Seems like April is a good month to take a break from writing in series and simply pick a different topic each week for a bit. And I thought I’d start by defending what has become one of the favorite targets of youth ministry’s chattering class; attractional ministry. Please add your thoughts in the comments; this should be a lively discussion.
The Critique of “Attractional Youth Ministry” Is a Straw Man.
Folks attacking attractional ministry are raging against a philosophy that doesn’t actually exist. They like to use examples of big events, concerts, game nights, prizes, etc. as proof that these “attractional ministries” are shallow at best and damaging to long-term faith at worst. Here’s the problem: I’ve NEVER seen a ministry that uses “attractional ministry” as its complete strategy or paradigm. I’ve seen lots (ours included) that utilize attractional elements, but the stuff that critics like to point fingers at is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. If there is a church that is trying to build its youth ministry ONLY on big, fun events, I’ve never heard of it. If there is a youth ministry that does NOTHING more than give away free prizes and turn on fog machines, I’ve not seen it. To dismiss attractional elements of a youth ministry as its entire strategy is unfair and intellectually dishonest, because such a youth ministry doesn’t exist.
Bottom Line: Attractional Youth Ministry as a paradigm doesn’t exist.
When Did It Become Wrong To Do Things Un-churched Teenagers Like?
Fun is the universal language of teenagers. If you want unchurched kids to say “yes” to the invitation to visit your youth group, and if you want them to come back a second time, there needs to be some “fun” involved in the experience. Sure, some youth ministries may be guilty of putting too many eggs in this basket, but remember, it’s not their only basket!
Bottom Line: It’s not a sin to have fun in church.
Jesus Used Attractional Methods, Too.
Granted, he didn’t hold an X-box raffle as a way to get people to come hear his sermon on the mount, but he wasn’t afraid of doing things that caught folks’ attention and got “seekers” interested in seeking him out. Miracles, for instance were certainly done out of a heart of compassion, and also used as a tool to attract interest in his message. Jesus knew that there was an element of a “numbers game” to creating a movement of people who would change the world. He needed to give thousands of people a peek at his message in hopes to entice a segment of those men and women to take a next step….to go from interested seeker to dedicated follower. In an imperfect, way less Jesusy manner, that’s what “attractional youth ministry” attempts to do with some of their more outlandish efforts. If you want 100 high school students passionately following Jesus, one strategy that makes sense is to do things that initially attract 500.
Bottom Line: Jesus exposed his message to the masses in order to garner true followers; why shouldn’t we?
It Can Be Both/And.
Usually, when critiquing so-called attractional youth ministry the proposed alternative is a more missional approach. It is usually assumed that a youth leader must choose between the two. “Choose today whom ye will serve. As for me and my youth group we will serve the XXXXX approach”. But the reality is that being missional and being attractional, as both are traditionally defined, are not mutually exclusive; they can (and I believe must) not only coexist but work together in ones’ effort to build a healthy, well-balanced youth ministry.