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Peer evangelism on school campuses cited as key to reaching today’s y


RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–The nation’s youth are not likely to be reached with the gospel by targeting the 12 percent of students in grades seven through 12 who currently attend church, according to two North American Mission Board student evangelism associates. A more effective strategy is to equip and empower those students to reach their peers personally on the neutral territory of school campuses.
“To reach this generation, the best influence in a student’s life is another student,” said Chad Childress of NAMB. “Ninety percent of the student population in America spends seven to eight hours a day, nine months a year on the campuses, and that’s where we need to focus. Basically, we’re fishing where the fish are.”
Childress and colleague Scott Grissom detailed tools for effective campus evangelism during a session of the June 26-July 2 On Mission ’99 conference sponsored by NAMB at the Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.
NAMB’s primary strategies for campus evangelism include student-led First Priority clubs on secondary school campuses and a related initiative for commissioning students as “campus missionaries.”
Under the latter concept, churches formally commission students willing to commit to a plan for intentionally introducing their friends to Jesus Christ. The church, in turn, commits to praying for them and holding them accountable. One of the strongest aspects of the effort, Childress said, is that it gives youth a sense of purpose and empowers them through the full involvement of the church.
“Basically a student says he has a desire to reach [his] campus, to make a difference in other people’s lives,” Childress said. “That’s the key. Students … want to be able to make a difference.”
The interdenominational effort will result in commissioning services in churches throughout the nation in the fall, he said.
Fitting right in with the campus missionaries is the strategy of First Priority clubs. They now number more than 900 on school campuses nationwide and are expected to double during the coming school year.
“The idea is if we create a neutral, non-threatening environment on a public school campus, students will commit their lives to Christ,” Grissom said.
NAMB entered into a strategic alliance with First Priority in America last year, and the national City Strategy Office of the organization is now located in NAMB’s Alpharetta, Ga., building.
Grissom said he is frustrated whenever he sees adult youth leaders trying to act like teenagers in order to more effectively communicate with them. A better strategy is to act as adult coaches for Christian youth who can then reach kids more effectively than any youth minister.
“For most youth ministers and most youth workers, campus ministry is showing up at lunch and having lunch with the kids,” Grissom said. “There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they are merely the first steps toward a Great Commission campus ministry.”
First Priority clubs in schools are organized and supported on a community-wide basis with interdenominational cooperation of church youth leaders who become the “coaches” for the student leaders of campus clubs.
The club strategy is based on a four-week cycle called the “ACTS Revolution,” Grissom said. During Accountability Week, students meet in small groups and hold each other accountable for what they have learned at church and in their own time alone with God.
“They make sure they write down one thing they are going to apply in their life,” Grissom said. “How many of us can share this morning one thing that our pastor preached on in the past week and half that we can use? We don’t apply what we learn in church because nobody asks us.”
The second week is Challenge Week, when a speaker motivates the students to be fully devoted followers of Christ. The third week is devoted to testimonies and prayer, and the fourth — the culmination of the “revolution” — is Seek Week. It is for this meeting that students bring friends they have been praying for to the meeting and the gospel is presented clearly by other students.
Grissom used an analogy of a basketball game to describe the process. The students are the players, church members are the fans who cheer them on and support them, the umpires are the teachers and sponsors who ensure the clubs abide by school rules governing their activities, and church youth ministers are the coaches. They help youth leadership ensure that whatever happens during a meeting is biblical and proper.
“The most important thing that a coach does is not show up on game day,” Grissom said. “The most important thing a coach does is equip kids before the game.”
He told of one recent incident in which a seventh-grade girl stood up before one First Priority group and shared the gospel and her testimony. Eighteen students made professions of faith in Christ that day, and under the First Priority system each received immediate follow-up through other students and adult youth leaders.
“That’s awesome because it didn’t cost anything,” Grissom said. “A youth minister didn’t have to shave his head, and he didn’t have to swallow a goldfish.”
The following Sunday the pastor recognized the young girl’s willingness to be used by God, and the entire congregation applauded and encouraged her. “Now let me tell you something — Megan can’t wait for First Priority next week,” Grissom said. “Here’s a whole congregation of people who have just given value to what she’s a part of. The fans in the stands are important.”
For more information on First Priority and other campus-based evangelism strategies, call NAMB at (770) 410-6341.