I sit in my usual Friday workspace, the hipster coffee shop with great chairs and the longest wait times. Three high school girls sit down across from me at the communal table, and I try to block them out with cheap headphones and loud Spotify. No dice. Can’t help but hear their chatter. One of the 10 branded silicone bracelets on one girl’s arm catches my eye. These three attend the student ministry at one of the largest churches in the country. And they are so close, I can’t help over-hearing…
They are trying to start a Christian club at their school, a breakfast club for students, with worship, prayer and teaching once a week before school starts. This is their brainstorming meeting. What should this thing be like? Here are their bullet points:
- They want community. It should be a place where everyone feels like they belong.
- People who come shouldn’t feel like a number. The names and stories behind the numbers are important.
- It should look and feel homey and welcoming. Not just like a big empty room.
- One wants it to look really adorable. (She doesn’t elaborate.)
- They think it’s ok to start small, so they can make sure the leaders are super passionate.
- Capturing photos is important. One promises to bring her Polaroid. (I laugh out loud.)
- They think t-shirts are a must. Probably goes back to that feeling of belonging.
- They understand that social media is essential to this thing’s success.
- They’re planning a vision night. (That makes my heart happy.)
- They’re matching their teaching ideas to songs they love. (If you didn’t like the latest Hillsong United album, you’ll probably need to get over it. It’s connecting with young people.)
The over-priced lattes arrive. The cold-brewed coffee follows. The “dirty hippie” drink isn’t what the girls expected. They pass it around and sip, turning up their noses.
At this point, I had to ask,
So, you girls attend (megachurch). Why do you want to start this thing at your school? What will it give you that’s different? How could (megachurch) do that for you?
They were honest:
- A lot of people at our school have a bad perception of our church. They won’t come if we invite them. But God spoke to us that He wants us to be a light at our school. So, we want to find a way to reach them with something we think they’ll come to. Maybe that will also help us change the bad perception.
- Our student ministry has middle schoolers and high schoolers combined. We feel like the teaching is geared towards the middle schoolers. We want something more direct, more on our level if we’re going to invite our friends. (I ask them if they’ve shared that feedback with their leaders. They say no, but think their leaders would be open to hearing from them. I suggest they should speak up.)
- We love our student ministry, but we know we can reach our friends better.
I apologize for interrupting them. They smile, and say sheepishly, “Thanks for asking us.” They invite me to a city-wide worship night they helped organize, an event created by high school students to try to unify the churches in our city. They go back to planning, and read Ephesians 4 together. They talk about teaching things they learned at church to their high school friends. Before they leave, they follow me on Instagram.
And I can’t help but think to myself, and then write:
Maybe we adult leaders need to theorize less about the best ways to reach young people and personally invest more in the ones we’ve already reached. It sounds like they have ideas, if we’re willing to listen and support them. The larger your church, the more difficult it may be. These young disciples are holding their own vision nights and creating their own services to reach their friends in ways they feel their student ministry can’t. In a lot of ways, that speaks to the success of their student ministry’s impact on their lives. But it also sounds like that same ministry may have to evolve to keep drawing in young people.