When Our Kids Don’t Want to Reach Out

Last weekend at my CONNECT workshop in Amarillo, TX, a youth pastor named Chris asked me a great question: What do you do when your Christian kids don’t want to reach out to their friends? (At the end of this blog I ask for your response to this question- I encourage you to comment)

This question was rather timely and almost pinched a nerve with me, because the week prior I had just talked with one of my publishers about the possibilities of me writing a book to students about reaching out to their friends (basically, a student version of my Do They Run… book). The publisher literally said, “Sorry, I just don’t see today’s kids buying a book about how to reach their friends.” (Wow. True or not… what a stigma!)

I didn’t attempt to give Chris a quick & simple answer. I really don’t see one “cookie cutter” approach that kids can try on (“Reach your friends in these 3 simple steps!”) But I was able to offer him some ideas that might help him “light the fire” under the butts of students and get them thinking about ministry.

First, I told him that he should take the spiritual pulse of his students and particularly identify his “Stagnant” and “Growing” kids. (For those who haven’t read my book CONNECT where I lay out how to do this spiritual inventory, I provide a quick free video of the “Six Types of Kids” on our web site. Anyone can do this inventory as described in my book, or as demonstrated in this free video of “The Stickynotes Exercise”.) Unlike the “Looking for Ministry” kids, these other two kids aren’t excited about reaching out to their friends. Once you identify your Stagnant and Growing kids, you begin investing in them, helping them grow spiritually and discover their giftedness.

We talked about this concept much of the weekend at the training workshop: when our “right column” kids take an interest in reaching our “left column” kids.

Here’s just a few of the ideas I went on to share with Chris about how to help these kids not only grow spiritually, but also to challenge them to reach out to others:

– Teach about reaching out. This may sound oversimplified, but sometimes we tend to ignore passages about evangelism. Why not teach about passages like Matthew 9 when Jesus declares that he came to reach sinners, not those who think they’re already good enough. How about passages like I Peter 3:15-18 where we see a balance of “words” and “action.” Or how about teaching Galatians 3 to share how God intended to reach “all nations” from the beginning. (You can hear my sermon about this in Episode #5 of our free podcast here)

– Take our students to conferences where they will be encouraged and equipped to reach out. The best of these conferences are those that Dare 2 Share does across the county. These conferences are amazing, as is their speaker, Greg Stier. If you want to hear a taste of Greg, take a listen to him and I discussing the Great Commission in our last podcast together.

– Give our students opportunities to serve. Take them to a convalescent home or a homeless shelter to help someone face to face. Encourage them to not only get their hands dirty, but engage in conversations. (I speak to this balance of words and actions my CONNECT book in chapter 3, titled, The One-on-one Intentions Debate: All About Love or All About Evangelism.)

Begin a student leadership team. Equip kids to serve and reach out. Teach them to discover and use their spiritual gifts. David and I just finished our book on this subject, a book titled, Ministry BY Students. It comes out from YS/Zondervan in a couple of months (and will be available on our site).

Many of us probably identify with Chris’ question. I definitely don’t have all the answers. Feel free to use the comment feature below to share some of your own ideas on the subject.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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11 Responses to When Our Kids Don’t Want to Reach Out

  1. Roger says:

    Jesus said that the world would know His disciples by their love. The best inviting groups I’ve been around all showed concern for one another while the least inviting groups were more about themselves only. So I believe getting kids in serving situations helps them to break out of their own selfish bubble…I know it helps me.

  2. Wes says:

    Outreach must be taught! Precious few are born w/ the personality that thrives on meeting new people.

    Churches/youth ministries must create/cultivate a culture of outreach, an atmosphere where it is encouraged, modeled and celebrated.

    You have to talk about it, teach on it, and show your people that this has been God’s plan from the very beginning. (Genesis 12:3)

    You have to live it and provide opportunities for others to practice and see it in practice.

    Finally, maybe I’ve become a bit cynical, you have to realize that most folks just won’t get it. Most want a comfortable club to come hang out w/ people like themselves & they will never really put themselves out by inserting themselves in anothers life.

    Just b/c most won’t get it doesn’t mean we don’t continue to educate and provide the opportunities to practice.

    Wes

  3. Jenn says:

    I agree – we teach on evangelism all the time especially trying to convey the idea that, “I don’t ride your bus,” or “I’m not on your soccer team.” Helping kids understand that they really were put in specific places and situations because God wants to use them. Growing up in church it definitely got communicated: “evangelism is important…if someone new walks into the church and begs to know about Jesus.” Kids want to have a purpose – knowing that they have opportunities to reach out to people that their youth leaders will never meet – grows in them a desire to share. I’ve got great kids that are making Jesus known. (That being said…I’ve still got a lot of lukewarms that just want to kick a ball on Wednesday night).

  4. Jon Forrest says:

    I like going down the eternal impact route. Evangelism is the only thing in the world you can do that has an eternal impact. Everyone has a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves….there you go. There’s nothing bigger. Evangelism is still tough but my mantra is “I love you too much to let you live and die without telling you about Jesus.”

    Also there are a couple of things that take the pressure off. First, I tell them they are not a failure if the person they are concerned about doesn’t get saved. I love it in Mark 5 where Jesus tells the formerly demon possessed guy he cant go with the disciples, but he is to “go home to your friends and tell them the good things God has done for you” THAT’s our job. Leave the saving to God.

    The other thing is for them not to be overwhelmed by their having a short reach in such a huge lost world. I hope you know the starfish story. I’ve already rambled but it’s so good.

  5. Jon Forrest says:

    Okay you talked me into it. There’s an old man sitting on a beach that is littered with thousands and thousands of starfish that were caught on land when tide went out, each of them having only minutes before it dies in the hot sun. The man notices a young boy franticly (sp) running and grabbing starfish, throwing them back into the water as quickly as he can, but obviously he not making any progress down the beach. Finally the old man who had been slightly amused at the boys desperate efforts, has finally become annoyed by it. He says, “Boy, give up. There are too many. All of your work means nothing.” The boy bends down, picks up a struggling starfish and before sending it back into the sea, smiles, showing it to the old man says, “Sir, it means everything to this one.”

    What is changing one person’s eternity worth? It’s worth everything to him.

  6. Scott Warren says:

    I don’t believe true evangelism can really be taught. It takes a few things happening to create evangelism.
    First youth need an enviroment they can come to and feel safe and loved. Jonathans book connect talks a lot about this. When a youth came to church hurting a had an adult whom they felt should be looking down on them reach out and mentor them they bring their hurting friends.
    second it takes a true conversion experience. When a youth learns who Jesus is and understands what He did they can’t help but want to tell others.

    When I taught on evangelism. I discussed ways to approach people and tell them about Jesus. It never was about bringing them to church. It was getting out and telling them who Jesus was.

    I showed this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhG-tkQ_Q2w and then I told them about who Penn was. We discussed how he made fun of religion in many of his videos, but even he appreciated this guy trying to tell him about Jesus.

  7. Emilie says:

    Great thoughts. I would, however, take it in a little different direction when confronting students about their pursuit (or lack of) of sharing the Gospel with their friends. It’s not an action change issue (getting them to do it more), it’s a heart change issue. Evangelism is what Christians do in order to reproduce more Christians for the glory of Christ. Living things reproduce living things (plants, animals, cells, moms and dads, etc.). This is the exact same with Chrsitianity. If living things were not reporducting themselves, there would be a huge concern because we would know it wasn’t right.

    I really liked Jon’s thoughts on discerning the spritual wellness of our students. If a student does not want to reach out to others (mcuh like myself when I am around strangers), there is something wrong with the heart. It’s not about them needing to grow a little more in their understanding of evangelism, it’s about their hearts being changed in such a way that they realize their own sin and need, which turns into seeing other’s sin and need.

    Also, I think we can take students to all the best conferences in the world about evangelism, share with them the Bridge Diagram, explain until we are blue in the face what evangelism is and looks like, and tell them how important it is because God commands it, without students really catching a heart for the world. Studnets remember 10% of what we say, but they remember 50% of what they see us doing. How about walk onto a street in front of your house right now (or conference room) and share the Gospel with a stranger? Don’t do it alone, though. Take a young person and let them see you practice what you preach. Take a student to lunch and share your faith with a stranger while you’re there. It’s great practice for building disciples, and it speaks loudly to the person you’re with. When students see it is apart of your life, they will hear that in high volumes.

  8. Good thoughts everyone. I’m liken what I’m hearin!

  9. Chelsea says:

    I think your ideas are great, Jonathan. Conferences, and opportunities to practice talking to people outside of their normal comfort zone, especially. I honestly think a lot of them just don’t realize how important it is that they share it with words- that darn St. Francis quote! But I remind them that if they go see a movie and they love it, they tweet and facebook and call their friends to tell them about it- and that movie isn’t saving any souls. Why aren’t they as passionate about God’s love? Taking that pulse and nurturing their spiritual growth to make sure they’re ready to share when presented an opportunity… yeah. It’s tough. I love Emilie’s thoughts on taking them with you when you share!

  10. When I taught on evangelism. I discussed ways to approach people and tell them about Jesus. It never was about bringing them to church. It was getting out and telling them who Jesus was.

  11. Troy Wiedrich says:

    Since the invention of the printing press non-fictional literature has been used for the dissemination of the Christian message, and also for disseminating different viewpoints within Christianity. The tract (a small pamphlet containing an explanation of some point, or an appeal to the reader) was in use at the time of the Reformation and continues to be used as a part of proselytization..

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