Everything you believe about student ministry isn't true.

This isn’t completely your fault.

It’s easy for myths to work their way into what we believe.

Over the years, a variety of student ministry myths have taken hold.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Bigger entertainment leads to better outreach
  • Killer music is the key to a weekly night of worship
  • Students crave newer facilities with the latest gadgets

If you believe these myths, hold on for a moment.

These ideas may work for some churches in the short-term. But these ideas tend not to create lasting results. Besides, it’s nearly impossible for your church to compete with the entertainment industry. No one has enough money for that.

Now that we have that out of the way, it’s natural to think:

What in the world works in reaching students with the gospel today?

Thankfully, what works isn’t earth-shattering, and it won’t cost your church a ton of money.

According to research conducted by The Barna Group, there are two really simple ideas your church should focus on to reach and retain students:

  1. Build Relationships
  2. Prioritize Discipleship

Practically speaking, there are many different ways your church can implement these two principles in your student ministry. Let’s take a look at five ways you can put these ideas into practice.

#1 – Use a two-pronged approach

Student ministry can play a big role in sharing the gospel with students.

In fact, according to a different study by The Barna Group, the majority of Christians in the United States commit their life to Jesus before they turn 18. Here’s what they found:

The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%) and that two out of three born-again Christians (64%) made a commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday.

Did you catch that?

The majority of self-identified born-again Christians (64 percent) in the United States placed their faith in Jesus Christ before they turned 18. This means that students between the ages of 13–18 are a prime field to share the gospel.

Before you turn your student ministry into a full-blown evangelistic outreach, hold on.

Unlike your college ministry, your student ministry should possess a two-pronged approach:

Support parents and guardians

We address the first point mentioned above elsewhere, and you can read our thoughts here.

In short, don’t eject parents and guardians from your student ministry, and find ways you can include your church-wide family into the lives of students (more on this in a bit).

With that in mind, as a student leader, you still want to take the gospel to students.

(Keyword is take.)

Many students will be attracted to your student ministry for different reasons, and will attend when a friend invites them or when their family attends your worship services. But at the end of the day, you and your church must also go to students. Let’s dig into what that looks like.

#2 – Serve the schools in your area

The first place to reach students are schools.

This doesn’t mean you can walk into any school willy-nilly and start a Bible study. That won’t work at all.

To be present at schools, you’ll have to build a relationship with teachers and administrative staff. This isn’t a process you can rush, and keep in mind one thing:

Many schools are under-resourced (in terms of staff and money), and they’ll likely be open to practical support from your church.

Think of practical ways you can be an encouragement and provide tangible support for schools. From providing lunches or coffee to offering your facilities for events, identify ways you can show some love and build relationships.

In time, through your presence, through students from your church in the school, and through connections with parents and guardians, you’ll be able to create awareness for your student ministry.

#3 – Get ready for students

Great job!

You’ve reached new students.

You’ve made a ton of new connections.

And now they’ve attended your weekly gathering or event.

So what’s the next step you want them to take?

If you don’t know the answer to this question, then everything you do to reach students will be a bust because you don’t have a practical way to retain them.

Here’s the deal:

Engaging new students who attend whatever you organized sets the stage for the remainder of their experience. If you make it easy for them to take a meaningful next step with your ministry, you’re in a much better position to share the gospel and get them plugged into your church. Miss following up or providing them with a tangible next step, and you run the risk of losing them.

The next steps you provide can vary. But remember, the two things you need to focus on is building relationships and making disciples.

Next, we’ll look at a few ways churches are finding success in accomplishing these goals.

#4 – Create community while making disciples

At first, there are two next steps you want to encourage students to take:

  1. Weekly meetings
  2. Small groups

Does your church currently run a student ministry?

Then there’s a good chance you’re already running a weekly meeting.

Planning on launching a student ministry?

Then consider organizing a weekly meeting for your students.

For your weekly meeting, it’s ideal if it's something Christian and non-Christian students can attend. Depending upon your church, this idea may make some parents or guardians uncomfortable. So be prepared to cast a vision your church members can get behind, and be ready if some families don’t catch the vision.

In reaching students, this is the first step they will take in getting connected with your student ministry. A weekly meeting requires little commitment; it’s a great opportunity to experience your student ministry; and students will have an opportunity to hear the gospel and meet other students and members of your church.

After leading students to attend your weekly meeting, another step churches have found helpful is to provide small groups.

Providing small groups for your students is one way you can lead people from a weekly (larger group) meeting to a small setting where they can meet people one-on-one and study the Bible together.

A student ministry small group does two really big things:

  1. Connects students with other students
  2. Provides adult volunteers with an opportunity to build relationships with students

Both of these ideas are key to building relationships with students and making disciples. Basically, the more people students meet throughout your entire church—the better.

#5 – Make your student ministry sticky

Want to make your student ministry stick?

Get students to stay around by encouraging them to volunteer.

When talking about volunteering, I’m not necessarily talking about leading other students or your children’s ministry, and I’m not talking about cleaning up after your service either. There are many roles students can fill that require more than being a warm body in a pew.

For example, students can volunteer in strategic positions, like:

  • Music
  • Tech and sound
  • Ushers
  • Greeters
  • Stage announcements
  • Children’s ministry

In your student ministry, encourage students to get involved in your church. There’s no need for them to sit on their hands when they can use them to serve.

That’s not all.

There’s another way you can encourage students to serve:

Through domestic and international mission trips.

Mission trips—even if they’re domestic—are a great way to give students a taste of serving. A mission trip is a short-term commitment that can be a long-term influence in students’ lives for Christ.

Over to you

I hope this truth brings a breath of fresh air:

Creating an exciting, powerful, and world-changing student ministry doesn’t require a multi-million dollar budget—it primarily requires building relationships and making disciples. In your church, how this looks will be different based upon your location, demographics, budget, and staff or volunteers. When praying through how to reach and retain students, use these principles and ideas I shared above. But be open to doing whatever it takes to build relationships and help students to follow Jesus.