By Greg Stier, President & CEO of Dare 2 Share Ministries
I don’t come from a suburban, church going, Bible reading, hymn singing family. I come from an urban family filled with body building, beer drinking, tobacco chewing thugs (and that’s just the women!)
Seriously, it was a tough family growing up. The local mafia knew my violent uncles as “the crazy brothers.” When the mafia thinks your family is dysfunctional that’s a bad sign. I didn’t watch “Cops” as a kid. All I had to do was look out the window or wait for the pounding on the door.
As for me, I was the illegitimate son of a man I have never met. My very tough mom raised both my brother and I in a high crime, high poverty area all by herself, too proud for government assistance or even financial help from family and friends. The few times she borrowed money for groceries or clothes, she always paid it back.
It was in this environment that my entire family got turned upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Uncles, Aunts, cousins, my brother and, eventually, my mom all heard the gospel and responded. The church that reached my family with the gospel was strategic and effective when it came to reaching urban (and suburban) teens with the gospel of Jesus Christ. At one point the youth ministry at this church ballooned to over 800 teenagers and they had to break up the youth group into five different areas all across the city, many of them led by urban teenagers who had been led to Christ and discipled through the youth ministry and had just graduated from high school.
Although we eventually started Grace Church in 1989 and Dare 2 Share ministries in 1991 I never got over what I learned at this unique church. The principles I learned there helped the church we planted to explode with new believers. As a matter of fact when I left Grace Church in 1999 to do Dare 2 Share full time, we had over 60% new conversion growth! As I travel and train youth leaders and teenagers across the nation through Dare 2 Share events it’s these same principles I use. Why? They are Biblical and they work.
I’m going to share with you the five principles my old church taught me. These timeless principles will work in any context and will greatly increase your outreach effectiveness to urban teenagers.
Principle #1: Keep it simple.
“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Colossians 4:4
When reaching teenagers with the gospel of Jesus it is vital to keep the gospel message as simple as possible. The church that reached my family for Christ did just that. At the end of every sermon in every service this pastor would give a clear presentation of the gospel. Not only that, he would train both adults and teenagers alike to give a simple and effective gospel message.
What does a clear presentation of the gospel look like? It tells the whole story from Genesis 1-Revelation 22 in a simple and compelling way. It reaches its climax at the cross of Christ and it paints the picture of eternal life as a relationship with God that begins at the point of faith and extends into eternity.
From what my old pastor taught me when it came to sharing my faith I put together an acrostic that I now use to equip teenagers to reach their friends for Christ. It’s called The GOSPEL Journey MessageTM and tells the whole story of the gospel from the first chapter of the Bible to the last.
God created us to be with him. Genesis 1-2
Our sins separate us from God. Genesis 3
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds. Genesis 4-Malachi 4
Paying the price for sin Jesus died and rose again. Matthew-Luke
Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. John
Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever. Acts-Revelation
Have your teenagers memorize this word for word. I know that rote memory isn’t cool anymore but sometimes we need to get uncool to get unleashed. Once your teenagers have this “uncool” acrostic memorized they will be unleashed to share the gospel effectively.
After you have them memorize it have them personalize it. This is the second phase of training where teenagers use the GOSPEL as a guide and not a script. At this point they are using each sentence as bullet points in a longer conversation that may include illustrations that help clarify the gospel or their own story of how they came to believe in Jesus.
Principle #2: Be their family and bring their families.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24,25
The church I was raised in became a second family to me and to countless urban teenagers. Many of us were fatherless and found spiritual fathers in this church. For me I list Bill Adams, Mark Schweitzer, Kenny Sanchez and Ralph Arnold among the many spiritual fathers that made up for the absence of a biological one.
To build a ministry that did just that the pastor was constantly recruiting godly adults to mentor the young men and women in that church. Generational discipleship was not just part of the program at this church but part of the expectation. Godly adults were expected to invest in the next generation.
To create this culture the pastor constantly talked about the vital importance of reaching teenagers with the gospel. He would tell stories of changed lives. He would have teenagers give testimonies in “big church.” And, every once in awhile would have them preach to the entire congregation (I preached my first sermon in church when I was in middle school.)
This church became our family. They invested in us and cared for us. But then they expected us as teenagers to bring our families. Much of the numerical growth of the adult congregation was due to teenagers bringing out their families after they had gotten saved.
How can you begin to do this in your own church? Constantly be banging the drum of reaching the next generation. Tell stories to your pastor and the other leaders at your church. Relentlessly make a case for it to whomever you connect with in the church. And, when you get a chance to address the entire congregation, make a case for it there. Use stories of teenagers like David, Esther and most of the disciples to inspire the adult congregation to make investing in teenagers a priority.
Principles #3: Give them a cause worth living for.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18,19
What my old youth group did best of all was to give us teenagers a cause worth living for. Many of us came out of broken homes, poverty and a background laced with hopelessness. But this church gave us a hope and a mission, The Great Commission to “go into all the world and make disciples” Matthew 28:19. They told us we could be used by God in the ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the gospel to friends, neighbors, classmates, teammates and relatives. And we did just that.
The biggest reason for the explosive growth of our youth ministry was teenagers were reaching teenagers with the gospel. Then these same teenagers were discipling the new believers in the gospel and equipping them to do the same. We were making disciples who made disciples and the huge number of teens in our youth group reflected this reality.
The pastor gave us a cause to live for, equipped us to live THE Cause and then unleashed us to do just that. It gave us a “heavenly city” to see and strive for beyond the gray and fray of a struggling earthly existence. It gave us a heavenly Father who would be “a father to the fatherless” and navigate us through the challenges of a painful life. It gave us a sense of significance, the knowledge that we weren’t placed on earth just to survive but to thrive and accomplish the mission that Jesus gave to us.
These are the same principles that I use at Dare 2 Share today. These are the same principles that can build your youth ministry upon every day.
But be warned. These principles are easy to understand but are impossible to implement…in your own power. You must walk in an utter dependence on the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to put these principles into practice. If you trust in Him, he will give you the power. Jesus promised he would in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
You have the power. You know the principles. Now go and do it in the Name of Jesus Christ.
Here are a few resources that may help you:
- The “Live THE Cause” podcast series on www.dare2share.org/videos
- Outbreak…Creating a contagious youth ministry through viral evangelism through Moody Press.
- Reach out, don’t freak out! Video series through Group Publishing.