"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Five Core Principles Core Principle #5: Outreach Events

Look Right Here: Focusing on Fruit

Designing Outreach Events (Part One)

Dr. Barry St. Clair

"Mike, a high school senior, visited our mid-week youth outreach event for the first time a year ago."

That's how one youth pastor started the story. Then he told of an incredible chain of events that have taken place since then. He said that Mike came to the outreach event because Ricardo, a young man the youth pastor was discipling, invited him. After Mike attended for three weeks, Ricardo led him to Christ and into the church. Shortly after that, Mike began to reach out to his friends with the gospel. He eagerly attended an evangelism seminar and learned more about how to share his faith.

Mike's fresh, new faith and radical lifestyle change got the attention of his parents and older brother. None of them attended church nor were they professing Christians. Within a short period of tie all three of them received Christ and now actively serve the Lord in church. Mike's parents have recently volunteered to become youth sponsors in the ministry and his brother has gotten involved in a ministry group on his college campus.

This summer Mike reached out to a good friend named Greg. He brought Greg to the same outreach event where he met Christ. Greg received Christ. He then led his two friends, Kelly and Ken, to Christ. Greg, Kelly and Ken have recently reached out to two other guys, inviting them to the outreach event. Now all five of them have formed a ministry team that comes early every week to set up for the outreach event. In one year this exciting process has resulted in seven significant, long-lasting conversions. (l)

Probably nothing gets talked about more, but gets done less, than genuine, life-changing evangelism. We expend incredible amounts of energy on rallies, crusades, tours, concerts, church-league softball (or a myriad of other sports), trips, camps, retreats, skiing, and on we go, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. But how many young people actually hear, understand, and respond to the message of the gospel? How many have a genuine, life-changing experience with Jesus through these events and are living for Him three weeks afterward?

One youth pastor expressed his frustration over spinning his wheels:

For years I busied myself with "the good things" of youth ministry instead of slowing down to face the reality that my ministry was almost ignoring "the best thing" that Christ called us to do . . . that thing is life-changing evangelism. It was after coming face to face with the reality that I was working myself to death, yet failing to change the lives of youth for eternity, that I began to get serious about the role of life-changing evangelism in youth ministry.

So how can we change the focus of our events to genuine evangelism?

FOCUSING ON FRUIT

Rather than focusing on the number of students who attend the event, or the number who accept Jesus Christ, as important as those might be, the outreach event is designed to accomplish two objectives. First, produce life change in the lives of the young people who attend. In other words, we genuinely desire that they have a serious encounter with Jesus Christ. Secondly, help students-those who were already Christians and the ones who newly meet Christ ? to become life changers. After they encounter Christ, they take the challenge to influence their peers for Jesus Christ.

Changing lives goes far beyond an initial response at an event. It centers in on the complete reconstruction of the person. As we think about the focus of an outreach event, it must be that teenagers experience salvation-the kind Jesus describes in John 15:16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last."

We're not talking about racking up decisions, filling out cards, or joining anything. We are talking about helping kids encounter Jesus in such a way that every aspect of their lives is captured by Christ.

As Jesus expounds on "fruit bearing," He tells us what brings about such an encounter. He expresses a good word to us in youth ministry about how our events should touch kids' lives in a fruit-bearing way.

Connection with the vine. Jesus said, "I am the vine: you are the branches" (John 15:5). As we think about putting together events, this relational reality moves us quickly away, from desiring any superficial response from kids and toward helping them come into a vital union with the Vine. That doesn't preclude fun and crazy stuff, but it does mean we know what we want to happen to kids.

Cutting away the worthless branches. Jesus said, "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:2). Jesus wants to cut out of students' lives anything that will hinder them from producing fruit. Kids will come to our outreach events with some pretty severe struggles, ideas far from the truth, and way-out lifestyles. As we address their needs, struggles, and issues, and as they see Jesus as the Need Meeter, they will rid themselves of their old lifestyles that "bear no fruit" and become grafted into Christ, who will conform them to His image and make them "even more fruitful." We need to have a youth ministry generally and outreach events specifically prepared to operate as "hedge trimmers" in kids' lives.

Control of the fruitful branches. Jesus said, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (John 15:4). "Remain" means to stay put. Once a teenager responds at an outreach event he must have the kind of personal help that will help him to "stay put" in his walk with Christ as he faces life's pain and pressures. Only in a youth ministry environment of nourishment, encouragement, and accountability will he be able to "remain."

Focusing on "fruitbearing" will help us produce the kind of excellent event that helps kids change and gives them the opportunity to pass that change on to their friends. This kind of focus will move individual students as well as the entire youth ministry through the progression that Jesus outlines in John 15:

? "No fruit" (v.2)

? "Fruit" (v. 3)

? "Much fruit" (v. 5)

? "Fruit that will last" (v. 16)

The focus of the outreach event is to present Jesus Christ in such a way that they will change - from "no fruit" to "fruit that will last." Fruitful attitudes, actions, habits, and lifestyles will produce Christian kids with a credibility that will cause non-Christian kids to respect them for the life change they have experienced and listen to their message.

Without this kind of focus you will work with uncommitted or half-committed students who will drain your time, undermine any credibility your youth group has with non-Christians, leave you as the Lone Ranger to pull off a highly labor-intensive event, and create an atmosphere that resembles a funeral.

Let's put this in perspective. Would you rather have 1,000 cars that take you 100 miles each, or one car that will take you 100,000 miles? What a hassle if you had to change cars every 100 miles-walking back to get the other car. You wouldn't get anywhere. If you "buy" the right focus from the beginning, then you won't have continual "breakdowns." Nothing short of fruitful, changed lives will get the job done. Even though you will want as many students at the outreach event as possible, the focus is on fruit.

PROGRAMMING WITH PURPOSE

If our focus is fruit-encouraging life change and producing life changers-then we need to program with purpose. In order to have programs with a fruitbearing purpose, it stands to reason that we need to know what the specific purpose of the event is.

Until we see God's purpose, we will struggle with our motivation in putting on events for kids. And certainly an inadequate perspective will carry over to our volunteers and our youth group as well.

So many youth leaders complain to me about the apathy of their students and volunteer leaders.

  • "Too busy."
  • "They only come because their parents make them."
  • "Kids are apathetic because their parents don't care."
  • "All they do is goof off."
  • "They complain, `This is boring. When are we going to do something fun?"'
  • "They aren't interested because we can't entertain them like the world entertains them."

So kids drop in if it suits them, or they don't if that suits them better. They have no real excitement about the youth group. When they do come it's like they have parked their bodies at the meeting but their minds are somewhere else. They keep asking, "When is this going to be over?" So you keep on trying to think up bigger and better gimmicks, games and group trips in order to keep them entertained. The group slowly shrinks in size because few new students come and others drop out.

Is it possible to motivate those same apathetic students and then challenge them to bring their friends at school to hear about Jesus Christ? The answer is yes, if

  • you have a compelling burden for lost kids (chapter 1)
  • you have an overall strategy for your youth ministry (chapter 3)
  • you have the purpose for your event clearly in mind (this chapter).

You've begun the process of developing a compelling burden for lost students, now let's deal with getting your event purpose clearly in mind.

Any time we put on an outreach event for young people the following overarching purpose should drive everything we do:

To present the life-changing message of Christ

In a culturally relevant manner

To lost young people.

To present the life-changing message of Christ. Your outreach events exist for the purpose of communicating the claims of Christ clearly. It sounds simple enough but it's not as easy as it sounds. Several challenges stand in our way.

Knowing the message. If the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, and release of the Spirit to change lives is fuzzy to us, then certainly it will be fuzzy to our kids.

Preparing the message. "Chasing around like a wild man (woman)" because your priorities are out of order squeezes out time for preparing a clear message.

Communicating the message. Even if we know the message and have prepared it, one of the hardest tasks in the world is taking what would be clear in the adult world and bringing it to the level that kids can grasp. As somebody once said, "We need to get the cookies on the lower shelf so the kids can reach them."

The Master Teacher tells us how to present the claims about Himself. We see how He did it from the example in John 7:37-39, "On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, `If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."'

In the midst of a large crowd at the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem, Jesus proclaimed who He was to the crowd. He presented Himself clearly so that people could understand and respond.

The Feast of Booths was a ceremonial reminder that the children of Israel had been wanderers in the desert where water was precious and difficult to find. During the ceremony a priest took a golden pitcher, walked down to the Pool of Siloam, and filled it with water. He carried the water back through a special gate used just for this ceremony - the Water Gate - while the people recited Isaiah 12:3, "With joy will you draw water from the wells of salvation." He carried the water to the temple and poured it on the altar as an offering to God.

The whole ceremony dramatized thanksgiving for God's good gift of water, a prayer for rain, and a remembrance of the water which sprang from the rock when Moses struck it with his staff. During this ceremony, perhaps at that very moment, Jesus' words rang out: "If a man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. (2)

Jesus spoke clearly in a language that every person there understood. No one missed the message that He was that Living Water symbolized in that ceremony. On this hot and dusty day He invited them to come and have their needs met-have a drink. Then He made a promise that whoever believed would have rivers of Living Water flowing through him! WOW!

The challenge for us is to present the claims of Christ in such a compelling way that young people will understand who Jesus is and will want to drink. We want to make our outreach event such a magnet event that kids can't but be drawn to the Living Water.

In a culturally relevant manner. Your outreach event is not for the pastor, deacons, elders, or parents. If it were designed for them then we wouldn't do some of the "wild and crazy" things we do. This is a meeting for kids.

Therefore, Christian kids need to feel comfortable bringing their friends. If a student thinks that what happens at these meetings is "dorky," then you can know that he will not bring anyone whom he likes to this meeting. He might bring a kid he wants to mug afterward. For that reason, creating a positive atmosphere is crucial. Let's look at what Levi did in Luke 5:27-32 to see a great model on how to do that.

First, we see that Levi had just met Christ himself: "After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. `Follow me,' Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him" (vv. 27-28).

The best and biggest path back to the world of lost kids is young people who have just recently come from that world. When a kid has "left everything and followed him" he or she will have a deep desire for friends to do the same.

Second, Levi, now a believer, wanted his friends to know Jesus, "Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others [sinners] were eating with them" (v. 29). Levi had a party! He designed this party to share the new life he had found.

Fun is a value held in high esteem by kids. Yet most students, when asked what it means to be a Christian, will tell you something like this: "Following a bunch of rules." "Going to church." "Doing good things and not doing bad things." That is why it is so important to present Jesus in a context that is not dull and boring. When we put together a magnet event, kids need to walk away saying, "Wow, that was great. That was sooooo much fun!" We can communicate that "Hanging around Jesus is the greatest fun you will ever have."

Finally, notice that Levi set an atmosphere where he felt comfortable having Jesus around his friends and his friends around Jesus. Christian students need to feel comfortable bringing their friends to these events. That will hinge on whether or not we can create a magnetic atmosphere where warmth, acceptance, and love will draw kids to Jesus Christ.

And non-Christian kids need to feel comfortable coming. To make non-Christian kids feel comfortable we need to create an environment with high energy enthusiasm. Levi's banquet wasn't just your normal banquet - it was a "great banquet." And it wasn't just a little group of friends, it was a large crowd. Imagine the energy in that room.

The very word enthusiasm means "in God." It seems only natural to have a bundle of enthusiasm at a Christian meeting, especially with kids. The MTV generation feels very comfortable in that kind of large, loud event. That sense of enthusiasm arouses the interest of lost kids, just like it did on another day, at another time, when Jesus taught by the lake: "The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge" (Mark 4:1).

The enthusiasm of the people expressed itself at such a high level that they almost pushed Jesus into the water. I've always seen this as one of the humorous incidents in the Gospels. The more Jesus taught, healed, and delivered people from the demonic, the more excited they became. As they crowded in on Him, He had to backpedal. Soon He was at the edge of the water and had no place else to go. One more step and He would have been soaked. Either someone saw the situation and brought a boat, or one was already there. At just the last minute Jesus deftly made His move into the boat, avoiding a dunking. Your outreach events can create that same kind of enthusiatic excitement.

Also, to help non-Christian kids feel comfortable we need to take the gospel to the streets. Notice that Jesus took his message outside the four walls of the church (the synagogue) into a home and by a lake among crowds of ordinary men and women.

Many youth workers struggle with this because they have ministered only within the four walls of the church, a setting which is comfortable and familiar.

I grew up in the church. The only Christian events I had ever seen were inside the church. So one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had to sharpen my youth ministry skills came when I was in college. I led a "club" every week that met in the living room of someone's home. Kids, mostly non-Christians, came-ones that others and I had built relationships with at the school. Every week was wild. I didn't always relate well. I had a lot to learn. But in this "baptism by fire" I discovered how to present Christ outside the religious confines of the church. Just the other day I saw a youth minister who reminded me that he came to Christ in one of those meetings.

Later I discovered I was in good company with my struggle. John Wesley had a difficult time moving outside the church setting. He was a faithful servant of the Church of England. West of London, in Bristol, his friend George Whitefield was preaching to the miners. As many as 20,000 at a time listened in the open air. His hearers were coming to Christ by the hundreds, so he sent for John Wesley and asked himto preach outdoors.

Wesley hesitated. He wrote, "I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit." Open-air preaching offended him. He said, "I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way-having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church." But Wesley realized that outdoor preaching brought people to Jesus. He said, "I cannot argue against a matter of fact." 3 And, as they say, the rest is history.

The only "culturally relevant manner" most lost kids will relate to will be what we do outside the confines of the church. But practically speaking, we may not be able to have some of our outreach events outside the four walls of the church. While it is best to have these events in a neutral, non-church setting, the option remains to have them inside your church building. If we are giving the non-Christian student the priority in our thinking and planning of the event, and if we are building relationships with them, meeting their needs, talking to them in their environment and inviting them to the event, whether the event is outside or inside the church building, then "if we build it, they will come."

To lost young people. This magnet event must welcome all students, regardless of culture, background, or level of commitment. For many in a traditional local church context this is a huge statement to make. Sometimes the church can be the biggest barrier that keeps people from Christ.

Jesus knew that better than anyone. It was the "religious establishment" (scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin) who resisted Jesus, even hated Him, and eventually killed Him. Now that is a sobering thought for some, because they know they have people in their churches who are just like that. Any time you even think about coloring outside the lines, you get your hand slapped. If kids come to your meeting who have purple hair, four earrings in each ear and one in each nostril, and who smoke and leave the butts in the parking lot, you know you are in trouble. I have no easy solutions for that one. But Jesus has been there before you, and He fought negative attitudes toward outsiders every step of the way.

You also have fine, well-meaning Christians who, like the disciples in Mark 10:13, want to protect Jesus and themselves from "sinful people." People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.

I have found that often parents and church people get all up in arms when "different" kids start hanging around. They want to protect their kids from these "evil influences," forgetting that their kids hang around these evil influences six to eight hours a day at school.

Steve, a seminary student at the time and now on our staff, was working on the staff of a church as a youth intern. He met some guys at school who hung out at a kids' night club. So he started going there to relate to those guys. They suggested that Steve start a Bible study on Monday nights at the night club. He did and lots of kids came. In a couple of months over thirty had accepted Christ. That's great. What was not so great was that when he brought those kids to church the parents got mad, the church kids rejected them, and the deacons voted that those young people could not come to the church any more.

That sad commentary is the result of actions by well-meaning Christian people (some of whom I know personally). Why did they do that? They had never thought through the implications of the Gospel, which says, "whosoever will may come."

Look at how Jesus handled the situation in Mark 10:

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Cod belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" And He took the children in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them (Mark 10:14-16).

Jesus welcomed the children with open arms. This incident took place when Jesus was on His way to the Cross. The shadow of the Cross could never have been far from His mind, but He still took time for kids. He made time to take them in His arms, smile at them, and play with them for a while. The disciples wanted to keep them away from Jesus to protect Him and His precious time from people who were not important enough. But Jesus knew better. With the little time He had left, He still said, "Let the little children come to me."

Like the disciples did, it is easy to categorize groups of students as "not good enough." Because of their background, culture, color, age, attitudes, dress, and habits we fall into the trap of excluding people from the Gospel. Yet Jesus welcomes everyone. And as representatives of Jesus, as people who have His Spirit living in us, we must say along with Him: "Ya'll come!"

Here's the bottom line: with focusing on fruit and programming with purpose clearly established in your heart and mind, you can turn your weekly youth meeting, or any event for that matter, into a magnet that draws kids to Christ.

ACTION POINT

1. From what you have discovered in this chapter, write out a one sentence purpose statement that clearly sets out your desire to focus on fruit and to program with purpose in any outreach events you do. Work on it at least 30 minutes every day this week.

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2. Go over your mission statement with at least two trusted friends to get their feedback. Then revise it on the basis of their input.

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3. Prepare your mission statement for a later presentation to your pastor and your youth leaders. Type it up and put it on a large poster or overhead transparency.

End Notes

1. This story is from Rick Caldwell, who over the years has had a phenomenal ministry of putting what's in this book into practice.

2. Adapted from William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1., rev. ed. The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975).

3. Adapted from William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, rev. ed. The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975).

Author

Barry St. Clair is founder and director of Reach Out Youth Solutions in Atlanta, Georgia. He speaks to thousands of high school students each year and is the author of more than 20 books, including Penetrating the Campus and Taking Your Campus for Christ. Through his leadership, thousands of churches internationally have implemented strategies of evangelism and discipleship of young people.

Recommended Resources

Although the book, The Magnet Effect (from which this chapter was taken) is currently out of print, The Magnet Effect Video, by Barry St. Clair and Bo Boshers (executive director of Student Impact at Willow Creek Community Church) is currently available through our site. Click here to order or get more information.

Copyright

Originally chapter two of The Magnet Effect, by Barry St. Clair, with Jim Burns, Paul Fleischmann, & Bo Boshers, Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois, all rights reserved.