I am a veteran youth pastor who spent about 20 years working with students resulting in many new believers, many disciples and many who continued with formal bible education now in full-time ministry or serving in leadership roles in ministry. I was recently reunited with a friend who served with me in a student ministry several years ago. He asked, “Whatever happened to student ministry how we used to do it?” He was talking about what many would label the attractional model of student ministry.
The Attractional Model
This led me to several hours of research where I discovered that, not only is the attractional model rarely being used, it is also not well spoken of in many circles of student ministry. Many of the descriptions and articles I read were working off a very incomplete definition of the attraction model. I agree that if a ministry is only throwing big fun events and giving a quick gospel presentation then, even with the few new believers made, the ministry will not sustain itself. The youth pastor and team will quickly burn out and eventually become discouraged.
Youth Pastor Investment
Any successful student ministry requires some longevity and commitment of the youth pastor. If the youth pastor does not commit to staying several years, then they will not see the full extent and results of the true attractional model. There is also something to say here to the hiring church. The church must hire youth pastors with the idea of keeping them. This means that there must be a commitment by the church to pay the youth pastor a competitive salary. It also means that the church hires a long-term youth pastor and not the next steppingstone into another ministry.
About the programming, youth pastors must start with the few — like Jesus did. There must be a commitment to discipleship and investing in growing students well before a big event is ever even attempted. This usually requires at least two levels of programming — a program focused on mid-level growth kids, and a program focused on student leaders. Both programs will need to consist of a lot of evangelism training and bible intake.
The higher-level leadership kids will require a ton of your time during this early phase. Kids in this group will be held to a higher standard. Spiritual disciplines will need to be a huge focus. Training of these kids will also include teaching them how to disciple, how to share the gospel, and an expectation to have a "Most Wanted" list that is regularly prayed for by name both by the group and by the individual. After a period of time with this focus you are ready to begin big attractional events.
The development of these events starts with the leadership kids. The question asked of them is "what kind of event would your most wanted friends most likely attend if we created it. Then we develop the event. When you reach this stage in your student ministry, I would recommend starting with doing one big event per quarter. One week before the event do a Prayer, Praise and Pizza event. For this event kids are encouraged to fast all day and then come to an event focused on worship and prayer. Again, the most wanted lists are spread into a pile and students take turns praying for each other’s friends while laying their hands on the pile. After some worship we end our fast by enjoying some pizza together. At this point many of the mid-level students and all of the leadership students are anticipating a big event designed to, not just be fun, but to introduce their spiritually lost friends to Jesus.
During the event the regular students are all aware of the purpose of the event. Food is always at the end of these events to give students something to linger around after the event. The youth pastor will say at the end of his talk that "many of you were invited here tonight by a friend. Your friend will be asking your thoughts on the evening during our food time." During this time the leadership kids are trained to be asking their most wanted friends what they thought of the event and specifically what they thought of the message. If this results in a positive response or even in the student receiving Jesus, the new student is invited to the mid-level event where intentional discipleship begins to take place. It won't be long before this student is on the student leadership team inviting his most wanted friends!
This type of attractional model not only is big and fun, but it produces new followers of Jesus, grows disciples, and trains leaders. It takes time, commitment, and a lot of hard work, but it is extremely effective and produces student disciples who grow up to be the next generation of church leaders with a focus on evangelism and discipleship.
It not only works — it in some form, should be the model for all of us!
Matt Harris is the Founder and Behavioral Consultant at Luke 9:23 Ministries. He also serves as the Spiritual Formations Pastor at Crossview Church in Grabill, IN.
If you have any questions or requests, feel free to reach out to us by using our contact form.