Saturday, May 14, 2011
Youth Ministry Artifact #5- "Come As You Are"
Today's artifact was discovered while digging through a box in my garage that was full of all kinds of discarded youth ministry items from my days at Springfield Friends Meeting (1986-1994). For those of you who may not recognize the item, it is something called a "Cassette Tape." It was a form of home recording technology that preceded digital recording by a couple of decades. While useful, using a tape recorder was quite tedious, especially if your were endeavouring to be creative with the recording process. Yet discovering this particular tape brought a smile to my face immediately, and reminded me of a few important things. Trust me when I tell you that this in indeed a RARE artifact...
By the Spring of 1989 the student ministry at SFM had truly taken off. Springfield was not a large church; the worship attendance rarely broke 200. We were not located "on the beaten path"- you had to be looking for us to find us. And yet between our Sunday evening youth fellowship and our Monday night TNT we were seeing 75-100 middle and high school students every week. It was amazing to watch God work through that ministry. As I began to plan for the summer of '89, I knew that we needed to do everything we could to keep the dozens of youth who did not attend our church on Sunday mornings involved. In fact, I was just crazy enough to believe that with prayer and hard work we could actually GROW during the summer. So that is exactly what we set out to do.
I began to put together a "Summer Packet" to mail to every student who had ever had any contact with our church or our youth ministry. I created a brochure (at right, complete with our cover boy Zed) with details of every thing that would go on that summer- and I did it without a computer. I put together a calendar they could put on the wall of their room or on the family refrigerator. All of this required a ton of work, because we had to do it all in house. Our TOTAL budget for YM in 1989 was $800. Just mailing the packets would stretch us. But I had one more idea, and it was a doozy. I ordered a bunch of cheap blank tapes, and began to bring in some our student leaders to record skits and messages for the tape. It was all to advertise our biggest outreach event of the summer, YOUTH WEEK. It included silly interviews, actual ads for events, and tons of youth-friendly music. We also made it as interactive as we could in those pre-computer days, so they could listen to certain skits and then call our HOTLINE to win prizes. It took me untold hours to record it and edit it, and then many more hours to make 150 copies to mail out. But mail them we did. They were a huge hit, and we had the first of a series of amazing summers.
So what's the lesson of this artifact? It's simple really- summers can be amazing times for student ministry, but you have to be willing to put in the work. Events must be special and creative, even knowing the crowds might be small. Programs must fit the needs of the students and depend on who can be there, not who won't be. Summers should say to the kids that you love them so much that you are going to help them fill those long, boring days that we all know happen in summer. You have to find creative ways to advertise what you are doing- and then you have to find more creative ways. You have to convince the youth of your community that they are missing wild, crazy, fantastic things (including spending time getting to know Jesus!) if they are missing your events and programs. All of that publicity is hard work- but so worth it. In fact, summers were my favorite times to be a youth pastor, because it was when we had time to build real relationships. Our theme for YOUTH WEEK in 1989 (and the first song on the tape) was Peter Wolf's Come As You Are. The chorus goes as follows: "Come as you are, now come on! Come as you are and we'll have a ball! Ain't gonna' be no masquerade (HOO-HOO), Come as you are or don't come at all!" We tried to live that message. And come they did...
Most of us who have ever worked in youth ministry complain at some point that we just don't get enough time with our students. I hope this artifact can serve as a reminder that it doesn't need to be that way. You may not do 75 Days of Summer like I often did, but I hope that whatever you do this summer, you will do it BIG! Your students deserve it- and so does our God.
Because of Jesus,