This is a continuation of our discussion on how to develop youth programs for urban teens. In Part 1, I discussed a little about my background in urban ministry and gave a couple essential steps for those who are being led to start a ministry with youths. Today I will continue with a few more steps that I have learned over the years.
4. Develop a Balance Between Healthy Fun and Building Relationships
I wish I could truly say (in my best King James voice): “Young people cometh to my Bible Studies because they want to heareth the word of Godeth.” Or I wish I could say that kids come to hear the eloquent messages I stayed up all night to put together. I wish I could even say that they come because of their love for God and their deep commitment to Christ. Some do, but the vast majority of the un-churched, urban kids I have worked with initially came to youth group for two reasons: fun and relationships.
In all honesty, that’s why I began to attend youth group as a kid…at least initially. I attended the local youth group for the following main reasons:
1. Fun —The youth leaders at the church I grew up in dared to allow us to have fun. We played games, went on trips, camps, all-nighters, and many other activities. This might not be a revolutionary principle for you, but many churches are reluctant to incorporate fun into their youth services. I have heard it said: “You’re just entertaining those kids.” Key word: just. If all you are doing is having fun and playing games with kids, then you are missing it. If, however, you are incorporating fun as an integral part of what you do in youth ministry, mixed in with solid Biblical teaching, I see that as a healthy and balanced approach to youth ministry.
2. Relationships —I developed close friendships with the other kids who were there. During that process, I developed relationships with caring adults who didn’t just see me as a name on a roster, but who took the time to ask me how I was doing in school, and who talked to me openly and honestly about issues I really cared about. Eventually, as I built relationships with caring adults, this ultimately led me into a closer relationship with God!
Paul told the church in Thessalonica:
“we loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well . . .” 1 Thess. 2:8
Dr. Howard Hendricks reminds us that
“you can impress people from a distance . . . you can only impact them up close.”
5. Get the Kids Involved
According to Dr. Robert Laurent, the number one reason why kids leave the church is “lack of opportunity for church involvement.” Kids need to feel that they are significant and valuable. If they don’t feel that from the church, they will go somewhere else where they can feel a sense of belonging. One of the most significant lures of cults and gangs is that they immediately give young people responsibilities and opportunities for involvement.
Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu quotes a notorious gang leader who said:
“We will always get the youth because we know how to make them feel important.”
Sometimes we make young people feel like they are not important, or don’t have anything to offer the church. We push them aside; tell them to be quiet; get off the platform; don’t play with the microphone. Then when they are older, we wonder where are our young leaders? We must make our kids feel important very early on.
Give the kids real responsibilities. Let them know you believe in them and that they are valuable to you and to the growth and development of the group.
6. Have a “Kick-off” Event
As you put the program in place, and meet for a few weeks with your core group, the momentum will build, and the kids will “catch the vision.” Then plan some form of “kick-off” event that will inspire the kids to go out and invite their friends. The kids could pass out flyers and invite their friends to attend this special event, which could be a pizza party, athletic tournament, “game night,” or other activity which would be high energy and exciting. Make sure it includes an evangelistic presentation, and an opportunity to follow-up new kids.
7. Be Committed for the Long Haul
Almost nothing is stable in a young person’s life in the inner-city. Dr. John Perkins points out that 70 percent of inner-city children are growing up without a father. In order to make ends meet, their single-parent might have to move frequently, thus changing neighborhoods, friends and schools. If there is one thing that should remain consistent, it should be their youth worker, who is very often the one positive adult role model a child may have. Youth ministry in the urban setting is just one of those fields that you cannot do for a short period of time and expect significant results. You must have a long-term commitment to the kids, their families and their neighborhoods.
It has now been 17 wonderful years since I first got my feet wet in urban ministry in Miami. Sure, I have had my share of disappointments, failures, and frustrations, but it has been the joy of my life to know kids who have grown up in the “hood,” and who have now become positive members of society and some who have even entered the ministry! It has made all those sleepless nights and hair loss … worth it!