The Problem with the “Keep Students Coming” Mentality

By Jeremy Hetzel May 4, 2020

I was immediately struck by its simplicity and truth. Has that ever happened to you? You read a quote and it elegantly shouts at you, “This is the point! Pay attention!” I experienced this exact phenomena when I read the quote below.

These 35 words turn a lot of current youth ministry trends on their heads.

I I think the question that drives youth ministry is not “How can we capture/keep the young for the church?” but rather “How can we encounter the living God with and alongside our young people?

Andrew Root

the “keep them coming” mentality

As someone who’s trying to reach students today, I understand the struggle we face. Students are inundated with quality (and sometimes not so quality) things that can fill up their time.

They are constantly consumed by social media (Tik Tok anyone?), new music, the latest meme, and trendy new shows on Netflix or Disney+. That’s not to mention all the other extra-curricular activities that vie for their time and attention (when we’re not quarantined at home).

In an effort to keep them coming, we try all the resources at our disposal: wacky games, quality relationships, good food, and trendy youth rooms. All of these may help a student walk back through your youth room door, but we all know this isn’t what ministry is all about.

In striving to raise up students as disciples of Jesus, we also try to balance the fun with quality teaching and education. We want students to know the Word, to understand what Jesus did for them and be able to articulate it to someone else.

We pepper our Bible studies with engaging videos, quality questions, and funny jokes. Anything to keep the students coming, while also giving them their weekly dose of Jesus.

But is it working?

Letting go of the fear of losing students

What Andrew Root is saying, in my humble estimation, is we need to let go of the fear of losing students.

We must stop asking the question, “what will keep them coming?” and instead start to help them encounter Jesus himself. This will help them remained involved for the long haul.

Like he says, we must encounter Jesus “with and alongside our young people.”

pursue jesus yourself

Let me start by asking you a question: “When was the last time you encountered the Living God?” I hear stories all the time of fellow workers who spend all their time prepping for Bible studies, reaching out to students, planning events, and praying for God to move. They pursue all these good ministry opportunities; yet fail to pursue Jesus Himself.

Don’t forget what Christ told the church of Ephesus, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance….You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:4-6 NIV)

Jesus is to be our first love. If we want our students to fall in love with Jesus, it stands to reason that we must fall in love with Him first. We can’t take students where we haven’t been, right? So, how might we return to our first love?

Commit to your own Quiet Time. When times get busy, this is often the first thing to go.

On top of carving out this intentional time with Jesus, I’d challenge you to go even further. Don’t just read scripture to learn or understand, learn to read scripture devotionally. Practice Lectio Divina. Create space in your quiet time to experience our Lord. Learn to abide in His presence.

experience jesus together

But don’t stop there. Invite students to do the same.

My own ministry has embraced the idea of “experiencing Jesus together” whole-heartedly. We got tired of constantly encouraging students to have their own quiet time. Instead, we went a step further and provided space during our own meeting times to invite students to encounter Jesus.

Twice a month we hold “Experience Nights.” These nights often incorporate things like Lectio Divina, prayer station experiences, and personal Bible study (a great way to do this is provide your students with LeaderTreks Bible Study Methods). After we’ve had our quiet time, we meet in small groups to discuss what we learned, what God said, and how He showed up.

As we experience, connect with, and depend on Jesus ourselves, our ministries will be impacted (John 15:5). As students do the same, their lives and their faith will be impacted.

May we be a group of youth ministers who let go of our fear and embrace Jesus instead.

About the Author

Jeremy Hetzel

Jeremy Hetzel is the Director of Student Ministries at Family of Christ in Colorado Springs, CO. He loves reading, spending quantity and quality time with his family, and following his favorite sports teams (Boston Red Sox, San Antonio Spurs, and whichever fantasy team he’s managing at the time).