Making Jesus the main attraction in Youth Ministry

Here is a link to the piece I wrote for the Baptist Standard: “Make Jesus Christ the main attraction in youth ministry


This summer, I visited 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The church was at the epicenter of the civil rights movement, one of the greatest Christian social movements of the past century. Many tourists come to see the historic building where Dr. Martin Luther King preached and where four children unconscionably were killed by a white supremacist’s bombing.

I read an informational pamphlet about the church that said 16th Street Baptist Church is “Where Jesus Christ is the main attraction.” That simple statement was reorienting.

If we tell students the church exists only to enact social change, what will students do when they find a more efficient organization enacting that change?

If we suggest the church is primarily where they learn techniques to be good people, and manage social relationships, what will students do when they think they’ve learned all the skills we have to teach? Will they believe they have graduated from church?

Kara Powell has noted, “Almost half of all young people drift away from God and the church after they graduate.”

If the church exists for the show it can put on, the skills it teaches or the self-improvement it can point toward, what could the church ever say to those who are just burned-out, done, finished?

Now, a few clarifying statements to keep in mind when reading the opinion piece:

  1. I am not against personal reflection, but the church’s preaching and teaching affects not only ourselves, but draws us to God– who is outside of us.
  2. I am not against social action. Indeed, our faith bears fruit in the world. We can’t meet God’s grace without changing how we think act toward our neighbor in public — on the small and big scale. But the church can not be one social organization, or even a social action-oriented organization among many.
  3. I am not against events. Churches, youth ministries, should have fun together! But those can’t be the main attraction.
  4. I wrote this piece because I don’t want youth ministry to lose its focus on Jesus.
  5. Also, factually clarifying note: Rev Dr. King DID preach at 16th Street Baptist Church on multiple occasions. He did eulogize the four girls killed at the horrific bombing at that church. This was not meant to imply he was Pastor there.
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