My kids were recently invited to attend a youth conference with some friends. When I visited the website to find out more information and clicked on the promo video, this is what they told me: “This conference will be UNLIKE anything else you have ever attended.” They went on to list all of the ways it was going to be so amazingly unique.
It was going to have:
- A speaker
- A worship band that was loud and “modern”
- A hip hop artist
- A service project
- An after-project celebration party (including the new phenom of a “color run”)
Wow. They are right. I had never seen anything else like that, since the last youth conference…that I was at…last weekend. Literally, a color run just came to my child’s Junior High. The issue was not what they had to offer, but the pitch. “You want to come to this because it’s so absolutely unique.” The problem of course was it isn’t.
We all do it. We think the pitch to get students excited about the conference, the trip, the camp, or even weekly programming should be, “You haven’t ever seen this before.” Ecclesiastes is pretty clear there isn’t anything new under the sun and in our technologically-driven age, we know it.
Not long ago I had the opportunity to ask a publisher the best way to get a book proposal considered. His response:
“Don’t tell me there isn’t anything else like it on the market. I doubt you can come up with an idea that no one, anywhere has thought of. Instead tell me what is out there as competition, then tell me how your approach is different. Just being able to tell your story from your point of view makes it special. You don’t have to stand alone. You have to draw me to your story.”
I think we need to start applying this concept to ministry. It’s not about the super-cool name of your youth group or the theme of your youth room. I am not slamming these things. They do help students know who you are and about your identity as a group. Yet, to tell a student that this will be what they have never seen before sets you up for failure. There is a local mega church here that has half of a VW Beetle coming out of the wall of its Junior High room. You might think, “I can’t compete with that.” Then why are you trying? My kids saw it and said, “Yeah, they have that at the science museum.” In other words, “Yawn, even the car has been done.” They served a tall order that they couldn’t deliver. Everything now is “been there, done that.”
Instead, why aren’t we telling kids what it is our ministry, conference, camp or trip has to offer and let them decide if that is something interesting to them? Just because it’s not unlike ANYTHING doesn’t mean students won’t come.
I would say teenagers want to know the answers to these questions instead:
- What’s the purpose? (Fun, Service, Worship, what?)
- Will it be corny or authentic? (Are you offering me a show or an experience I feel a part of?)
- How are you going to draw me into the story? (Will I build worthwhile relationships with my leaders, friends and Christ through this?)
- What’s the approach that you are offering through this? What’s the angle?
Each of us has a unique personality, and are in a time of life that causes us to be looking for different things, this is true of our students as well. Other times you might just meet at a time that doesn’t work, and it’s that simple. Students don’t care why you are new and awesome and unlike anything else. They just want to know what makes you worth their while.