Why (and When) Your Church Needs a Student Ministry

By Shane Pruitt

We as the Church are called to reach the next generation with the gospel. Here's why God wants your new church plant involved in His mission to engage the young people in your midst.

One day, a young boy was sitting on the curb next to a dog. A grown man walked up and asked, “Young man, does your dog bite?” The little boy answered quickly with a No, my dog doesn’t bite.” Just then, the man reached down to pet the dog, only for the dog to bite him right on the hand. The man yelled at the boy, “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite!” The young boy yelled back, “My dog doesn’t bite, but this ain’t my dog!”

I remember my days as a young planter. Very early in the story of our new church, people wanted us to constantly take on new ministries, initiatives, and ideas that we honestly weren’t ready for. There would be ministries and initiatives that we needed to be slow with starting, and many other ideas—all well-meaning—in which we simply had to respond like the young boy in the story: “That ain’t my dog!” Meaning, these new things just didn’t fit into the overall vision of our church. In fact, some of those things we would never end up starting in our church.

However, we knew from day one that we couldn’t say that about student ministry. Reaching the next generation with the gospel has to be every church’s “dog.”  This same calling and responsibility falls on every church, whether it’s been around a long time or it’s a new plant. However, this conversation often begs two questions that need to be answered and vision-casted to the congregation, especially for new churches: “Why does our new church needs a student ministry?” and “When does our new church need a student ministry?”

Why Your New Church Needs a Student Ministry

As followers of Jesus, we are a part of this massive kingdom in which He reigns as King. Being a part of God’s kingdom means we’re a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We are a part of a long-living legacy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “legacy” has two primary definitions. One definition is “something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.” The other definition is “something (such as property, money, or inheritance) that is received from someone who has died.” So, if we were to put these two definitions of legacy together, we could say, “Resources have been passed on to us from previous generations, and now we have an incredible opportunity to invest these same resources into the next generation who, ideally, will continue the process after we’re gone.”

The greatest resource we have is the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. It’s truly a call to live and leave a legacy that matters. This is the kind of legacy that is bigger than anything we can do alone; it’s what that world needs and makes life worth living as it gives purpose to our days. If our greatest calling as the church—no matter how old or new—is to know Jesus and make Him known through the call of the Great Commission (Matthew 28) empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Acts 2), then the greatest legacy we can leave is in making disciples from generation to generation. It is just as the psalmist declared, “Then we, your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever; we will declare your praise to generation after generation” (Psalm 79:13).

Ultimately, a student ministry is not about gross games, laser tag, and pizza. It’s primarily about passing on the hope of Jesus from generation to generation. As the church today, we are standing on the shoulders of godly men and women who were faithful to point the next generation to the mighty acts of God. So, friends, it’s now our turn to be faithful to point the next generation to Jesus, so they will rise up and point the generation after them to Jesus… And so on and so on.

When Your New Church Needs a Student Ministry

When does a new church need a student ministry? Short answer: the moment you recognize students are living in your immediate mission field and when you have people equipped with the gospel to reach them. Now is the time. Reaching young people with the gospel is an urgent matter.

I recently ran an X (formerly known as Twitter) poll through my account, and it shed some light on the importance of student and children’s ministry. When answering the question, “At what age did you surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life?” The results of the 2,964 people who answered revealed that 48% surrendered to Jesus before the age of 13, and 77% surrendered to Jesus before the age of 18.

I believe in the sovereignty of God. He can save whom He wants when He wants. However, practically speaking, with 77% of Christians surrendering to Jesus before the age of 18, if we don’t reach a generation with the gospel before they graduate high school, then a whole generation of new believers could remain unreached. Now is the best time to reach them.

I realize this doesn’t answer the question of when a new church should have a formal student ministry with a mid-week gathering, small groups, and possibly a student pastor and youth leaders. Each local church has to decide that for themselves. Most likely it’s when a new church has a critical mass of students (whatever that number is in your context) coming with their families during weekend services. This occurrence often helps dictate timing.

However, the big-picture point is that you have to be intentional in reaching students with the gospel from day one in the life of your new church. You’re called to this and can’t delay simply because your church is new.

Wish We’d Joined Hands Sooner

A magazine once carried a series of pictures that depicted one of the saddest stories imaginable. The first picture was of a vast wheat field on a western Kansas farm. From horizon to horizon, all you could see was wheat waving in the wind. The second picture was of a distressed mother seen inside her farmhouse in the middle of that wheat field. Her young son had somehow wandered away from the house and into that wheat field. He was so small that he couldn’t be seen amidst the tall wheat, and his mother couldn’t find him. She called for her husband, and the two of them searched all day long for their little boy. They finally decided to call their neighbors who likewise began searching frantically through the wheat field with no success.

The third photo depicted all those who had heard of the little boy’s being lost. They gathered in the morning, joined hands, and in a great, long line of humanity linked only by hands, swept from one end of that wheat field to the next. The last picture was a heartbreaker; it was of the father standing over the body of his little son. They had finally found him, but he was dead. It was too late. A cold, cold night had claimed its victim. Underneath the final picture of the weeping father were the words, “Oh, God, if we had only joined hands sooner.”[1]

May we, too, join hands as the church, sweeping across the mission fields of our communities and seeking young people who are spiritually lost. May we never regret that we didn’t join hands sooner in passing on a legacy of the gospel to the next generation.

[1] An illustration from a John MacArthur sermon, “You Are The Light Of The World.” February 4, 1979.

Published January 8, 2024

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Shane Pruitt

Shane serves as the National Next Gen Director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He and his wife, Kasi, reside in Rockwall, TX with their children. He has been in ministry for over 20 years as a denominational leader, church planter, lead pastor, and student pastor. Shane is also a traveling communicator, evangelist, and Bible teacher. Every year he speaks to over a hundred thousand people about the good news of Jesus Christ. He has written two books, 9 Common Lies Christians Believe: And Why God’s Truth Is Infinitely Better and Calling Out the Called: Discipling Those Called to Ministry Leadership. He is also one of the host of The GenSend Podcast. Check out additional resources at gensend.org.