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Finley: Numbers not key issue in youth evangelistic events

PORTLAND, Ore. (BP)??How do you gauge the success of a youth event? Numbers have usually been a key measure, but much more important is whether anyone is impacted spiritually, according to one national youth ministry consultant.
“Just because you have a large crowd doesn’t mean anything is happening along the way,” said Dean Finley, who serves on the staff of the North American Mission Board. Finley led a workshop on “Special Evangelistic Events for Youth” during NAMB’s 1997 School of Evangelism, Sept. 16?19 in Portland, Ore.
The theme of the training conference was “Reaching Out To A Changing World.” A variety of worship sessions and workshops were held, as well as practical training through two block parties and a door?to?door “saturation evangelism” opportunity. More than 50 people prayed to receive Christ as a result of the efforts.
Finley told of one youth event he organized as a youth minister. He had a skating party on a Saturday, and about 60 people showed up ?? a great crowd, he thought. But he wound up being more policeman than minister, and the suggestive secular music didn’t help matters. He was determined to make the next event more Bible?centered, but the kids were obviously disinterested during a formal devotional time.
Finally, he got together with the youth council and some better ideas arose. Contemporary Christian music was added, and a huge banner was set up that read, “Jesus loves you! Want to talk about it?” Sunday school teachers were enlisted as counselors. The only cost for soft drinks was a Scripture verse quoted from memory, and Bibles were on hand for quick thirst?driven study. During a break a champion skater performed solo while her recorded testimony played in the background.
“Skating and telling people about Jesus don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Finley said, adding he has a rule of thumb of including at least three evangelistic opportunities in every special event for youth. “If you do not do that, I think you are not really serious about evangelism,” he said.
He advocated brainstorming among youth leadership as a way of finding unique events and approaches. “We must ask, ‘How do we tell them about Jesus and give them an opportunity to respond?”
There are books of ideas, he said, but the main thing is to seek God’s direction.
“We ought to do what God puts in our heart to do, not just what we can dream up and what we can find in any idea book,” he said. “We ought to ask God, ‘What do you want me to do in this place?'”
Finley suggested taking one morning ?? either alone or with a fellow youth worker ?? to just watch the crowds at a local middle or high school for about 30 minutes before classes begin.
“Sit there in that parking lot and say this: ‘What would you have me to do here in this place? … No matter how big it is, how much it costs … we’ll make an attempt to bring it about,'” Finley said. “Folks, I believe God will honor that kind of prayer.”
Finley also suggested the decline in the use of revivals is somewhat at odds with statistics showing more youth accept Christ at revival meetings than at any other time. It is the “clearest proclamation, with the clearest invitation to respond,” he said.
One mistake, however, is to hold a revival targeting youth and bill it as a youth revival. It should be a church?wide revival that involves both youth and adults, but with a message geared more toward young people.
He noted two recent speaking engagements that illustrated the difference. One was billed as a “youth revival” and there were only a few teens participating each night and no adults.
Another used the North American Mission Board’s “Promise of Life” revival planning guide, which he said “combines the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of adults.” All committees included at least one youth and one adult. There was strong attendance and many accepted Christ, including one young man who came with an elderly neighbor. The boy’s brother eventually accepted the Lord, as did their father.
“They got reached because of an elderly gentleman who was beginning to focus on young people,” Finley said. “What’s important is that two boys got reached, and a dad, because we were focusing on young people.”

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  • James Dotson