I recently read Larry Osborne’s book, Sticky Church. While this book is written as a big church strategy book, I found it totally compelling and relevant for those working in student ministry. Osborne’s church, North Coast Church have one main strategy for church growth, and one main strategy for discipleship, and both of these can easily be incorporated into a youth ministry context.
Close The Back Door:
So many churches, and therefore so many student ministries spend a significant amount of time, money, planning, and anxiety trying to figure out how to get new people into the door. And even if we are successful in attracting many new people to our event, the special event isn’t really a representation of who we are as a ministry. It is the classic Bait and Switch.
Osborne says that in this sort of exciting event, attractional model of ministry that out of every 10 new people that show up, maybe 3 will stick around. To significantly grow a group, you have to get a large number of students through the door with the hopes that some will stick around.
If all that time and effort was refocused on retaining new people, you will grow your ministry in a healthy way. Think of all the students that come through your doors throughout a typical school year. Many kids come once with a friend and that is it, and if we are lucky, they might stick around for a month or so. Instead of dreaming up the next big thing, spend your resources and effort in connecting with these students, make them feel cared for and seen, and chances are they will come back.
The author argues that by word of mouth new people will show up. Every body has a circle of friends and if they enjoy it will share that with their peeps. What is so freeing about this idea of closing the back door, is that we are not fishing aimlessly in this gigantic ocean, we are simply caring for real and specific students that God has allowed us to come in contact with.
Sermon Based Small Groups:
After their strategy for numerical growth is simply closing the back door, their strategy for spiritual growth is in a sermon based small group model. While this may seem irrelevant to student ministry, I think that this is a concept that will dramatically impact the spiritual growth of our students as well as sharpen us as communicators.
Everyone is too busy and fragmented. So, to expect that people, especially students, to have the bandwidth for sunday school, youth group, small groups, special events, etc is an unrealistic expectation. Instead of giving them a wide verity of information to chew on, the author challenges the reader to develop a lecture lab format. Whatever is communicated at church is the point of conversation and study for the small group.
This model translates nicely to a youth ministry context. Instead of having the youth talk be the pinnacle of the youth group experience, make the talk the launching pad for small group discussion. This allows all small groups to be on the same page with what they are talking about, encourages students to pay attention during the talk because they are going to have to talk about it later, and takes the burden of being the lone voice to speak into students lives off you.
We have done this model for the last year and it has dramatically changed the feel of our student ministry. By making the small group discussion the ending point of the youth group experience, students have a real opportunity for connection and discipleship. It is a different challenge to come up with a lesson that doesn’t end with a simple amen, but is rather a launching pad for conversation. It is also freeing to not have the pressure that an emotional home run youth talk has to happen every week, because even the best youth talk is simply a launching pad for small group discussion.
Osborne says that by closing the back door and getting people, and in our case students, to participate in sermon based small groups, that for every 10 new people that show up, 7 now stick around and are part of their community. I like those numbers much better.
Overall, this was a really fast, encouraging, and helpful read. I have some real take aways and am already thinking about better ways to close that back door. Have you read this book? What did you think? How do you close the back door to your ministry?