Attractional vs. Missional
This has long been the debate in church culture. Student ministries have also had to deal with the question of which model is more biblical and more effective. The danger in answering this question is the temptation to move too far to one approach without seeing the value of the other.
Which model is more biblical? It seems that Jesus followers were passionate and excited about both. His followers were bold to share the gospel with others, but they were also excited to invite people to the place where others would share the gospel. A great example of this is found in the first chapter of John’s gospel.
The passage begins with Jesus finding a young man named Philip (probably around the age of a typical middle or high school student). Jesus invites Philip to become one of His followers and Philip responds by following. What’s great is what happens next. This is what John records happened next:
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Philip is not one of the better-known followers of Jesus. In fact, he is often seen fumbling in a situation where he’s around Jesus. However, in this moment, being so overwhelmed by the good news of Jesus, he goes to someone close to him and tells him about Jesus. When this happens with a student in our ministry we rejoice. Nothing excites us more than seeing a student passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus, or even better, having the opportunity to see a student lead another student to faith in Jesus.
Nathanael didn’t immediately respond in faith to Philip’s gospel appeal. Instead, he expressed doubt. What did Philip do in response? He brought him to Jesus:
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
Philip invited Nathanael to come see Jesus. This is the same thing that Andrew does only a few verses prior (John 1:40-42). These early followers of Jesus were excited about the encounter they had with their Savior and were wanting others to experience the same thing. They shared boldly, but also invited when opportunities were present.
The model of evangelism in the early church was centered on the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ followers had been reconciled to God and as a result, could not help but become witnesses of the Jesus they had encountered.
This summer I witnessed a number of our students grow in their faith by becoming bold in sharing their faith and lead a number of their friends, and complete strangers, to faith in Jesus. However, I also saw a number of students get excited about what was going on at church and invite their friends, some of which came to embrace the gospel as a result.
The question is not, “Should a youth ministry be attractional or missional?” Rather, we should be asking, “How can we equip students who are passionate about sharing their faith with others as well as excited to invite their friends to church?” I give a few suggestions below.
Plan Strategic Outreach Events
Make it easy for students to get excited about inviting their friends by planning events that students would love to attend. When a student is growing spiritually at church, they will most likely be excited to invite a friend. However, this doesn’t mean that every student will want to attend. Outreach events that are planned with the unchurched person in mind will make it a little easier for students in your group to invite their friends. Make sure these events are not just “hangouts,” but strategic events that keep the main thing (the gospel) the main thing.
Set an Example of Personal Evangelism
Some student pastors see the gospel invitation at the end of messages as the extent of their personal evangelism. The problem is that students aren’t likely to catch your passion for lost in these moments. It’s one thing to offer an invitation at the end of a message, it’s another thing to engage with the lost in your everyday life. Let your passion be contagious by sharing stories of personal encounters with the lost and invite students to join you for planned moments of evangelism.
Provide Opportunities for Students to be Equipped and Share
Our church uses an evangelism presentation called Evangelism Explosion to train adults in sharing their faith. Many church members have been equipped to share the greatest story of all, God’s story, and we’ve encouraged students to participate as well. This past spring a 9th grader completed the course and ended up leading five people to faith in Jesus. Many of those witnessing opportunities came as a result of mission trips and other intentionally planned events.
Encourage Students to Lead Others
Share stories with your group of others in the group stepping out of their comfort zones and making a big impact. Tell a story of someone who was invited to church by a friend and came to faith. Take students on visitation and allow them to learn from each other. Allow those who have gone through evangelism training to train others.
As student pastors, we have been called to reach this next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, our calling does not rest on our ability to get everyone to the church so they can hear our gospel presentation (for which I am thankful). We have the unique privilege of sharing the gospel with students and equipping them to go and do likewise. Challenge your teenagers. You’ll be surprised at how bold and passionate they can be.