The Source for Youth Ministry

Cool Conversations/Interviews


An interview with Kurt Johnston, Jr. High Youth Pastor, Saddleback
October 15, 2002

JONATHAN: Kurt- I've always been impressed with your junior high ministry. I'd love some insight about how you reach the "unchurched teen."

KURT: Glad to share. For the last 7 years, our primary source of evangelism is simply friends telling friends and bringing them to whatever program they think is appropriate ... usually our weekend one.

Our weekend program probably serves as our most evangelistic on-going program, but it's really just a seeker-friendly worship service.

JONATHAN: So what is your outreach ministry called?

KURT: We call it FRIENDSHIP EVANGELISM. Catchy, huh!

JONATHAN: What is the "ministry model" you use?

KURT: Our ministry model would be PDYM. FRIENDSHIP EVANGELISM serves our purpose of evangelism through students living an authentic life and sharing Jesus with their unchurched friends.

JONATHAN: How do they do this?

KURT: Students who commit to friendship evangelism basically follow a 3 step strategy:
  1. Act like a Christian- live an authentic life- but who you say you are, etc.
  2. Begin to pray for opportunities to share your Faith
  3. Communicate with Love
JONATHAN: Do you remind kids about this - or encourage them in this throughout the year?

KURT: We consistently remind them in our small groups and occasionally, we do a weekend series on the subject.

JONATHAN: So what is your program like?

KURT: Our weekend program usually looks like this:
JONATHAN: Where is this?

KURT: At the church in a large, semi-permanent tent.

JONATHAN: What's your ratio of churched to unchurched kids.

KURT: About 5 churched for every 1 unchurched.

JONATHAN: And how many do you have saved each year?

KURT: About 75 to 100.

JONATHAN: What is your biggest frustration?

KURT: Not enough kids really "get" the friendship evangelism concept. We need to promo it better, have better testimonies of success stories, etc. Tons of our studetns never bring a friend to our weekend program. They say the love it, but just don't have the guts to invite a friend.

JONATHAN: You're not alone - I think a ton of us struggle with the exact same thing. I appreciate your answers Kurt - thank you. One last thing. I'm still wrestling with some answers about methods of outreach. Let me ask you an honest question. Do you think counting on jr. highers is enough? I don't ask that to be blaming - and I don't ask it to "diss" on junior highers. (I actually did several programs where we counted on them). But - do you think that JUST friendship evangelism is enough ... or have you ever thought about doing another model of outreach to work along side with friendship evangelism. (examples: specific outreach events, on campus ministry, hang out centers like teen centers or coffee bars, etc.)

KURT: Great question ... and I probably should have clarified: Friendship Evangelism is our PRIMARY method, but not really our only. We offer a couple of events a year to help support it ... in two weeks we're renting out a local water park where a couple thousand kids will show up. Also, our weekend program looks a LOT like a typical outreach program. Plus, we're getting ready to build a low-budget student center/coffee hous. I guess my heart is just that these things would never become the system our students rely on. Our strategy is to provide REAL, RELEVANT, RELATIONAL and RELAXED programs that support our students efforts. The deal we make with students is basically: You go out on a limb and share Christ and invite a friend to church and we'll make sure the limb doesn't break out from under you ... we'll make you proud you took the chance.

The reason I believe so strongly in Friendship Evangelism ... as flawed as it is ... is because I think big on-going outreach programs handicap our students in the long run. I don't want them to rely on me, the church, our budget, our facilities, etc. to reach their friends. I want them to see early on that a program doesn't change a life, but a relationship does.  If a kid leaves Saddleback and goes to a tiny little church in the mid-west with two students and no outreach program I want that student to have the understanding that HE is the outreach program. It may not click right now while their in a big, happening environment, but I'm hoping that we're planting seeds of maturity in their hearts that will reap results when it matters most.

We don't do typical "campus ministry" IE: clubs, outreaches etc. But we do minister to the campus. What I mean by that is that we are moving toward having interns who are responsible for a particular campus. They pray for that campus, show up at events, take those kids to lunch etc. Again, our strategy is to be a support to kids as they attempt to be a light. I'm sure we don't see as many conversions each year and our attendance isn't as high as it could be if we did a more pro-active outreach program, but I think that when friends reach friends the decision is more apt to stick for the long haul.
    Healthy...Boy, I hope so.
    The best way...No way!
Like all of us, you, I'm still learning, praying, experimenting and trying to figure it all out. Obviously, there are incredible examples of success using virtually every method. I guess that just shows us that God is bigger than any of our methods, programs, buildings or budgets. He saves kids despite us! :)

JONATHAN: Great sermon ... I mean ... answer. That's just what I was looking for.

KURT: I'm glad your asking the questions, and I'm glad your doing a seminar to give guys like me new insights and ideas into a crucial issue. Thanks for taking the time!

JONATHAN: Thank you. We're all learning from each other.