In my travels across North Texas over the last four years, I’ve often been asked, “What is the best way to reach students?”
My response is always the same, “Start with the schools.” Youth pastors must place a high priority on outreach to their local schools, because the schools contain the largest collection of students within their community.
One of the simplest and easiest ways to begin reaching out to your local schools is by attending school lunches. Some leaders will tell you that school lunches are a waste of time, but I have found them to be highly effective. Not only do I have the opportunity to speak into the lives of students, but I’ve also been able to build relationships with school officials, which has opened the door to larger outreaches such as school assemblies or even a Seven Project. All because of simple relational connections that didn’t seem to matter much at the time I was making them.
I’ve compiled, from personal experience, seven reasons why attending school lunches should be a priority for every youth pastor:
1. Gets you out of the office. Church offices are for behind-the-scenes administrative work. Some of the greatest ministry opportunities lie outside of the walls of our church buildings. Most of the stories and illustrations I use in my sermons come from experiences I’ve had outside of the office. Set aside time to get out of the office and into the mission field - your local community. You’ll preach better and your relationships will be deeper as a result.
2. Connects you with students in their everyday environment. When students attend church, they are usually on their best behavior, as the pressures of the environments they’re placed in every day are absent. As you make your way into their world, you’ll develop a clearer picture of the culture they are immersed in Monday through Friday. You’ll receive a burden to reach and impact this generation for Jesus, without compromising your personal integrity.
3. Maintains consistency in your outreach message. If you talk about reaching the schools on Wednesday night, without ever actually stepping foot inside the schools yourself, your vision is flawed. It’s one thing to be passionate about something, and another to follow up that passion with action. Leadership is more than a catchy slogan or well-preached message; it’s about building relationships and serving others according to their needs. Want to WIN the school? Start by being AT the school.
4. Builds reliable relationships with school officials. This does not happen automatically or overnight. School officials are more interested in faithfulness thanglamour. You can bring a bunch of cool stuff into a school for a one-time event and impress a bunch of people, but you’ll lose the long-term impact that’s gained from faithfully showing up at the school to serve week after week. School officials will notice the difference. Teachers, coaches, counselors and principals are looking for solid community leaders that they can trust to be a positive influence to their student body. Over time, you’ll be able to build solid relationships that will open doors for years of campus ministry, long after the students that are currently in your youth group graduate.
5. Re-connects you with former students who have drifted away. I’ve seen this one in action time and time again. A student drifts away from God and disconnects from the local church, only to see their former youth pastor at a school lunch or sporting event. We have seen countless students come back to God and church by the simple presence of a youth pastor in their school.
6. Makes it easier for your students to share Christ. When you, the youth pastor, are present alongside students in their school, it gives them a reason to talk about Jesus. Not only does the fear of starting up a conversation lift, but also students are able to use you as a “talking piece” to invite friends to church or share their personal testimonies.
7. Promotes a Kingdom mentality. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than any one church or denomination. While we tend to become easily divided over doctrines and issues, one arena most church leaders can agree on is reaching the community through the schools. Showing up at a school gives you the opportunity to connect with leaders from other churches, building relationships that are centered around a common goal.
What if we all agreed to invest our time into the schools? After all, they are America’s greatest mission field.
Follow Kyle Embry on Twitter! - @kyleembry