Someone recently asked me, "Does student evangelism even work anymore?" My answer was an emphatic, "Yes!" I see firsthand scores of students coming to Christ on a weekly basis. All over the country, and the world for that matter, the gospel is just as relevant today to students as it was years ago. Students are searching for something that is real and fulfilling in their lives. I was dialoging with a student who claimed to be an atheist. Rather than argue with him, I simply asked, "Is it working for you?" He responded, "No, I am looking for the truth!"
If so many students are looking for the truth, you might wonder, why are there not more students being saved and packing out youth groups across the country? Traveling as a full-time evangelist for the last fifteen years, I have been in all types and sizes of churches. I have seen ministries all over the country that are reaching students, but even more that are not. There are three things that seem to surface on a regular basis in effective evangelistic youth ministries regardless of the culture or where the church is located.
Probably the most significant factor that is evident in all the ministries that are reaching students is a hard working staff and church. It is alarming how many churches have the mentality, "If we build it, they will come." This line of thinking does not work with students. Just because you have a fancy family life center does not guarantee a full house in Sunday School for the youth department on Sunday morning.
The churches that are reaching students have student pastors that are on the campus in some form or fashion every week. I have had student pastors that do not know where the campus is when I arrive in town, or that tell me I cannot get on campus because the principal will not let me. When I arrive on the so-called "off-limits" campus, the principal that I had been told would not let me in has been retired for five years!
There are the occasional campuses that will not allow youth pastors on for lunch, but the student ministers that are reaching students will exhaust all options in their strategy to connect with students. They will do whatever it takes to build relationships with students, teachers, and administration: going to football or band practice after school, attending school activities and events, substitute teaching, relating with the teachers and administration by sending flowers to the secretaries at school from the student ministry thanking them for all their hard work, or having the senior adult ladies in the church make cookies for all the teachers and administration in appreciation for what they do. The bottom line is: they camp out on campus and not in the office! Effective student ministers have the support of their pastor to be out on the field, and the financial backing of their church to do what it takes to get the job done.
Reaching students takes a great deal of work and effort. It is amazing that there are more of the "elect" in churches that work hard and have a vision to reach people than churches that are not evangelistic. The driving force behind their hard work though, is a burden and passion to reach lost students!
Another common thread among evangelistic student ministries is their ability and willingness to be creative and to think outside the box. I am not talking about changing or compromising the message, but rather tweaking the method or style. For example, one junior high student ministry in Arlington, Tex. moved their Wednesday night service to Thursday night to reach more students. They were running into conflicts with students' schedules for Wednesday nights and felt they might be able to reach more lost students if they moved their services to Thursday nights. They took a chance, and it paid off!
The key to being creative and reaching students is to remember the goal is to reach "lost" students, not to go after the "church" students. One of the best tools to reach lost students is Student Crusades. We have been seeing thousands saved over the past several years using this format. It works! All of the services are evangelistic with lost people in mind. Each night is kicked off with a brand name food being served like Papa John's Pizza, Chick-fil-a, Taco Bell, etc. (This is a must!) The students then attend a lively service geared for them with a great praise band and then a gospel presentation that is entertaining, but centered on the cross, repentance, and being a Christ follower for life.
Each night at the end of the service a special event takes place that was used to draw them to church. The different events range from giving a hundred door prizes away, to a chance to win $10,000 (an insurance policy that only cost the church $200), to giving away a used car (which could be donated by someone in the church or a car dealer in town). There are some that criticize these types of events. The question that must be asked is, "What is the difference in offering men of the church a breakfast just to get them to come to the church and pray and offering students free pizza?" There are churches that offer women door prizes at WMU meetings or guided hunts for the men's wild game dinners. For those that are critical of these types of events, look in the Gospels at the main reason people came to Jesus. The majority came to be healed, which is a physical need. Jesus did not send them away for coming to Him for the wrong reason. He healed them anyway (even if they did not thank Him as in the case of the ten lepers). If meeting people's needs are wrong reasons for people to come to church (as in giving away a car or prizes, etc.) then every church needs to shut the doors to their benevolence closet. A side note that is interesting, the people who criticize these events are often the ones who are not winning anyone to Jesus!
The true results will only be made known in heaven, but in a church in Texas that runs 150 in Sunday School, the effects are already being seen. They had over 150 saved, ninety-six of which had no church affiliation, and have baptized thirty to date. When the FAITH teams went to do follow-up into the homes of the students that made decisions during this crusade, three sets of parents were saved. Another follow-up visit made to a young student led to a parent that was being called to the military the next day for active duty. He was already a believer, but had a burden for his family and asked the FAITH team to go to his parent's home. This visit spurred on by a student getting saved, a burdened brother, and a loyal FAITH team led to his brother and sister giving their lives to Christ.
Another creative event that is reaching students is an event called "Feeding Frenzy." Another Arlington church feeds over 1,000 students lunch once a month. They are located right across the street from a local high school. The students are allowed to walk over voluntarily to have lunch at the church. Recently, we had 109 students saved in three lunches. Over the last several years, the school has declined in five negative categories ranging from truancy to violence. It is an opportunity for the church and the student ministry to reach out to students to love on them, disciple them, and present the gospel to them. It also creates an excitement and passion for the workers helping to have a vision to reach students. Jesus commanded us to go to them and make disciples. Declining or plateaued youth groups can be turned around by those churches that are willing to make a commitment to be creative in reaching students. We dare not settle for mediocrity. We need to be creative and reach students at the most opportune time.
The student ministry advertises Feeding Frenzy the day before by standing outside of the school wearing Feeding Frenzy shirts and passing out suckers saying, "Don't forget Feeding Frenzy is tomorrow!" This is just to remind the students. It costs about $1,700 a month to pull it off. They feed the students a grilled hamburger, a bag of chips, and a soft drink. The student minister has recruited about fifty volunteers to cook, clean up, serve, greet, etc. All of the volunteers have Feeding Frenzy shirts to designate who they are, advertise, and offer assistance. Even homeschool students are able to be a part of this ministry by volunteering once a month to serve.
Many student ministers might say, "Yes, that is great, but my church is not directly across the street from the school." This is probably true for most, but student ministers must think outside the box. Is there a vacant lot beside the school that your church can rent, buy, or use? Maybe it would be better to set up a tent and feed middle school students breakfast (Hardee's, McDonald's, etc.) before school once a month. I have also been able to speak during school at FCA, FCS, or Seekers club. These events were during lunch, and they had free pizza for anyone who wanted to come. I was able to present the gospel because it was during their club time.
In this high-tech generation that finds students constantly surfing the web, many ministries are taking advantage of the Internet to help students in the area of evangelism. There are great sites on the web that offer the gospel presentation that are appealing to students like www.thekristo.com or email cards with the gospel presentation in them provided by www.studentz.com. Many youth ministries have discovered that the Internet provides a very useful tool, which can be used by otherwise shy students, to communicate the gospel. We have to be creative if we are going to reach this generation. Ask God to open doors for ministry in your area and your schools!
Training & Equipping
The final ingredient that is found in effective evangelistic student ministries across the country is a focus on training and equipping students to do the work of the evangelist. Perhaps, the most effective ministry that is training students to share their faith is Frontliners (www.frontliners.org). Students from around the country attend a Frontliners Crusade held in a local church. They are discipled, equipped, and trained to do survey work with the sole intention of leading someone to Christ. In the afternoon, they put to work what they have been trained to do by going door-to-door in groups of three presenting the gospel. In the evening, services are held with the opportunity for the entire church to participate and bring lost people to the Crusade. The results vary depending on how many students are canvassing. The number of students that come to a Crusade range from 100-300, knocking on 5,000 to 25,000 homes in three days.
Another aspect of Jesus' ministry of equipping His disciples was His action of assigning them a task and sending them out to preach the gospel. The Bible says in Mark 6:7, Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. Jesus was demonstrating that there is a time to learn, and there is a time to practice what one has learned. Jesus constantly encouraged and trained His disciples in experiences and life lessons. For Jesus, every opportunity was a moment of equipping His followers for His ultimate goal of world conquest.
Frontliners helps students apply what they have learned from the large group teaching time and implement their knowledge by immediately going door-to-door for the purpose of evangelizing. The great asset of this ministry is the results when the students return home. They are able to reach individuals in their own culture because of the knowledge they have gained as a result of participating at Frontliners.
Is it possible to evangelize students? The church or student ministry willing to work hard, be creative, and train and equip their students in evangelism will be successful in bringing in the harvest. Yes, in these churches, student evangelism is still alive and kicking!