The Surprising Secret to a Highly Effective Youth Ministry

Greg Stier
Greg Stier
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Rock PileWhat’s the secret to a highly effective youth ministry? Rocks!

I love the Bible’s obsession with rocks. In Genesis 28:18 Jacob used a rock as a pillow of sorts and then anointed it with oil as a memorial to his God-induced vision/dream the night before. Then there’s the pile of rocks that Joshua had the Israelites stack up in Joshua 4:19-24 as a commemoration of the crossing of the Jordan river into the Promised Land. And, of course, all of us remember that single, smooth rock hurled from the sling of David that took out a giant in 1 Samuel 17:50. God loves to use everyday, ordinary objects (like rocks) and everyday, ordinary people (like David) to accomplish extraordinary missions.But that’s not the point of this blog (although the Bible’s consistent allusions to stones and rocks as metaphors and illustrations are interesting to me.) No, the point of this blog is that rocks are the secret to a highly effective youth ministry.

Allow me to explain.

The late Dr. Stephen Covey gave a powerful illustration in his wildly successful book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And it had to do with, you guessed it, rocks!

Here is the illustration in his own words:

“One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed, mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What’s true of rocks in a jar is true of priorities in a youth ministry. If you want to make prayer a bigger priority in your youth ministry you must program it in first. It must be on your calendar and in your weekly youth ministry programming. The same is true with relational evangelism, student discipleship and leadership development.

Too often our youth ministries are full of the sand and gravel of goofy games, fun videos and massive pizza parties. As a result, we have little room left for the bigger rocks that can make a deeper impact. Don’t get me wrong pizza is fine and games are fun but without the big rocks programmed in first the weighty stuff of youth ministry can easily get left out of the programming jar.

Our proclaimed values are either true youth ministry priorities or empty platitudes depending on whether or not they get programmed. I’ve seen this with youth ministries across the country, especially in the area of evangelism. 

While many youth leaders say that evangelism is a big priority, it’s often not reflected in their weekly programming. Perhaps they do a quarterly outreach meeting but our biggest priorities get programmed into our weekly meetings, not our quarterly ones. If I tell my wife that she is a priority, but only talk to her once a quarter, then she’s not a priority at all. If I say that evangelism is a priority, but I only push it once a quarter, then it’s not a priority at all.

If you’d like to learn how you can make evangelism (and 6 other rocks) a bigger priority in your weekly youth ministry programming then click here to download a free e-resource that will help you do just that. Also take time to download this free PDF filled with practical ideas from youth leaders across the country to help you advance the Gospel and put the big rocks in first!

Let’s start programming our biggest priorities into our weekly meetings!

Rock on!



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