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How do you grow your youth group? There are lots of writers in youth ministry today that quickly say “growth is not the point! Discipleship is the point!” I would say that according to Jesus, more disciples is the point. Discipleship and growth are not exclusionary goals in ministry. Consider these verses (NIV):
“He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” -Luke 10:2
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” -Matthew 28:19
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:8-10
Jesus and Paul understood their ministries in terms of harvest. All too often youth ministers resign themselves to the idea that they are only on the planting or growing side of things. Some youth ministers think thoughts like “If I just plant the seed now then one day these students might actually be disciples,” or “since the message of Christ was planted in these students by our children’s ministry, it’s just my job to water.” While both of these statements may be true, depending on the student, student ministers should not overlook the harvest.
What does harvest look like in youth ministry? Is it growth in numbers? Is it new salvations and baptisms? Is it the number of students in your group that feel called to ministry? Without defining how the harvest is measured, it’s difficult to define the harvest. The student population is ripe for cultivation and growth in Christ. There are seeds to be planted and watered, there are weeds to be pulled, and the harvest, as Jesus says, is plentiful.
A harvest is the result of diligent work mixed with the blessing of God. Here are three keys to realizing harvest in your student ministry:
1. Cultivate Fertile Soil. It is important to the principle of harvest to plant seeds in fertile soil. If the soil is fertile then the crop will be bigger. Roots will run deeper. How have you set your ministry up to be fertile soil for youth in your city? Sometimes fertile soil doesn’t naturally exist, and so we supplement it and cultivate it until it’s rich enough for something to grow. Are there any elements missing from your ministry that would lead to an environment that is fertile for growth? Students in my youth ministry recently told me of their desire to have youth-led worship at our mid-week meetings. Over spring break they helped knock out a wall to make the youth room bigger, helped install donated sound equipment and staging, and repainted the youth room to make it more inviting. Now students are excited about the possibility of weekly worship, excited about the freshly-renovated space, and excited about bringing friends. More fertile soil for ministry has been created.
2. Water Often. Plants need water to grow. Without some water, even the most drought-tolerant plant will eventually die. Students need opportunities for discipleship. This includes Bible study and fellowship times, but might also include personal mentoring relationships, service and mission projects, or planning a weekend retreat. Some students will come to youth group and get fed regularly. They will be the ones who spiritually mature the fastest. Others will be on the fringe of the group, and may need extra attention. Jesus heavily invested in a few dozen disciples who then went out and changed the world. Investing heavily in the discipleship of a small number of students may have more of a long-term spiritual impact than entertaining hundreds of students with a slick but surface-level youth ministry. Remember, the payoff isn’t in the watering, it’s in the harvest.
3. Stay Harvest Minded. There are TONS of disciples to be made. There are millions of people to win to Christ! In your own community I bet only a small percentage of youth and families are heavily involved in a church, even if they say they’re Christian. If we cultivate rich soil and faithfully water the seeds that have been planted, growth will happen and the Lord’s bounty will bless our youth ministries. Staying harvest minded means having big enough vision to see the importance of long-term strategy. The payoff is always in the end game in ministry. In the harvest there is celebration. There is the reward of hard labor. In the harvest ministry reaches maturity as disciples win new converts and in turn, make new disciples. NEVER be satisfied with the status quo, because the harvest is plentiful. There are ALWAYS more people to reach with God’s love.
Having a theology of harvest is essential to building a thriving and growing ministry. I believe some churches die because they are not harvest minded enough. Other churches poison the soil instead of making it fertile. Many churches don’t provide enough opportunities for the spiritual watering of young souls. How is God calling you to grow your youth ministry and make more disciples? The harvest is plentiful.