant to all men. To make a difference in the lives of teenagers we must begin to serve them. We serve them:
- By showing them unconditional love by praying for them, listening to them and not judging them.
- By providing programs that relate and tell them the truth about who they are and who God is.
Ministry rises and falls on its leadership. It is very important that your adult volunteers are properly prepared and trained to deal with unchurched teenagers.
- Leaders cannot be judgmental of unchurched teenagers. They must like and believe in them.
- Leaders must be responsible and honor their commitment to seek to communicate at their level.
Rules and guidelines are very important. They bring structure and order. Without them, I guarantee that you will not succeed in reaching any group of young people, much less unchurched teenagers.
- Rules and guidelines must be fair, and must be communicated on a consistent basis.
- Rules and guidelines must be visible and enforced. Students must understand the consequences of breaking the rules.
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Reaching the unchurched generation is not a difficult thing to do. Jesus was our greatest model for how to reach our culture. See Luke 9:18-19.
The church can no longer ignore the unreached and unchurched teenagers. We have to hear what they are not saying, see what they are not looking for. When they seem hard and uninterested, it doesn’t mean they are anti-God. They may simply be saying “Pay attention to me,” or asking “Are you willing to deal with me?”