For those who do not know me, my name is Jeff Kiers, and I have been the Youth Pastor of 180 Student Ministries based out of Eaglemont Church in Beaumont for the last year and a half. Before that, I spent about six years at Millwoods Assembly in Edmonton, volunteering in their youth ministry. During my time at Eaglemont we have found some great success in connecting with our community students. While we don't have more than around 20 or so youth-aged students in our church, our Friday night events have seen us connecting with around 100 kids give or take on a weekly basis. And while I would not say revival has broken out in Beaumont amongst these community students that I would generally describe as good kids who are into the party scene, as well as a large number of students who would fall under the LGBT culture of society, we have seen steady spiritual growth in the last two years in these students and an openness and willingness to discuss faith and where they are at, both good and bad. The fact is we don’t do many of what we as Youth Pastors like to call “bringer events” because our kids will not show up to that, but when we do a “church service” we get our highest turn outs. And while I believe much of this has to do with the temperature of the culture in our town and how we fit the niche in our community of 16,000 just about 5 minutes south of Edmonton, I believe there are a few things that we have done that have allowed us to be impactful in our community, which I would like to share with you.
1. Make a memory.
“Make a memory.” Every week you will hear at least one of our leaders mention this quote. This has become the rallying cry of our youth ministry. Our belief is that every single Friday night every kid should experience something so funny or stupid, that they will literally remember it when they are 45 years old. This motto impacts the way we organize games and the way we interact during free time in our gym (which is also where we present our church services). When we organize an event we will put time into the dumbest stuff just because it will make a memory. For example, after a service in December I dressed up in a Santa suit I made out of a sleeveless hoodie and some red skinny jeans and ripped out of a giant present with a false wrapping paper wall on a motorbike to the song “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red. Then I ran on stage and threw awful gifts I got from Goodwill to a madhouse of students below the stage. It took some effort to get that bike there the night before and get the box built. But the kids will never forget that moment and even if they don’t connect with us long term or accept Christ, I believe that when they are 40 and have kids they will remember that memory and maybe even send their own kids to a youth group because they remember church as a fun place. A memory can change a life. The stupider the better. The more you laugh while designing it the more they will laugh during it. A memory can change a life.
2. Connect with pop culture and social media.
The Internet is amazing. There is some hilarious stuff out there amongst the bad things we all hear about. Students live online as much as offline. Justin Wise says in his book “The Social Church” (which I recommend downloading the e-book version from his website socialchurchbook.com ) that “the line between online and offline has been blurred.” So if we do not connect with them online then we are missing out on half of their lives. Now don’t go sign up for every social media platform you can find on Google. I suggest polling your students and seeing what platforms they are on and start with the most popular one. I definitely recommend Instagram as a starting point. It allows for video, photo, and text to communicate. The shelf life of an Instagram post is much longer than a Tweet (Twitter) which is only really valuable for about 3 minutes. Make sure you’re using social media to connect with them throughout the week. Digital devotions, reminders, just funny videos you have found or have had sent to you. Keep it fresh and make kids want to engage with you. Also don't just Google image search; posting funny videos from Vine or making your own graphics in Photoshop is a good start. If you don’t understand Photoshop there are some great online tutorials on YouTube that can get you started.
3. Don’t separate God and fun.
We see our best attendance to our services. I believe this is because we put our best effort into making these fun. I think we do a disservice to our students when we make our services ‘just church” and have our “fun” events at the end of the month. I don’t believe in having a “bringer event” with bowling and free pizza and using that to try and get them to come to a church service. If you design “church” to have fun elements in it, students will come and sit through a worship set and a message and small groups, even if they don’t subscribe to a Jesus-based life. For example, we have a leader named Trebi, who is great at doing crazy things. So instead of having students challenge each other in traditional icebreaker games, we have him come out in character with a video and entrance music similar to a WWE wrestler. We thought to ourselves, “What is the most stimulating part of wrestling?” It is the entrances, so we put effort into that as well as our music and our sermons. The kids naturally just gravitated towards this event, messaging us to see what the “Trebi Challenge” was this week and if they could be in it. We eventually designed shirts with a funny picture of Trebi on it and our #TrebiChallenge hashtag, and the winners get a shirt. I have seen multiple students walking around town in these shirts and have had random people pull my leaders and me aside at the grocery store to ask what the Trebi Challenge is because they have heard kids talking about it. What I am really getting at here is events are fine, but I think that we need to teach kids that church is fun, and if you can show them that through how you design your services and show them fun consistently over time, word will get out that your youth group is the place to be. It also doesn't hurt that services are low budget events.
4. Wrap it up
I don’t have all the answers. We are learning every day here in Beaumont. I inherited a great group of leaders when I took over here. They deserve a lot of credit for the good things happening here. I would say our biggest success is that we are a fun place where students are challenged by the gospel almost every week. We have community kids complaining when we don’t have church services, which is rad. I am not saying if you do exactly what we do you will have the same response. You could face challenges and chemistry in your community that is very different than mine. That being said, some of what I have shared I guarantee will be able to help, and to help you have fun while doing it. This is the best job in the world, and I wake up every Friday so excited for youth. It’s my hope and prayer that you do the same.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me: email@example.com
Check out some social media examples at instagram.com/180ECC