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6 fun, non-worship ways to reach youth and college students

SUMMARY: Rethink Church can mean going into the community, moving outside the traditional roles expected of the church. Creating entertaining, meaningful activities for youth and college students can open  doors.

Identify opportunities to build friendships and gain trust. That’s it—no hidden agendas, no bait and switch. It’s fun for the sake of a different kind of fellowship. The Rev.  Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, Tipp City, Ohio, knows how to excite and involve people.

More than 30 years ago, Slaughter arrived at the two-room chapel with a tiny congregation in a community of 22 homes about 16 miles north of Dayton, Ohio. Today, on an average weekend the Ginghamsburg campus hosts more than 5,000 people participating in a multitude of ministries. 

However, Slaughter doesn't focus on “getting the numbers.” The author of Change the World says Ginghamsburg is a “missional” church. “People look for meaning, not for meetings,” he explains. The church’s success comes from providing ways for non-members to find meaning whether through a myriad of mission outreaches, including the church-sponsored food pantry, mission trips, tutoring at-risk students or even its teen battle of the bands.

Children are big focus for the church. A separate Web site, The Avenue, was created for youth and includes sections for middle school, high school and college students. Offering non-worship-oriented youth ministry is important. Children feel more comfortable asking their friends to participate in an activity rather than to attend a worship service, Slaughter says. Some ideas include:

1.  Start a Clubhouse. More than 20 years ago, Ginghamsburg created The Clubhouse program to respond to the significant at-risk youth problem in the Dayton area. Trained teens lead groups of at-risk elementary students.Each day has its own focus: tutoring, sports/arts, learning exploration and faith. The program started in a single school, moved to a vacant storefront the second year and now operates from eight Clubhouses in the area. More than 350 teens (assisted by 60 adults) lead the Clubhouse program for 350-plus children 120 days a year. In addition to gaining significant leadership skills, the teens  can earn college scholarships.

2.  Put on the blades. Ginghamsburg hosts a weekly skate party. Depending on your region and available facilities, you could host indoor or outdoor ice skating, roller skating or skateboarding. Play a mix of Christian and appropriate secular songs so the youth will hear familiar songs and learn some new ones.

3.  Get the groove on. It’s the Battle of the Bands each winter in Ginghamsburg. Not only do teens grab their guitars, drums and keyboards for the competition, but they also bring their friends and family, because winners are selected based on fan support. Other musical ideas include hosting age- and content-appropriate concerts and dances.  

4.  Take a road trip. Let youth see what’s beyond their neighborhood. Tour the best pizza joints in a neighboring big city. Head to the slopes or to sand and waves. Youth will enjoy having the opportunity to travel, hanging with their friends and stretching their “adult” muscles.

5.  Get out the door. Host opportunities for teens and college students to get outdoors in your community. Invite them to pick up a paddle, grab a paintball gun or put on their hiking boots. Provide transportation.High school and college students may have driver’s licenses, but they may not have a vehicle. Be sure to pack snacks or a lunch as college students rely on their school cafeterias and don’t have a big stock of food to pack and take.

6.  Connect at local establishments. Organize a dart league or pool tournament in someone’s home or create a bowling league at nearby alleys where college students hang out. Don’t forget to ask the students in your church what they already do for fun. You’ll learn some valuable information. They also can help plan and implement the event, serving as front-line recruiters.