Last Sunday, I think I may have turned off two girls to our student ministry because I tried to pitch a sales call to them rather than promote our ministry in faithful and realistic terms.
I believe that one of the greatest false temptations for our churches, especially our student ministries, is that we need to compete with Katy Perry.
Selling our ministry for more numbers sells out the Kingdom of God and degrades the only purchase with eternal value: our salvation!
I love a good challenge. I'm a sucker for it. In fact, if you want to rev up my engines, then share with me an impossible idea that no one has yet conquered. I'm all in!
I'm sure this stems from my own brokenness and personal desire to prove myself, but I do believe that hidden underneath my sin is a kernel of truth that makes up who I am: I chase after difficult tasks. This has always been part of my identity. Sometimes, though, I chase after challenges in the wrong way.
It all started when a couple of parents walked up to me and said, "Could you try persuading our daughters to attend to church?"
Like a dog after a car, I am on the hunt. They spotted me and hit the bathroom… of course they did, even more of a challenge! I thought: I'm gonna wait just outside, chase these girls down, sell them a Hollywood production that would make a Katy Perry concert seem like a preschool play, and then force them to leave church because of their overwhelming desire to stay!
After a few minutes of waiting for them to walk out of the bathroom, I saw them and approached them. The gazed at me - gave me the once over - and then pierced my soul through squinted eye lids. Their dad stood next to me, smiling. He knew exactly what was about to happen.
I began telling them about our Katy Perry production. Nothing moved them. So I upped the anty. I started spewing ideas and events out of my mouth that neither had been planned or would come to fruition.
I introduced them to some of our leaders, trying to break the ice. They stood there, frigid, ice cold with no response. I took one last leap of faith and tried to describe our camping culture, which is the highlight of our calendar every year. Even the most stand offish kids get excited for camp! Nothing.
The girls walked away, and their dad looked at me and said, "Good try." Not only did I lose the challenge, but I just turned off two girls to our program and potentially from our church… I felt like a sinker.
I couldn't get the Father's words out of my head: "Good try." Ugh! What did I do wrong?
In hindsight, I should've done 4 things to promote our student ministry instead of selling my soul to increase my numbers.
First, I should've simply gotten to know them. These girls attend church with their father just a once every other month or so. No one knows them. No one even cares to know them. They only come to appease their Father, so it should be no surprise that they could not care less about getting to know our church and the awesome student ministry that exists for them. Additionally, they live in a town about 20 minutes north of our church, and very families from that part of our county travel to where we are located. They hardly felt welcome and selling a program meant nothing to them. They wanted to feel safe, and I probably made them feel even less so.
--I should have asked them at least 3-4 questions each, opened up the door for friendship, and invited them to feel welcomed and safe in our community.
Second, I should've used realistic language and imagery that captured the reality of our ministry. Do you believe a sales pitch that describes a product as "the best thing ever?" Of course not! So why should we assume that a teenager would believe the same about our ministry? Even if our ministry does not include all of the lights and flash of a Katy Perry concert, this does not mean that your program could not become a well-produced and healthy environment for friendship building and faith formation. In fact, sometimes, the latter type of environments are more conducive.
--I should have given examples of some friendships hat have formed due to our program, the kind of things we discuss, and the variety opportunities that exist for them at our program.
Third, I should've made introductions and asked others to echo my description of the program. Nothing promotes a cause better than someone who has directly engaged and benefitted from it. This principle is also true in student ministry. Your kids and leaders can probably promote and describe the dynamics of the program and ministry better than you. This is certainly true for me. I want to own every aspect of what we do. It's part of my own insecurity. I want to take the wins and responsibility for a new person attending our program. In actuality, your kids who attend and the leaders who lead them are your ministry. Let them enjoy the wins, for then they will take leadership and responsibility for new kids joining in a way that you could never do.
--I should have asked permission from the girls to introduce them to a few of my student and leader friends. Asking permission places the new kids in control and allows them to take ownership of their decision to participate in meeting new people.
Fourth and last, I should've trusted that Jesus was part of this process long before I arrived on the scene. I tend to accept challenges and then think that if I do this on my own without anyone's assistance, then everyone will see me as the greatest person who ever lived! This couldn't be further from the truth. I can't do anything on my own. The only challenges that I complete with any success are ones where I rely upon and trust others, especially God, with my needs. I saw these girls and saw them more as a challenging project that I could complete on my own, rather than two girls created by God and in need of Jesus. My ego and pride inadvertently placed myself in the way of God working in their life and contributing to our community. Is this cause gone forever? I hope not. God is gracious and gives us second and infinite do-overs. But I lost the game last Sunday, and am need of a re-do.
--I should have approached these girls in the name of Jesus, seeking Jesus, and as much as possible, pointing them to Jesus with a spirit of humility and gentleness, instead of pride and unrealistic hype.
We don't need to sell our ministry. Promote, yes, that is called evangelism. But selling our soul for more numbers and critical mass sells out the Kingdom of God and degrades the only purchase with eternal value: our salvation!
QUESTION: How do you promote your ministry to new students both inside and outside of your church?