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4 super effective ways to motivate spiritually apathetic teenagers

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier
ap·a·thet·ic ˌapəˈTHedik, adjective:

            showing or feeling no interest, enthusiasm, or concern.”


If you’ve been in youth ministry for any amount of time you’ve encountered apathetic teenagers. Between the rolling eyes and heavy sighs it’s easy to get discouraged when it comes to inspiring young people to know, live, share and own their faith.

Over the last 26 years of ministering to teenagers I have discovered 4 super effective ways to motivate spiritually apathetic teenagers:

1.  Break up the hard ground of apathy with a massive prayer effort.

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.”  Hosea 10:12

There’s nothing like prayer that breaks up the hardened “unplowed ground” of a teenager’s heart. From recruiting the adults at your church to pray for specific teenagers in your youth group (check out to spending time with your adult leaders praying for your teenagers to having teenagers pray for each other during youth group there is much that can be done to amp up prayer in the typical youth group.

And amped up prayers lead to amped up teenagers!

 2.  Use stories, sermons and dramas that unleash the great (and often controversial) subjects of God’s Word.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”  Luke 16:19-23

From the glory of heaven to the urgency of hell to Christ’s imminent return to the impending reality of Judgment Day to the horrific torture and execution of Christ on the cross, the New Testament is packed with powerfully controversial motivations to serve Jesus. Yet many youth leaders tuck away some of these highly controversial, highly inspirational subjects under a stack of self-image talks. But if you want to make ya big impact you have to break out the big guns.

I’ll never forget speaking to a group of teenagers about the reality of hell. I shared with them how Jesus described it in graphic terms (Like he does in Luke 16:19-31.) Afterward a teenaged girl approached me and asked, “Why has my youth leader never talked to us about hell before? If my friends are headed there I want to do everything in my power to keep them from going there. Because I love them I must share the Gospel with them before it’s too late. I don’t understand why my youth leader has ever brought this up with us before.”

Talking about hell isn’t pleasant. Reminding teenagers of Judgment Day is no fun. Unpacking the pain that Jesus endured so that we could have life is not enjoyable. But all of these subjects (and more) must be unpacked in real and visceral ways if we want to motivate our apathetic teenagers.

Use drama, tell stories, tie it into your talks. When we share these realities with honesty and authenticity the hearts of our friends can be broken for their friends who don’t yet know Jesus.

3.  Get them sharing the Gospel with friends and strangers alike.

 “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” Acts 4:31-33

There’s something about evangelism that activates a generation. It moves Christianity beyond theory to reality. It forces a teenager to put skin in the game.

The adrenalin-filled process of evangelism causes teenagers to be put in a position where they have to do depend on God. With their social equity on the line (especially with their friends) everything is accelerated…including their spiritual growth.

Youth group gets more exciting, prayers get more fervent, youth group unity solidifies and, of course, Satan counterattacks! But the “big mo” of ministry momentum eventually wins out as we keep our hearts fully dependent on Christ.

To give your teenagers this experience make sure you get them to Dare 2 Share Live. With 72 locations from Puerto Rico to Fairbanks, Alaska this one-of-a-kind, highly inspirational day of outreach will, not only prepare your teeangers to share their faith, it will unleash them to do it…along with tens of thousands of teenagers across the nation!

To see the closest venue near you click here.

4.  Choose leaders who are on fire for Christ.

“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”  Luke 6:40

If we want on-fire teenagers we need on-fire leaders. From student leaders to adult leaders we shouldn’t settle for anything less than all in for Christ and his Cause!

On-fire people set people on fire. If you have lukewarm students you most likely have lukewarm leaders. If you have on-fire leaders you most likely have at least some on-fire teenagers. 

That’s why Jesus invested so much time into his leaders. By the time he ascended and his Spirit descended these disciples were leaving a scorched trail of changed lives behind them.  They were now “like their teacher” to the degree that the religious leaders “were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus” Acts 4:13.

When our student and adult leaders spend time with Jesus, get set ablaze by his Spirit, live out his cause and authentically pour into the lives of the teenagers in your youth group apathy will begin to disolve like dew in the midmorning sun.

Choose wisely…and stay on fire yourself!

What are some other ways to motivate spiritually apathetic teenagers?

Unlikely Fighter

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