Written by James Clarence 

Two years ago, I sat in a room with a group of youth pastors, talking about what God was doing in our ministries here in Calgary. We were sharing about all the events we were planning and throwing energy into to serve our youth ministry students and families.  

We were hyped for each other’s events, but the question arose, “Is this what our students actually need? Is this what our city actually needs?” All our dreams were to see thousands of people come to Christ and be discipled in His ways. However, we wondered if our fun, hyped-up and exciting events that made us feel good, looked great on Instagram, and pleased our pastor and board members were actually making progress?  

Were they getting the Kingdom results that we as youth pastors have always dreamed of? The conclusion was, “No.”  

Simply entertaining Christians was not getting the job done. Obviously, we all had a problem with this reality, so we started talking about why this was happening. We wondered why, at times, the Christian churches of Calgary were lacking when it came to having the gates of hell not prevail against us?  

We figured out a few things.  

  1. The majority of us were engaged in a ministry model we had seen work in the ’90s and early 2000s, which was centred around putting on exciting events that attracted students, hoping it would give them something to do to and keep them out of trouble on the weekends.  
  2. In our efforts to do so, the majority of students that would visit these big fun events were mostly from other youth groups.
  3. We would end up competing against the church down the road, and not actually put in effort to reach people far from God.  
  4. Eighty percent of our energy and money was spent on mass events, contrary to the ministry model of Jesus where he spent about that same percentage of his time with 12 people.
  5. Often, our students were falling off the face of the planet after they graduated high school because they thought church was boring, or they didn’t feel like they belonged. They had not experienced what true community and discipleship was. They felt alone in their Christian walk when they went to college or started their career.

The results of our ministry methods weren’t exactly why we got into this. We wanted to change the world. But the problem was, we were trying to change it alone and not actually empowering our students to change their world—which is what Jesus did with His disciples. We let our youth sit on the bench watching the “cool youth pastor” do all the ministry. “Bring your friends to youth,” we would say, but we never actually got them in the game.  

So what was our solution? Two things. We did not want the students to feel alone on their school campus, which they commonly shared was the case. In many youth ministries, the maximum amount of students a pastor has at any given school is around five. They are dispersed and commute all over the city for school in Calgary. So we said, “We have to find them a community of Jesus followers at their school to run with.”   

We also knew we needed to get them in the game. North American Christianity is primarily composed of spectators. We desperately need everyone to participate. The workload is massive because there are so many people far from God. When we empower the youth to be active, it allows teenagers to have vision, purpose, and value. They can actually make a difference, make an impact, shift culture, and reach people with the love of Jesus that they have experienced themselves.  

How did we empower them, you ask? We gathered with over 30 different churches and 12 different denominations. We gave them an opportunity to split into their local schools and meet people who were like-minded. And then we said, “Be friends. You’re on the same team. You’re probably going to spend eternity together, so you might as well love each other here on earth.”  

Once they established friendships, we asked them to serve their schools together! Clean toilets, do stats at a basketball game, help set up at your school events. By doing this, they would help rebuild the reputation of Christians from being known as judgmental, hypocritical, and boring people, to the coolest, most serving, most kind human beings.  

Once they had built a rapport, the Youth Alpha Series allowed them to open up a conversation about life, faith, sin, death, love, and hope. Little by little, the students could show the love of Christ through kindness and service, believing that the Holy Spirit, through them, would reach people who are far from God and bring them home to the best life they could have ever asked for. It’s a life full of purpose and meaning. It’s a life that makes this world a better place through the love and power of the Holy Spirit. 

The reality is, life and faith are too hard to do alone. When God looks at a city, He doesn’t see thousands of different churches, denominations, or fellowships. He sees one church: His Body, His kids and His family. God’s desire is that we would work together, because surely we can make more impact working together than trying to do it on our own.  

Through the unity of the church in Calgary, the 403 Network has launched 37 student-led Youth Alpha programs in schools, seeing hundreds of students join in on the conversation about faith (www.403network.com). We’ve seen our once lukewarm Christian students come alive and actually reach out with love to their friends who don’t know God.  

Have we seen thousands of people experience salvation? No, not yet, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. We believe that over time, with continued unity, we will see our city changed, little by little, one by one. Through the church doing its job, the biggest youth group in the city will no longer be in the hands of the devil; he will not win on our watch.  

When the world looks at the church in Calgary, no longer will they see us bickering and dividing over theology, methodology, or style. Our city will actually know us by our love for one another. We will answer the prayer of Jesus in John 17. We will be one as He and the Father are one, so the world will know that as the Father sent Jesus, Jesus has sent us to reach the lost with His love. 

We want to bring as many people as we can with us to heaven for eternity, because that’s the only thing we can bring beyond death. So if you’re feeling alone, go knock on the churches’ door down the road, humble yourself, and say, “We need your help to make an impact.” If you are making an impact, knock on the church door down the road and ask them for their help to make an even greater impact.  

If we are actually going to reach our city, we certainly don’t have enough churches to house our city, so let’s start with actually filling all our churches with new people coming to Christ, not just the one cool, hip church with a lot of Instagram followers.  

Make the church down the road better, because there is a commanded blessing where there is unity. Don’t be alone. Do it together. The world needs the Church to be unified and rise to see the course of our world change back to “on earth as it is in heaven.”