Happy young students walking outdoors

Rethinking Student Ministry Part 2: The New Experiment

Guest Post by Gary McCabe, Pastor of Family Ministries & Mobilization, Oak Ridge Baptist Church

In Part 1: The Definition of Insanity of this series, we discussed the American churches awakening to the shortcomings of the attractional model of student programming. 

We touched on the heartache of student pastor turnover, the seemingly resultant siloed ministries, and self-centered faith students receive, leaving the student ministry attenders inoculated against “Big Church.” 

Could these be contributing to the exodus of students? 

In this post, we will discuss a new 4 step strategy we are implementing as an experiment that we hope will get different results from our student ministry.

Step 1: Focus on the right goal.

While the old model focuses on attendance and decisions, we decided that we needed to give greater value to a different metric to effect the necessary change.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, we still get crazy excited when lots of students are in attendance or when one starts a relationship with Christ.

Still, in this new model, we give greater attention to how many students get connected to serving in and begin regularly attending the adult services on Sunday morning.

Our new, more intentional goal is assimilating students into the life of the church. share with friends

Our new, more intentional goal is assimilating students into the life of the church. This goal colors our decision-making in everything else we do.

Step 2. Challenge our assumptions about students

Most of us assume that teenagers are still children.

How many times have we heard, “They’re just kids, what do you expect?!”

But the truth of the matter is, this notion is only about 100 years old, and in many cultures around the world, adult life and responsibilities begin at a much younger age.

I believe that these assumptions of immaturity have resulted in the “juvenilification” (my word, but I’ll let you use it) of our young adults.

To combat ‘juvenilification’, we need to intentionally think about the way we treat this demographic, what opportunities we allow them to have, and what expectations we hold them to.

If we want our students to embrace a new culture, one where they find their place and purpose within the church as full, contributing members, we need to rethink–and recommunicate–our expectations. share with friends

If we want our students to embrace a new culture, one where they find their place and purpose within the church as full, contributing members, we need to rethink—and recommunicate—our expectations.

Happy young students walking outdoors

Step 3. Develop the right processes


Once we have determined our new goal and challenged our assumptions, we are now in the right frame of mind to design a process to hit that goal. In this case, that process is the steps that we will challenge our students to take for them to be who God wants them to be.

First, we determined that it was time to open the full life of the church to these young adults.

Instead of creating customized classes and serving opportunities for students, we now challenge them to take adult courses, become official members of the church, and serve in adult ministry teams.

Next, to address the unique needs of young adults, we created a mid-week program called EQUIP. Rather than being a worship service, this program equips these young adults to be leaders in the church and beyond.

At EQUIP we hang out and play crazy games, but then we dig into topics that are especially relevant for this demographic, like leadership, identity, apologetics, and sex/relationships.

EQUIP is also where students brainstorm ideas to reach their peers, plan outreach and fellowship events, and take their first step into the leadership of church-wide efforts.

Step 4. Enculturation


To work, this new way of doing ministry for students needs to be enculturated across the whole church body.

Adult staff members need to understand this new direction because it will determine how they treat their student volunteers and their expectations.

It is crucial to get this right because if a student gets connected to a ministry at church and is treated as a child, we will have failed.

Also, we need to help parents understand why there is no high school program running during their adult service on Sunday morning. How we talk and engage with these young adults will convey our expectations of them, resulting in a new culture among this demographic.

But all these things take time and intentionality.

Will this be the next big thing in student ministry?

Will this new plan turn the tide in the waves of young adult church dropouts?

Will the leaders raised on this model reach future generations more effectively than ever before?

That remains to be seen, but at least we aren’t doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Maybe this model is more in alignment with the call found in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, where student volunteers may see their role as that of Paul, encouraging and calling students to share in HIS Kingdom and glory, which is best displayed in the local church.


“We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12, NLT)

4 Comments
  • Jeanette Hazel
    Posted at 13:01h, 29 March Reply

    “It is crucial to get this right because if a student gets connected to a ministry at church and is treated as a child, we will have failed.”

    I never thought of it that way before! This is great! We are blessed with so many young volunteers…and we don’t want to fail them by treating them as “less than.”

  • Tim Benning
    Posted at 13:20h, 29 March Reply

    We switched to ORBC for the teen programs, but after a couple weeks the kids decided they preferred the adult service and stayed there. When the kids say, “Hurry up, Dad, or we’ll be late to church,” you know the right choices were made.

    • Brian
      Posted at 19:40h, 29 March Reply

      Love it! Thanks Tim!

  • Dave Talley
    Posted at 01:08h, 30 March Reply

    Love so much about this post.

Post A Comment