I have served as a youth pastor for over five years. I have served in the South and in the North. I’ve led large youth groups and smaller groups. From my experience, I have found one thing to be a challenge above all others. That is, inspiring students to share the gospel with other students. As a pastor, my role is to equip the flock for faithful ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Indeed, the faithful ministry is, in part, characterized by a life of evangelism (Matthew 28:18–20).
So, it is essential that those who disciple others are concerned with their ability to do evangelism. The question is, how does a ministry leader do this? How does he cultivate a culture of evangelism? Well, there are many different practices that can be used. However, for the sake of brevity, I will share three different practices I have found to be effective.
Cultivate Confidence Through Competence
When I talk to students about sharing the gospel, one of the greatest reasons why they fail is because of an overwhelming fear of failure. That is to say, students don’t share the gospel, in part, because they do not know how to. And even if they have a sense of what to say, the idea of forgetting what to say causes paralyzing anxiety that leaves them immobilized.
As leaders, we tend to shrug this off because we realize that their immobilizing fear is caused by a lack of faith (2 Timothy 1:6–7). So, we say to ourselves, “If I instill faith in my students, it will override their fear, mobilizing them to share the gospel.” Though it is true that at the deepest level our students need to grow in their faith, we also need to realize that there is a universal principle at play here. Namely, incompetence leads to a lack of confidence. So, the proper response of the leader is to work diligently to instill competence and to work to see growth in the faith (or in this case, confidence) of their students.
The question then becomes how to go about building competence in your youth. Every coach knows that in order to build competence, you must practice doing what you will be performing during the game. If I wanted my wide receivers to gain competence in their ability to catch the ball, I would have them practice catching the football. Then, come game time, they will not only be ready to play but they will also have the confidence needed to perform at their best.
For the Christian, our call is to share the gospel. It is to give a reasonable response for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, I recommend the leader do his research and find templates or guides to sharing the gospel. Then talk about the guides and practice them during your weekly program. For starters, I recommend the following three steps:
- Spend time explaining how the guide works.
- Model it in front of your students.
- Allow students to practice it in small groups and gently critique them where necessary.
If you do these things on a regular basis, your youth will grow in their confidence to share the gospel.
Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism through Celebration
One of my favorite quotes is, “You cultivate what you celebrate.” Whatever the leader(s) of a particular organization celebrates is the very thing that he will cultivate.
In order to develop a culture of evangelism, work hard to consistently celebrate the evangelistic efforts of your youth. Whatever is celebrated, and I might add, celebrated publicly, inspires the continuation of that action. Everyone enjoys being told “good job.”
For example, when I played baseball in college, I enjoyed having my friends come to my game and celebrate my achievements. However, it meant more to me when my father came to the games and told me “great job.”
Therefore, when the leader of the youth group celebrates his students, the students will take it to heart. The action is more likely to be repeated, by both the student who performed it and the other students looking on. Take a couple of seconds during your weekly program to celebrate anyone who shared the gospel (or at least attempted to) since the previous meeting. (Be sure to get their permission)
Work to Cultivate Compassion for the Crowds
Finally, work to cultivate compassion in the hearts of your students (Matthew 9:36). It is absolutely impossible to inspire students to share the gospel if they do not care about people. I have noticed that some of the most radical evangelists are those who did not grow up in the church. Rather, they had a radical transformation at some later point, and associating with sinners is all they knew. So all they want to do now is return to where they were with the good gift of the gospel.
On the other hand, many who grow up in the church tend to be isolated from the world, thus unintentionally developing a separatist attitude toward the world. The outcome is a lack of care for anyone who is on the outside of their particular community. Furthermore, if students fail to have hearts of compassion, the environment you create at your youth group will not be a welcoming one. Your students will see the “outside” students as a threat to their personal comfort.
There are many ways to cultivate compassion. However, if you wanted to start with something practical, I would recommend scheduling regular service projects where students are exposed to those who are less fortunate. Another practical thing worth implementing is to plan a time where students get out of their comfort zone to learn about fellow students. You might even give them suggested questions to ask as they begin conversations and seek to find some commonality with those who are not like them.
The practices mentioned above aren’t the only ones that could be mentioned, nor do they guarantee that you’ll see spiritual fruit. However, by God’s grace, you may find that implementing them will help your students grow in their desire to share the gospel.