Since I was 11, I’ve dreamed about a sweeping Gospel movement, led by a generation of on-fire young people. Yes, I was that weird kid, brainstorming movements, when I could have been setting ant piles on fire with a magnifying glass.
But I’d witnessed a teen-led Gospel movement transform my entire inner-city family from street fighters to radical followers of Jesus, almost overnight. And I’d experienced the power of finding my identity as a child of God, my belonging with the people of God, and my purpose in the mission of God, as a result of that same teen-led Gospel movement.
Now, 46 years later, launching a Gospel movement is the chief objective—other than knowing Jesus deeply and personally—I pour my energy into.
For the past 32 years, God has allowed me to be the founder and visionary of Dare 2 Share Ministries, through which we’ve put countless theories and ideas to the test with youth leaders and teenagers. This has created a feedback loop about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to launching a Gospel movement in the microcosm of a youth ministry.
We’ve learned many lessons from that feedback. Here are a few of the big ones.
First and foremost: Only God can truly launch a movement. Salvation comes from the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and so does revival. Despite all our hard work, we cannot manufacture a spiritual awakening. But we can dig the trenches, lay down the proper piping, and trust God to turn on the spigot.
This is why prayer is so essential. Gospel movements transfer from Heaven to Earth through divine decree. We must ask, beg, intercede with all kinds of prayers and requests, until God says “yes.” We must keep sharpening the blades of holy lives and swinging the axe of intercessory prayer at the tree, until God yells “Timber!” and revival strikes again.
But, other than prayer, how do we prepare the hearts of our teenagers for a transformational and sustainable Gospel movement in our midst? And how do we do our part in scaling this movement from youth group to youth group, until every teen, everywhere, has every last opportunity to hear the Gospel from a friend?
I’m convinced, based on Scripture and personal experience, there are four key elements:
- Gospel urgency
- Gospel fluency
- Gospel strategy
- Gospel Advancing sustainability
Let’s take a look at each of these and break them down in a practical way.
1. Gospel urgency
“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”Matthew 9:36-37
Jesus had a strong sense of Gospel urgency. He saw the crowds and imagined them as sheep who were without the Shepherd of their souls. He envisioned them as harassed by predators and helpless against their attacks. This gave Him a compassion that was deeply inspirational. He passed that urgency on by giving His disciples the analogy of a big harvest that needed more harvesters. In that culture, everyone knew that if you didn’t get the harvest in in time, it could rot, get diseased, or be taken by others. There was an urgency to His words and an urgency in His and the disciples’ hearts.
To move teenagers to action, we must break their hearts for the lost, just as Jesus did with His disciples. We must help paint a picture of the hell their friends are living through and the Hell they’re headed to. We must paint a picture of the Great Commission as the greatest cause, that will transform their friends’ lives both now and forever. We must turn their eyes upward to the glory of God, outward to the pain of humanity, and downward to the fires of Hell. We must help them feel compassion—which literally means “to suffer with”—for those who don’t know this Jesus who loves them. We must start with the vision and not with the strategy. If we break their hearts for the lost, the strategies will flow.
As Start with Why author Simon Sinek said, in reference to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s earth-shaking, highly influential talk: “He gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, not the ‘I Have a Plan’ speech.”
2. Gospel fluency
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Long before the apostle Paul visited Corinth, someone taught him Gospel fluency. They took this long sentence and had him memorize it word for word (“what I also received”). He took this micro-creed and mastered it. This became the basis for the Gospel that he preached everywhere. And once he mastered it, he passed it on to others (“I delivered to you”).
This whole message and process was “of first importance.” The great apostle knew that without Gospel fluency, heresy and apathy could slip in and destroy the Gospel momentum the Corinthians had experienced.
Training teenagers to master the Gospel message is “of first importance.” It becomes the micro-creed they believe and the meta-story they share with their friends.
Too many times we just jump straight to Gospel strategy (a specific method of sharing the Good News of Jesus), without making sure teenagers understand and can articulate the clear message of the Gospel.
As I often say, I don’t go into a steak restaurant for the plate. I go for the steak. But I want it served on a plate. In the same way, the Gospel is the steak, which is of primary importance. The plate is the methodology we use to serve it on. The plate doesn’t matter nearly as much as the steak.
Another way to say this is: Message first, method second. We make sure our teenagers can understand and clearly articulate the key components of the Gospel before we teach them a methodology.
Sadly, many ministries and youth groups miss this step. As a result, teenagers struggle through the icons on the bracelet, the words on the app, the tract in their hands, or the drawing on the napkin. But when they’re fluent in the Gospel, the icons, words, tracts and drawings come to life, because the Christian teenager can clearly articulate the message.
At Dare 2 Share, we train teenagers in an acrostic that provides basic Gospel fluency:
God created us to be with Him. (Genesis 1–2)
Our sins separate us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds. (Genesis 4 – Malachi 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life. (John)
Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever. (Acts – Revelation)
This G.O.S.P.E.L. acrostic tells the whole story of the Bible in six sentences. So far, we have a version of this in 17 other languages (C.R.I.S.T.O. in Spanish, G.L.A.U.B.E. in German, E.S.P.O.I.R. in French, I.N.J.I.L.I. in Indonesian, and more!). For the most part, these are different words for the acrostic in the different languages, but the same content for each sentence. Our goal is to have every believing teenager master the acrostic in their own language, so they can explain the Gospel clearly to their friends.
Gospel fluency is a too-often missed step when it comes to equipping teenagers to share the most important message in the world. Whether through this acrostic or another method, we must give our teenagers Gospel fluency if we expect to see a Gospel movement.
3. Gospel strategy
“When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”Acts 17:1-2
Paul had a strategy or methodology (“as was his custom”) he employed whenever he entered a new city. He would find the closest synagogue, get invited to share a message, and open the Scriptural scrolls to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, using the Old Testament.
Many of the believers who came to Christ under Paul’s preaching did so because they’d heard him teach at their local synagogue. As a former Pharisee, he had enough gravitas and credentials that the local synagogue ruler would invite him to speak, and this strategy served him well in most of the cities he visited.
Teenagers also need a Gospel strategy they can use, after they’ve been outfitted with Gospel urgency and fluency.
And there are many strategies to choose from.
Another simple method we advocate at Dare 2 Share is called Ask – Admire – Admit. To begin, the teenager simply asks a question that opens the door to spiritual conversation (“Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” “What do you believe about God?”).
After the person answers, the teenager finds something to admire about what that person believes (“I’m impressed by how consistently you pray.” “It’s cool you’ve taken so much time to think through this topic.”) They’re not agreeing with everything the person believes, but rather finding common ground and building rapport.
Next, they admit that they themselves need Jesus. This demonstrates humility and vulnerability, and creates a natural opportunity to share their personal testimony and the Gospel.
Which method is best? The one that gets used!
In other words, choose a plate and serve the steak. Pick a methodology and share the message!
4. Gospel Advancing sustainability
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last….”John 15:16
Getting teenagers to share the Gospel is one thing—creating a Gospel Advancing culture in which prayer, evangelism, and disciple-making are as normal as breathing is another. But if we’re to have “fruit that will last” and multiply, then we must have a youth ministry setting that treat prayer and evangelism as not just a curriculum but a culture, not just an event but a movement.
This takes intense prayer, perseverance, time, and hard work. It also requires a value-based framework for your youth ministry philosophy. After closely studying the book of Acts, I’m convinced that this Gospel Advancing framework—as outlined in the 7 core values listed below—will transform your youth ministry for the long haul.
These 7 Values also rose to the top as we evaluated the results of a comprehensive research project we conducted eight years ago. The most effective youth ministries across the nation—those that were seeing 25% growth annually due to new believers—had seven common denominators. These youth groups ranged from Baptist to Pentecostal, from urban to suburban, from those that had attended Dare 2 Share events to those who had never heard of our ministry. Every single youth group that was thriving when it came to advancing the Gospel had integrated these 7 Values:
1. Intercessory prayer fuels it. They prayed for each other and their lost friends by name.
2. Relational evangelism drives it. They were infused with Gospel urgency, taught Gospel fluency, and trained with a Gospel strategy.
3. Leaders fully embrace and model it. The youth leader, along with the adult and student leaders, led the way and set the pace for prayer and evangelism in their personal lives.
4. A disciple multiplication strategy guides it. Their goal was not just more new believers. It was disciples who grew spiritually and made more disciples, who in turn made more disciples.
5. A bold vision focuses it. These groups had a vision to reach people for Christ everywhere—across the street (their friends), across the tracks (the broken parts of their community), and across the world.
6. Biblical outcomes measure it. They measured their success not by attendance, but by baptisms, new conversion growth, faith-sharing conversations, and spiritual-maturation markers.
7. Ongoing programs reflect it. They removed programs that weren’t advancing the Gospel (in and/or through their teenagers). They added programs that did advance the Gospel. They adjusted programs that could potentially advance the Gospel.
For more information on these 7 Values, download a free copy of my book Gospelize Your Youth Ministry.
Giving your teenagers Gospel urgency provides the why of sharing their faith. Giving them Gospel fluency helps them know what to share. And giving them Gospel strategy provides the how, a methodology for sharing the message. Meanwhile, implementing the 7 Values in your ministry leads to Gospel Advancing sustainability. It digs the trenches and lays the pipeline for the movement.
Together, let’s lay this pipeline and pray passionately for the Lord to turn on the spigot of Living Water through a spiritual awakening of Biblical proportions that will change the trajectory of Christianity in the next generation!