The Source for Youth Ministry

Cool Conversations/Interviews

Dare 2 Share's Greg Stier recently interviewed The Source's Jonathan McKee about his new book from Youth Specialties, Do They Run When They See You Coming. We thought you'd enjoy hearing their dialogue as they talked about reaching out to "unchurched" kids, and the "balance" between "Lifestyle" and "Verbal" Evangelism, specifically in reaching out to Postmoderns.
December 7, 2004

Greg Stier and Jonathan McKee have a similar passion ... reaching out. Both are speakers, authors and powerful contemporary voices bringing a relevant message to an "unchurched" generation.

Greg: Jonathan, I'm glad to get the opportunity to talk with you about a subject we both enjoy. Reaching out to "the unchurched." I just read your new book on the subject and really liked it.

Jonathan: Thanks Greg—that means a lot coming from you. You've got an incredible ministry equipping students to share their faith with others. As a matter of fact—I just heard about your amazing event last month. So quickly, before we get started here, tell me about it.

Greg: Glad to. We had our launching Dare 2 Share "BLAZE" Conference in Denver in November. We had about 8,000 students and collected 22 tons of canned goods for the Denver Rescue Mission. We also had over a thousand of those teenagers trust Christ as their savior Friday night and on the next day they were all out sharing their faith, collecting canned goods ... it was just an awesome experience.

Jonathan: Sounds like it.

Greg: David Crowder did a special concert for us and he told me later that it was his loudest group they have ever played in front of. These kids were just excited—they were pumped to not just come and learn how to share their faith, but actually go out and put it into practice by serving in the community. We call it the serve and share project: serving the community and sharing the good news of Jesus and it was just awesome.

Jonathan: That's awesome. So you had kids accept Christ at the event, kids experiencing amazing worship, kids learning how to share their faith, and then actually putting that in practice by serving?

Greg: Exactly. The majority of them took what we call "Commissioning 2 point 2-2." It's a challenge to go and share the Gospel with someone you know inside your comfort zone within the next 48 hours and then outside your comfort zone within the next two weeks and then on a missions trip within the next 2 years. So its not just something that they are gonna learn to do at the event, it's also something they are gonna practice long after the event. It was great. We were really excited about it.

Jonathan: What better way to impact the nation for Christ than to train young people and equip them to reach out to those who don't know Him. And actually experience it inside and outside their comfort zone.

Greg: It was great. We were really excited about it.

So let's talk about reaching the "unchurched." Jonathan when was your heart broken for the unchurched?

Jonathan: Over a decade ago a friend asked me if my wife and I would come by his house and meet some of the kids he was working with through his campus ministry. My wife and I agreed and came over to find about 30 kids—unchurched kids—hanging out in his living room, laughing, talking and having a good time. My wife and I hung out with this group that evening and our eyes were opened. These kids were comfortable with sex, curious about Satan, and casual about drugs and alcohol. That night my wife and I couldn't sleep. I couldn't believe how lost they were.

Greg: Wow.

Jonathan: I was hooked. So shortly after that we started an outreach reaching another campus ... and it happened again. Each night kids' faces were running through our minds: A 13 year old girl named Charlotte that was the only kid in her house that wasn't pregnant (Her sisters, 15 and 17 had both had babies and were each having another), Tonya, a girl 13-years-old going on 18, bar-hopping with her mom because her mom didn't want to leave her home at night, Tim, a 15 year old kid whose dad hands him a condom every night before he goes out. These kids seemed hopeless ... but God had a different plan.

Greg: So you started working with a small group of teens but, if I remember right, it didn't stay that way. This ministry grew pretty big, didn't it?

Jonathan: Yeah, God had some pretty big things in store. Our ministry started when my boss pointed me to a certain junior high campus in Sacramento and said, "There it is. Go get 'em!" And that was where we started: zero kids on the roster, zero staff, zero dollars, and no facility. Some start, huh?

Greg: I'm sure many of us can relate to small numbers.

Jonathan: After a lot of prayer, we met one kid from the school. We asked her to bring her friends to pizza and she brought 6 others. We had a great time with them and invited them back for Root Beer Floats ... and 11 kids showed up the next week. Eleven turned into 22, and 22 turned into 25, 25 turned into 35, and before we knew it, we had 35 to 40 kids a week meeting in my garage—our "cutting" edge facility!

Greg: Amen

Jonathan: These kids were coming to my garage every week because they just wanted something fun to do—a place to hang out. And no other adult was willing to notice them. Out of 35 to 40 of these kids, only about 3 of them went to a church at all. So the harvest was ripe to love these "unchurched" kids, develop relationships with them and share the Gospel with them. After a few years we were running both a jr. high program and high school program out of my garage.

Greg: All this out of your garage?

Jonathan: We did the garage thing for years until finally the local school called us and asked us if we could bring this ministry on campus—something they hadn't allowed in the past. We gladly accepted, and by the end of the year we had 200 jr. high kids coming out each week and hundreds of high school students. God was opening doors like you couldn't even imagine.

Greg: It sounds like it.

Jonathan: During this time, we started learning some very powerful lessons about programming. We were in survival mode. Our pressing issues were, "What do you do with 300 kids in a school gymnasium for 90 minutes!" "How do you talk to kids about the Gospel without boring them out of their minds or sending them running for the door." These were lessons we learned quickly, lessons I now refer to as 100 ways NOT to do it.

Greg: And it seems that many of those lessons you learned back then have prepared you for what you're doing now.

Jonathan: You know it's funny. Today people ask me questions about "how to do it," and my normal reply is, "I can tell you 100 ways not to do it." But in all seriousness, God taught us a lot during these times because we learned a lot through trial and error. It didn't take long to realize that when you got 200 jr. highers in a gymnasium, most game books DON'T help. We'd whip out a game book and it would say, "Get everyone in a circle." Two hundred kids? That's a pretty big stinkin' circle!!! And so we started scrounging to find what worked.

We also learned a lot about communicating the truth to these kids. We found that kids didn't want to talk about much other than what was relevant to what they were going through. We found that these kids were very real—they had nothing to hide. We found that they were inundated by the media so they responded well to movie clips and music as discussion starters. And funny as it seems, most of these kids really responded to stories of Jesus. I told a lot of the basic "Jesus" stories that Christian kids had heard and seen on a flannel graph since they were two years old. But these "unchurched" kids were fascinated with stories like that of a slimy tax collector named Zach that Jesus ate dinner with.

So every time something worked, we wrote it down. The more I wrote things down, the more other people asked us for resources. And then they began to ask us what "the trick" was to what we were doing. So before I knew it, people were bringing me out to tell them how to program, how to share Christ with "the unchurched," and how to speak to kids without scaring them off!

Greg: It's great to hear the history of your resources because so many of us are familiar with those resources now on your web site. And now your web site is one of the most popular youth ministry web sites on the net. Can you tell us a little about how that happened?

Jonathan: By accident! In 1999 I was looking on the web for youth ministry resources and ideas. Everywhere I typed I found things for sale. I grew so frustrated, because I knew that I had a file cabinet of games, ideas, discussion starters, curriculum, discipleship material, training material ... you name it. How come no one had put this stuff on the net?

So I did.

I bought a domain, (now and dumped everything I had on this web site ... for free.

That's when it happened. We started getting literally millions of hits each month from around the world. You name it: Africa, Asia, Australia ... even Cleveland! Youth workers with no budget just looking for great ideas. Before long we had quite a following. Hundreds of thousands of youth leaders regularly using our free youth ministry resources.

Greg: Were you ever tempted to sell this stuff?

Jonathan: I had numerous people come up to me and say, "Jonathan, that's stupid. You could sell this stuff." That's why I've always said, "Some people call it stupid, but we call it ministry!" So three years ago we started our non-profit, THE SOURCE FOR YOUTH MINISTRY. We speak, train and provide free online resources to help others reach out to "unchurched" kids for Christ.

Greg: That's awesome. And that ties right in to your "Reaching The Unchurched" seminar you've been doing all over the nation, even at all three of the Youth Specialties conventions. And now Youth Specialties is publishing your new book called, Do They Run When They See You Coming? Reaching Out to Unchurched Teenagers. I read this book and loved it. Your passion for reaching out to unchurched teens really comes through. And I believe that you have a great balance in there. One of the things I find with youth leaders is that, when it comes to evangelism, they are either too quiet, or too loud. They either are too quiet—they think that kids should just see it in your lives and run up and ask you. Or they're too loud—they have a bullhorn kind of Christianity that takes a tract and crams it down your throat. I don't think either extreme works when it comes to reaching Postmoderns. You really provide a biblical, balanced, relevant approach in your book.

Jonathan: That was my goal. And I think that's why we titled it Do They Run When They See You Coming? because I myself struggled with that. Where is the balance? I mean, do they see me coming with my tract and my canned presentation? You see, I think sharing the Gospel is a lot more than just "presentations." Today kids, more than anyone, can spot a fake. They've got words for fakes. You're a "poser" if you ain't the real deal. You're "frontin'" if you're putting up a false front but are different inside. This generation of Postmoderns know that actions speak louder than words. Yet, so many people out there are looking to convert, looking for an opportunity to give a "presentation," when their lifestyle isn't communicating that.

Greg: I think in our approach to Postmoderns, sometimes there is a tendency to have an "either/or" dichotomy. Either you "lifestyle" or you "verbalize." And personally, I don't think that's a Biblical approach. That's why I like your book. You've got a good balance of understanding that the powers in the message will transform but the authentication of that message is in the messenger.

You know, Howie Hendrix was once asked by a seminary student on a plane trip, "Which is more important: lifestyle or verbal evangelism." Howie Hendrix replied, "Well, which wing on this plane is more important?" They're both equally important: The message of the Gospel delivered through a messenger whose authentically seeking to live that message as consistently as possible. And when that happens, I think you get someone who lives it loud and whose not ashamed to bring it up and turn conversations naturally toward Jesus. Not so much going through a presentation as much as explaining the good news of the Gospel and how they're being infected and affected by it.

Jonathan: I can't agree more about "either/or." I spent an entire chapter talking about that phenomenon. Some people have an aggressive approach. This is the approach where people are selling Jesus. It even has the presumptive close: "Would you like to attend the 8:00 or 9:30 service with me this Sunday?" This sends people running. Yet, others have a passive approach. They just sit around and wait for people to come up to them and talk to them. And when it comes down to it ... these people never share the Gospel with anyone.

Greg: That's where your book was very refreshing. A lot of books are "either/or." But your book talked about and gave practical examples of both. "Live it and give it." And in that order. This doesn't repel people from us.

Jonathan: I think the thing that surprises me is how often the aggressive approach is taught ... or slapped on t-shirts. We didn't see Jesus using this approach. Jesus, who didn't have a watered down Gospel by any means—ask the rich young ruler that, was all about helping others with no strings attached. He would see hungry crowds and just say, "Let's feed ‘em." He saw the sick and blind and just healed ‘em. He saw a slimy tax collector and he said, "I'm going to go eat dinner with this guy!" You didn't see him using back door approaches to try to share the Gospel. So I think it's funny how sometimes in ministry we are so focused by "the tract" or "preaching at people." I just didn't see Jesus ever forcing it.

Greg: But at the same time, He didn't hesitate to share. That's another reason I enjoyed your book so much. It's one of the few books about "lifestyle" that also focuses on sharing the Gospel. You have an entire chapter on "door opening questions." You have another chapter about sharing the Gospel story to this generation. And the refreshing thing about this postmodern generation is how spiritual they are. You talk about this in one of your beginning chapters. You don't have to try to bring up spiritual things. This is the most spiritual generation around. I find that the "unchurched" are fascinated by the spiritual. I mean, you go to Barnes and Noble, Borders—there are spiritual books everywhere.

You know—you hear so many people in the church talking about Harry Potter. You know, I think Harry Potter might have done the church a favor in the sense that he creates spiritual conversations. Lord of the Rings, all these films. It's different than 10 years ago where it was a struggle to bring up spiritual things. Now, it just happens. It just happens naturally. And I think it's going to be those who are living their message authentically with a simple story to share that impact this generation for Christ.

Jonathan: I love how you talk about this in your Dare2Share events. You talk about living authentic lives and sharing their story. They learn to live it, and give it. And you do it in the context of a fun weekend event with all the right elements: a band they want to hear, powerful teaching, funny videos, and a taste of getting their hands dirty and serving others. I know your upcoming conferences are going to be life-changing.

Greg: Thanks. I'm looking forward to them. And we'll have your book available at all of them—a great tool to get into the hands of students and youth workers who want to reach out to the "unchurched."

Jonathan: It's fun to be a small part of what God is doing in the lives of youth around the world. Thanks Greg.

Greg: Thank you Jonathan.