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Senior Pastor:We’re looking for more fruit in our youth ministry. I appreciate those 15 kids who are coming, but we have another 200 who aren’t.

Youth Leader:What good is it if we reach hundreds of kids but none are living their faith when they graduate?

Senior Pastor:No good at all. I want to get more kids involved and I want them to have a faith that sticks.

Youth Leader:Then you’ll need to decide. Want me to go deep? I’ll go deep. Want me to go wide? I’ll go wide. But I can’t do both.

Senior Pastor:I want both.

Youth Leader:Then we have a problem.

Senior Pastor:Sounds like we do.

So what—or who—is the problem here? I’ve begun to wonder: Do we really have to choose between deep and wide? Could our best bet for going wide be, ironically, going deep? Spiritually shallow programming no longer works as an attraction method, and it certainly doesn’t work as a retention method, if it ever did.

As I wrote in my last column, disengaged young people are just as likely to connect at a substantive small group or through a leadership opportunity as they are through entertaining, large-group programs. It’s time to stop ignoring our kids who don’t show up with the rationale of “going deep with a few.” As Jesus modeled, our strategy for going wide has to start with going deep.

The problem is that we define our primary role as disciple-makers rather than as “makers of disciple-makers.” We can invest our time in discipling a few kids, or we can take half that time and invest it in other people who can disciple kids. Without this shift in strategy, we’ll always miss:

• The refugee who just “joined the church” with her family but isn’t connecting anywhere.

• The autistic teenager who isolates himself from other kids and quit coming to youth group years ago.

• And yes, the elder’s daughter who decided, at 14, that she doesn’t believe in God anymore.

We can’t ensure that every young person will respond positively to the gospel message. But we can create systems designed to engage each of them. Doing better than most other youth ministries in town is no substitute for making deliberate, personal efforts to reach 100 percent of the kids God has placed in our care.

It’s about both: Let’s go deep and wide. ◊

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