At 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, more than 100 students gather at a church adjacent to a high school in northeastern Indiana. They’re fed a hot breakfast by church volunteers, then they split into small groups led by 20 adult leaders. At 7:30 they walk out of the church and head across the lawn to start their class day—equipped with the tools they need to make an impact in the most natural mission field they’ll ever experience.
Five years ago I would’ve been describing a Campus Life student leader gathering—a weekly parachurch outreach event. But no longer. In the late ‘90s a tight network of youth ministers in the town decided to share the ownership for this campus-based student leadership team. And that’s been the catalyst for three breakthroughs:
• In the past, the community’s teenagers felt caught in the middle of a tug of war with church and parachurch leaders pulling on either side. Now, because the youth leaders in town are working together, the kids don’t feel that tension.
• Before, the town’s youth leaders felt pulled between competing goals—reaching unchurched kids and helping their own churched kids to grow. This unified student leadership gathering helped them invest in both goals simultaneously.
• More young people have committed their lives to Christ, and more are connected to a local church for growth, community, and discipling.
In the search for effective evangelism strategies, one that’s proven to work well is unifying a community’s youth leaders to support student outreach efforts on their high school campus. What are the keys?
1. Begin with a campus focus, not a church focus. Evangelism thinking begins with an outreach target. It asks, “What people, or group of people, do we want to reach for Christ?” By focusing on the high school campus, students more naturally think about the orbit of non-Christian friends and acquaintances with whom they have the most ready access.
2. Visible unity pays off. This shouldn’t surprise us, but in our urgency to reach the unchurched we often jump into new approaches without establishing our presence properly. Putting love and unity on display was Jesus’ clear priority in making God known to the world (John 13:35; 17:23). Maybe the daunting mountain called “unifying the Body of Christ” has put us off from attacking the very climbable peak in our back yard. But Christian students who spend hours a day in the same school can come together. When they do, their unity is attention-grabbing to their unchurched classmates.
3. Adults pave the way. Student unity must be caught from adults. So recruit a team of adults who want a career in modeling, Jesus style! Their integrity will be on display as they coach and resource student leaders from many different “tribes.” Some teenagers are nearly ready to have meaningful conversations with their friends about following Jesus. Others aren’t so bold, but would willingly invite their friends to hear about Christ through the right event, trip, or meeting. Each student can experience the power of God by seeing answered prayers on behalf of non-Christian friends. And a united team of Christian adults can show teenagers a thing or two about partying when unchurched students come to Christ!
Dave Rahn is a longtime youth pastor, youth ministry professor, and a vice president of Youth For Christ. He lives in Indiana.