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Youth Ministers: Give Up Gimmicks and Focus on Grace

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • 2012 14 May
Youth Ministers: Give Up Gimmicks and Focus on Grace

Editor's note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Brian H. Cosby's new book, Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (P&R Publishing, 2012).

Despite the incredible effort that many church youth groups put into attracting teens with exciting entertainment, many teens still leave the church after graduating from high school and drift away from faith in Christ. Concerts, pizza parties, and video games may get new teens to come through your church’s doors, but gimmicks like those don’t have the power to really help teens grow in their faith. The good news is that you don’t need gimmicks at all to minister successfully to teens. You simply need to focus on communicating God’s grace through your youth ministry. Here how:

Aim for spiritual growth, not numbers. Rather than trying to get as many teens as you can to visit your church, focus on working to get the teens who do come to grow spiritually as much as they can.

Expect teens to get excited naturally when they learn about Jesus. Realize that you don’t need to use fancy electronics or fog machines to make your messages exciting when you’re communicating the Gospel message and helping teens discover more about Jesus, because the more teens learn about Jesus, the more excited they’ll naturally become about pursuing relationships with Him.

Teach teens to use God’s Word well. Help teens get to know God’s Word, the Bible, well, because God will reveal their sin to them, build their faith, and call them to trust in His mercy and grace as they hear and respond to what the Bible says. Base the messages that you preach on the Bible rather than on anything else, and be sure to interpret the Bible in its historical and literary context and apply it to the lives of the teens in your community right now. Encourage teens to meditate on God’s Word, and also to memorize passages of it so that they can keep it in mind when they’re faced with situations where they need biblical guidance.

SEE ALSO: 5 Reasons Why Not All Young Adults Leave the Church

Empower teens through prayer. Incorporate prayer into your youth ministry by: opening a teaching or worship time with prayer, break up into prayer groups during your meetings, and scheduling special times of prayer (such as prayer walks and times of fasting). Pray for the requests your teens have, and also pray through Bible verses, applying them teens’ lives as you pray. Encourage your teens to pray for each other as well as receiving prayers from you and the other youth leaders. Meet with your leadership team regularly to pray for the youth ministry together. Always be prepared to pray for your teens during any kind of crisis they may experience in their lives.

Nourish teens’ faith through the sacraments of baptism and communion. These sacraments show God’s invisible grace at work in visible ways. In the visually charged culture that teens live in, the sacraments have great power to direct their attention to God’s work in their lives. Teach teens the biblical meaning of both baptism and communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper) so they’ll know why God instituted these practices and what they symbolize. As teens celebrate the sacraments, encourage them to reflect on Jesus’ life and death, and how the grace that Jesus gives benefits them now by helping them move away from sin and toward greater purity and holiness.

Show teens how to serve people in need. Teens want to know that God has great purposes for their lives and wants them to contribute to His kingdom work. Show them how to fulfill God’s plan for them to serve people in need by: encouraging them to look to Jesus as their role model for how to serve (as humble leaders giving sacrificially to accomplish purposes with eternal value). Equip teens to serve by helping them discover and use their talents and skills in service work. Let teens see how you’re serving people in your community so they’ll be inspired by your example. Give teens plenty of opportunities to join service work that you and others from your church are doing in the local community. Support your teens in prayer as they serve people in need.

Build a community that’s full of grace and invite teens to join it. Create a youth ministry community that welcomes God to be at work there confronting teens’ sin, feeding their faith, transforming their minds, and growing their love. Help teens build trusting and committed relationships with each other so they can develop bonds of real intimacy. Encourage them to view every part of their lives – from their homework to the movies they watch – through a biblical perspective when they talk together. Urge them to find healing when they need it by confessing their sins to God and each other and forgiving each other, with God’s help. Form small groups for discipleship that teens can participate in every week. Help your teens build relationships with older people in your church and learn from their life experiences.

SEE ALSO: A Tale of Two Ministries

Develop a strong youth ministry team. Work together with other youth leaders in your church to encourage each other and hold each other accountable to live faithfully and pursue the ministry’s goals. Always keep in mind that you’re part of a ministry team relying on God’s grace together; never try to do ministry alone.

Work well with the parents of the teens in your youth ministry. Get to know the parents well and encourage them to grow spiritually in their own lives so they can inspire their children to grow spiritually. Invite parents to participate in some events alongside their children, such as serving together at a local homeless shelter. Give parents opportunities to rotate through youth ministry positions (such as small group leaders or activity chaperones).

Regularly evaluate your youth ministry work. Every week, month, and year that goes by, reflect on your youth ministry and ask yourself: “Are we focused on the Gospel?”, “Are we practicing the means of grace?”, “Do we have a greater knowledge of and love for God than we did before?” and “Do we see spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) in the lives of our youth?”

Adapted from Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture, copyright 2012 by Brian H. Cosby. Published by P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ,

SEE ALSO: Lost or Never Found? Some Students Who Leave the Church Never Really Belonged

Brian H. Cosby is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He serves on pastoral staff at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church in Peachtree City, Ga., and teaches historical theology at Metro Atlanta Seminary. He is the author of several books, and holds degrees from Samford University (B.A.), Beeson Divinity School (M.Div.), and The North American Reformed Seminary (D.Min.).

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a contributing writer and the editor of’s site on angels and miracles, at: Contact Whitney at: [email protected] to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.

Publication date: May 14, 2012

SEE ALSO: How to Keep the Children in Your Youth Group Safe