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We live less than 20 miles from a world famous amusement park—Disneyland. We went there today. My family loves to go there and it’s been a while since we’ve all been there together. It was a fun day filled with great family memories. While it’s a great place, I struggle with it’s self proclamation as the “Happiest Place on Earth.” It’s definitely a great place; clean, creative, fun, and entertaining. Good enough for millions to go there…

But, what does Disneyland have that my youth group doesn’t? Well, EVERYTHING and NOTHING. I think the same is true with your youth ministry, too. Let me explain.
Disneyland has everything flashy… our youth ministry doesn’t have flash. We don’t even have a place for our students to meet that can get to call our own. When I compare our youth ministry meeting place to Disneyland, there’s no comparison. Disneyland wins. But, when I compare the lasting relationships that our youth ministry offers to the relationships that Disneyland offers, our youth ministry wins—so does yours.

Why write about this? Well, I’ve been hearing a lot from my youth ministry friends about some youth ministries that are making headlines because of their unbelievable facility. I know of some church, youth ministry conferences that show youth workers how to blueprint, build, and finance this type of magnet youth facility. It’s a little bit of a “build it and students will come” philosophy.

To be honest and fair, I don’t know much about these church’s and that’s why I’m not mentioning anything specific relating to them. I’m sure they’re filled with great youth workers with incredible ideas and godly motives. But, I’m concerned for my deflated youth ministry friends who believe they need a flashy youth center in order to effectively reach and care for students.

The longer I’m in youth ministry, the more convinced I am that less is more. Students need relationships more than they need arcade games and inflatable jump houses. As soon as a student enters our youth ministry, I want them connected to a loving adult who will care for this student and be a mentor and disciple the student. When people ask about our ministry, I say, “It’s real simple; we try to introduce students to Jesus, get them connected to a caring adult (within a small group) who will disciple them, and challenge them to do ministry. And, we train adult volunteer leaders. That’s about all we do.” Flashy buildings may attract students, but it can’t keep them and mature them.

It’s safe to assume that there are several different definitions of what is “flashy” and people visiting my youth ministry would think the tent that we use is flashy (and to a degree I would agree). But, I would hope there isn’t a lot of different opinions on the power of relationships. I would hope that there is a majority opinion surrounding “relationships” as the key to healthy youth ministry.

Flash without relationships can never be healthy… but churches who have relationships without flash are always within grasp of health. Youth ministries who encourage small groups and community and relationships should be the place that we refer to as the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

Thanks for playing your part in fulfilling that mission!

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