At the first session of Momentum Equipping Series 2023, Pastor Edric Sng (Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church, Thir.st) led a panel discussion entitled “Winning the Youth”, which is one of LoveSingapore’s three strategic focuses in this season.
He was joined by:
- Pastor Andrew Yeo (FOPx)
- Pastor Ian Wong (Kum Yan Methodist Church)
- Pastor Janelle Ong (Mount Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church)
- Pastor Samuel Lee (Church of Our Saviour)
Their panel discussion addressed questions from over 280 youth pastors and leaders in the audience, who were polled via Mentimeter on issues regarding their churches’ youth ministries. Below, we’ve reproduced some of their reflections and findings.
What is the state of evangelism among youths today?
PS SAMUEL: It’s not the easiest because a lot of youths grew up in the time of handphones. So a lot of them are awkward when talking to new people because they find it difficult to cross that barrier.
But I do think that there’s hope, because there’s a different way of connection. We can broach a new ground in terms of what evangelism can look like for this generation.
For example, on Instagram, I know of two JC boys who started an Instagram forum or survey, “Ask Me Anything About Christianity”. That can lead to a kind of connection that may not be present in other generations and eras.
PS IAN: Before we talk about evangelism, we should ask these questions.
- Are our youth healthy?
- Have they encountered the Lord?
- Do they have real faith?
The hope is that every single person who comes into church will not only be invited to an organisation, but also find a family.
The state of evangelism is hence a question of: “Are people hungry for a family and relationships?” To which, the answer must be “absolutely”.
PS ANDREW: The average size of a youth ministry in our nation is about 40. Any more than that, then you’re actually doing good. Evangelism in our nation as a whole is really lacking behind.
PS JANELLE: I don’t think that the youth don’t want to evangelise. I think what they are really struggling with is, “How do I reach out to my friends without being cancelled, or looking like that boring churchgoer in my school?”
What Pastor Jeff said was really good: our youth services must be attractive for our youth to come to church.
The question is this: Is your youth ministry high performance, or are they high in their spiritual abiding in Christ?
Oftentimes, our youth are struggling to serve because they’re so burnt out.
We have to evaluate our ministry — the spiritual health of leaders in our youth ministry — before we even talk about evangelism.
Interestingly, when we got our people to stop doing so many things in church and instead just rest in God, go back to the Bible, and abide in Christ, we actually saw growth without doing much.
PS SAMUEL: To add onto what Pastor Janelle said, if our youth know and love God, they will love the church. Then, they’ll want to create a good service, to which they’ll want to invite their friends.
What helps young people to love God?
PS IAN: The youth need direct contact with somebody who really loves them, and is able to work with them in a genuine relationship.
PS JANELLE: When we lead by example. Proverbs 22:6, when directly translated from Hebrew, says, “train up a child over the mouth in a way he should go.” In other words, the Bible talks about training up the youth through sharing stories.
We need to tell the youth about how Jesus saved us in our personal lives. Change happens when we start to share life stories with them in small groups. When they hear these stories, Christ becomes real to them, and they begin to desire for more of God.
So many more things are caught rather than taught. The youth really want to see authenticity nowadays; they want to see us role model being Christian in our everyday lives.
A plea to senior leaders
PS ANDREW: The best thing that the senior pastors can do is to invest in the youth generation and leaders. When the senior pastors are involved, even to just turn up for youth service to show their support for the youth ministry, it encourages and empowers the youth.
PS IAN: As someone older, do the youth have access to me? And if they do, do I listen to them? Will I take them seriously? If they come up with some kind of crazy idea, do I try to understand their heart, instead of judging purely based on the idea?
The youth are inexperienced – they may not consider budget or practicality in their ideas. But if they share their heart, I can always get behind that and support them.
My full-time job is to not disappoint the young people in the dreams that they have towards God.
PS JANELLE: The youth pastors would really appreciate time. Many times, because weekends are the work days for youth pastors, we forget that their children and spouses are not called into a full-time ministry.
But realistically, the youth leaders only have that weekend with their families. The senior pastors can then support them in this, so that they don’t burn out.
What would it take to get our youths sharing the Gospel? (share success stories!)
PS ANDREW: Gen Z is a very different breed of generation (even their lingo is confusing!).
But they, like any other generation, are looking for authentic relationships. Look at the Asbury Revival; there were no superstars or famous preachers. The youth were simply looking for authentic people who are real to be their role models.
The youth ministry is way beyond just a church service. They ask good questions and aren’t satisfied with one-liner answers, because they want to see who you really are.
Hence, we should spend time with these young people and build authentic relationships. One of the best ways to reach out to them is through youth camps, because that’s when they gather together to encounter God.
Another way is to meet them where they are. When we realised how popular Minecraft was with the youths, we created a FOPx Minecraft world, and opened it up to the youth to bring their friends to join the game. We then evangelised to them right there in that setting.
Recently I spoke to a young person. For two hours, he didn’t say a word, then he added me on Instagram afterwards. When I reached home, I got a long list of messages from this boy. The youth can’t talk to you face-to-face, but it’s okay if it’s online.
We can use current trends as tools to reach out to the youth first, then proceed to bring them to our churches where we can disciple them.
PS IAN: We’re not waiting for the Moses generation to die before the Joshua generation take over. I really want quality in the youth ministry – to disciple the youth so that they can reproduce in their own cell groups.
I’m serving so that in the long run when I’m gone, these people will continue to do the same thing. It’s one thing for us to bring new people in so that they may be saved, but we falter so much in going deeper and discipling them.
PS SAMUEL: Firstly, we need the Holy Spirit.
Last year, we were watching a video about the 1972 Clocktower Revival. Afterwards, one of the youths went to their friend (who is of another religion) and said, “I want you to know that I’ve experienced something and I wish that you could experience it too.”
Someone else, after watching that video, was on the MRT and felt led by the Spirit to share about Jesus to a stranger in the MRT.
Additionally, one of my boys was walking by an MRT station, and he felt the Holy Spirit call him to speak to an uncle selling tissue paper.
Receiving the text, I could’ve replied: “You sure or not?” or “How do you know it’s the Holy Spirit?” But at that moment, I felt that the more important thing was to challenge him to be obedient.
So he spent 15 minutes talking to the uncle. In the end, he didn’t have the courage to share Christ, but I told him that I was so proud of him simply for obeying.
That’s my role as his youth pastor: to encourage him, even as I was encouraged by him.
Many a time, even for leaders, we find ourselves worrying that as we share about outreach, the fire will die out.
Instead of having that mindset, we need to continue sharing testimonies to encourage the youths who have caught the heart of outreach.
Even as we mobilise our youths to outreach, we need to honour and value the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Secondly, the leaders have to set the culture. We have a lot of leaders who know how to teach, but we also have to live out what the vision or purpose of the church is.
There is an auntie who is always seated at the bench at the drop-off point in our church. Every time I go there, I’d talk to the auntie and role-model the spirit of outreach. As leaders, we need to live and breathe this.
Thirdly, the youth need a challenge. When we train our youth to evangelise, it means teaching them how to break out of their comfort zone, the importance of learning to read God’s Word so that they can preach it.
PS JANELLE: We need to help our youth grow in godliness. How they evangelise or grow in Christ comes back to their character in God.
If the Word of God transforms them, they’ll very naturally share it with others because they’ve tasted the beauty of the Gospel. Otherwise, the Bible remains a historical book to them.
PS ANDREW: When we first started our youth ministry, we had a bunch of second-generation kids who weren’t on fire for God, who didn’t even respond during altar call. So for a year, my leaders and I were really struggling.
We then decided to pray over them and take a few of them to do street outreach together.
This one boy was so impacted when he saw what the leaders did, that he proceeded to bring 20 kids from Anglican High School into my church. From there, the fire spread.
Another guy from Changkat Changi Secondary School joined us, where he encountered the Holy Spirit. He saw what the Lord had done in his life, and he went back into the school and brought about 60 kids to my church. Afterwards, the kids at that school were so touched by God.
Another boy from Coral Secondary School was so touched by the Holy Spirit that he brought 120 kids from his school to church.
Point is, don’t feel like just because your youth group is small, it has very little potential.
When you are hungry for a move from God in your church, God is going to touch your church. He sees our hunger and desire for Him.
PS IAN: The role of missions and how it ignites a young person is not to be forgotten. Last year, we brought 60 people from our youth congregation on a missions trip over a span of three months.
That did more to deepen their relationship with God than an entire year of services did, because while they were on the field, many of them saw miracles, healings and wonders for the first time.
That’s when they realised that the God of the Bible is the same God of today.
5 things youth pastors must do to win the youths
Closing the panel session, Pastor Edric then summarised the discussion into five points:
ENGAGEMENT: The youth want to be part of a community. They want to form strong relationships and to know that people are listening to them.
EMPOWERMENT: We need to give the youth the chance to own what they do and be leaders in their own right.
EXAMPLE: We need to set a culture where we model for the youth what faith looks like.
ENCOUNTER: Even while the Holy Spirit is at work, they need that encounter with God for themselves so that outreach becomes something personal, and what they share comes from the bottom of their hearts.
DISCIPLESHIP: We need to train, challenge and equip them so that they can learn how to outreach.
And that’s all from MOMENTUM 1, keep an eye out for more of our coverage at the next one!
- What was the one insight in this article that stood out to you most?
- How can you go about living it out or practising it in your spiritual community today?
- Think of someone younger than you. What is one thing you can do to encourage or equip them today?