Now when you gather over 1,000 students in one place from churches all over the map, you know you are going to get a mixed bag of personalities and backgrounds in that place. Where I live, church is usually an afterthought, so many of my students don't have a church background and really don't understand church culture, which is perfectly fine with me. It's refreshing to have a clean slate with so many of them when it comes to questions of faith and how to live it out.
I don't usually throw the "I've been working with students for over 20 years" card, but the truth is I feel pretty connected to youth culture and what they do and don't relate to. I am certainly no expert, but I've had my share of hits and misses over the years. So to me, it is so interesting that churches and denominations and organizations are so quick to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to not just student ministry, but to reaching people for Jesus in general. This week has definitely been a super fun week with lots of spiritual meat to chew on, but it's also been one of those weeks where I have looked around and realized just how limiting some approaches to ministry can be.
You see, I don't know what the dynamics are of the other youth groups that we shared the week with, but I do not that most of my students fall into the category of unchurched and dysfunctional family. There have been moments where they totally get it followed by that glassy eyed look that totally says, "You just lost me." And that's okay, because students aren't going to get it all the time. This is why I am so thankful that we can have these big weekly events together that don't have to define or limit how we are going to reach students.
If there is one thing that I have learned over the years of working with students, it's that not one student is the same. Not one. The way that I approach students when I served in a rural county is different than when I served in a more metropolitan area which is also different than the approach I take now, serving in a coastal county that is over 80% unchurched. That's because one size does not fit all.
The only way that we are going to reach students - and all people for that matter - is if we seek to understand where they are in life now, not where we want them to be in order to fit into our template. And this is so difficult because I know that I learned a certain model of ministry when I was serving as a church intern and in seminary, a model that simply doesn't fit the context in which God has placed me now.
So what do we do? We pray, we look, we listen, and we ask questions. And once we see students as real and diverse people with unique needs and backgrounds and not just a glove that we can force on a hand, we will continue to see so many of them walk away from Jesus. That's because one size does not fit all.