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First Priority, churches partner for student-to-student outreach

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–A strategy to train students to lead each other is more important than ever for reaching America’s public schools for Christ, the founder and president of the First Priority campus ministry says.

In the 1950s when modern-day youth ministry and parachurch youth ministry concepts were born, the greatest influence in the life of a teenager was an adult, Benny Proffitt of Brentwood, Tenn., noted. But in the year 2000, according to First Priority’s research, the primary influence in a teen’s life became another teenager, followed by the media — music, television and movies. Parents dropped to third place, Proffitt said, while teachers fell to sixth and spiritual leaders were 17th.

“So what we have now is the old model of just adults reaching kids is still effective, but it’s only effective on 10 percent of the youth population,” Proffitt said. “Ultimately, if we’re still using that model, we’re reaching about 10 percent of the youth in our communities.”

First Priority is a campus ministry that focuses on helping local churches from various denominations work together to train their youth for leading Christian fellowships in their local schools.

“The distinctive of First Priority is that when you think of campus ministry, most people immediately go to parachurch organizations,” Proffitt told Baptist Press. “But what the Lord led us to do was to create a local church model for campus ministry … to get churches that sent kids to the same school to have a cooperative effort and a strategy on campus that would link their youth groups at school so that you have a church-based campus strategy instead of a parachurch campus strategy.”

After 27 years as a bivocational Southern Baptist youth pastor and high school coach and teacher, Proffitt founded First Priority of America in 1996.

“I think it was my love for youth ministry, my love for the local church and my experience as a schoolteacher and coach that sort of was the background that brought about First Priority,” he said.

The First Priority strategy began with three Texas high schools in 1984 while Proffitt was still a youth pastor. In 1990 Proffitt moved to Birmingham, Ala., and founded First Priority of Birmingham, and in 1996 he founded First Priority of America, with the national headquarters in Tennessee.

“Through the First Priority strategy, churches are able to train students to engage in ministry — not just a mission trip during the summer but actually during the nine months of the school year — to see themselves not only as students seeking an education but examples of Christ in their schools and missionaries to their school campuses,” Proffitt said. “The school is not just a place to get an education but is a place of ministry and outreach for Christian students who are passionate about reaching their friends for Christ.”

The emphasis of First Priority is to build a network of students on each campus committed to reaching their school for Christ by living like Christ and carrying out a plan to share their faith. Also part of the strategy are networks of parents and other adults around each school to model for students how to live and share their faith by praying together and volunteering their time. A network of business and community leaders also is built to help students change their world, according to the First Priority website, www.fpoa.org.

Students are encouraged to form First Priority clubs that meet on campus during non-instructional time in accord with the Equal Access Act of 1990.

More than 800 communities in all 50 states are now using the First Priority strategy, Proffitt said. They are “literally seeing thousands of students come to Christ right in our public schools through student-led ministry every year.”

First Priority also has extended overseas, where training for the strategy is being done in about 35 countries.

As a challenge to churches, Proffitt said there are 56,000 public and private middle and high schools in America. With church-based movements such as First Priority, he said, less than one-fifth of those schools have student-led ministries.

“The only way to see a student-led outreach on every middle school and high school campus in America is for local churches to embrace the cause to get personally involved to network with other churches in their city around the First Priority strategy because there is already a group of local churches down the street or around the corner from every school in America,” Proffitt said.

“We believe the campuses are the greatest mission field in America,” he noted.

Seeing students themselves as the greatest influence on the youth culture, Proffitt said he believes they have become the most effective evangelists and ministers to their peers. They have the ability, he said, to present positive peer pressure with eternal consequences and change the course of their generation.
For more information about First Priority, visit www.fpoa.org or call (615) 221-4963. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: YOUTH REACHING YOUTH.

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  • Erin Curry