My oldest daughter asked me this morning, “Momma, why is it that we have to take two full touring busses to camp, but only the little shuttle bus on teen outreach?” A poignant thought coming from a 10 year old, I think. My only response could be what I gave. “Honey, outreach means reaching outside of yourself, giving time, and attention to others, whereas camp is about getting. You get good preaching and lots of fun. Unfortunately most of the teens…and adults too, are more interested in the getting than the giving.” Sounds like a negative tone for the start of a blog post doesn’t it? However, it’s not all bad, and her question got me to really thinking about outreach.
When I was younger and growing up in church, I didn’t really know what outreach was all about. I heard the term church visitation, but my family didn’t really go and it all sounded so intimidating. My inner impression was, “They expect me, a 7th grader, to randomly knock on someone’s door and be invited in with open arms, show this random person who was awakened from their Saturday morning sleeping-in, how to get to heaven? Does that really work? What if they totally yell and chase me off with a shotgun or something?” I know these were the thoughts of a stretched imagination, but nothing in me wanted to go.
Fast-forward about 10 years when I find myself in Oklahoma, married to a youth pastor who wants to take kids on visitation. The first few years of our marriage, I had the attitude that this was his thing and ministry and Saturday was my only real day off, so I would have to stay home and do some housekeeping. Later, after the kids came along, I was able to use all my babies as excuses. Then, one day the Lord got a hold of my heart. No. That’s to gentle of a term. It’s more like he yanked it up toward his chin and inserted major conviction. If all these teens come faithfully, certainly, I could give it a try. I was convicted as a mother as well. I didn’t want my kids to grow up witnessing fear in their mother to invite someone to church or tell them about the Lord!
So, one Saturday I packed up the kids and surprised 2nd man by announcing that I would start coming to outreach, even if I had to push a stroller. You know what? It was easy! I should have trusted my 2nd man, well, and my Lord, the whole time. He didn’t throw teens to the wolves and expect miracles. Teen outreach is simply about easing them into the idea of reaching out and passing out tracts or invitations to our church. We walk neighborhoods and put the tracts on doors without disturbing anyone. If someone does happen to be outside or open the door we talk to them and either engage a witnessing opportunity or simply invite them to our church. Some may think it’s not “real” outreach, but I think it’s giving the teens an opportunity to serve God and, hopefully, giving God an opportunity to stretch and use them. Lets face it, people don’t just open their doors very prevalently anymore, it can be dangerous. Not that we don’t do it at all, there are times when 2nd man will choose someone to go along with him and actually knock on the doors looking for opportunity to share the gospel. However, by training them as a group this way, we’re hoping it will build their boldness and drive.
2nd man even makes it kind of fun. He drives us all around and lets us off in groups of at least 3 or four and gives us a few blocks at a time. The other youth worker ladies and I usually end up with the “kids” group. Between us, we have about 6 of our own kids that aren’t in the youth department yet. These kids spread like mercury out of one of those old glass thermometers. They can cover a neighborhood in no time flat. After a few pranks of 2nd man driving by our awaiting group and pretending like he’s forgotten us, we usually go out to lunch to wrap up the morning.
I know it’s still intimidating for many of the kids. That’s why I try not to be too harsh on those who don’t come, at least, the new ones who’ve never tried it. Our goal is to have 20 kids come. We don’t always reach that goal, but it’s the goal nonetheless. I actually find myself more in awe of the ones who do choose to come. I’m impressed with the teens in our youth department who choose to serve the Lord at such young age even if it isn’t “cool.” I wish I had been that way and I’m excited for them at the possibilities this could open up in their lives as they grow and serve the Lord. What blessings they will get to experience that those kids now that don’t come, and I, won’t ever get. I’m excited, also, for my own children who will think of it as normal and not such a scary deal as they grow older. It’s good training and especially exciting when we’re able to share with them that someone came to church because of their reaching out.