Written by William Dmytrow

I never grew up in the church. But once I began taking my faith seriously in high school, it didn’t take me long to end up in a youth group. The experience was incredible. I was an outsider who had no cultural understanding of Christianity whatsoever, but I was embraced with open arms by so many—both by those who’d grown up in the church and those without a Christian upbringing. As a result, I gained relationships that have lasted into adulthood. And I am so grateful I got to discover my faith in fellowship with different types of people.

I have heard people speaking on how to reach unchurched youth suggest creating a separate youth ministry. In other words, we must separate the churched and unchurched into their own designated groups. This is an unfortunate reality, as the secularization of Canada has created more prominent divides between the culture and the Church. The ways we are reaching youth are becoming more creative, but I think there are many instances where the whole point of youth groups is being missed.

The risk of dividing youth groups into distinctly different events is that it can become unhelpful for all youth. What’s more, it’s unbiblical. Throughout the Bible, it is prevalent that we are all in communion together, not separated based on social demographics. For example, we see this lived out in the book of Acts:

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

They enjoyed the favour of all the people, and, because people were being saved daily, many among them were what we would call now “unchurched.” With this in mind, here are three crucial points on how we can walk along with unchurched youth:

Treat all youth the same. 

There is no special formula for leading an unchurched youth towards Jesus. You have to give them your time to develop a relationship with them, leading them closer to the ways of Jesus through discipleship. Because everyone is different, the ways you approach this may be different for someone without a Christian background.

For example, a churched youth may know more about the Bible compared to an unchurched youth, or unchurched youth may have different ideas or levels of Christian knowledge. Their questions or struggles may be different from someone who has grown up going to church, but that doesn’t mean you have to treat them differently.

Invest in relationships, not programs.

Especially in our current cultural moment, the world excels at programming. But this can numb or distract youth. Instead, we should invest in our relationships with one another, churches should have the upper hand in this compared to the secular world. In the long run, youth aren’t going to keep coming back to a youth group because the stuff the youth group does is “lit.”

Instead, they’re going to come back because they have built a stable relationship with someone within the group. This is crucial, especially for youth who aren’t surrounded by Christian supporters. You can facilitate this, whether you are connecting with them personally, or by helping bridge a connection to create new friends within the group. Relationships are key.

Pray for all our youth.

For unchurched youth, we should be praying for their deepened understanding of the gospel. We should pray for strong support networks to lead these young people closer to Jesus. We cannot ignore prayer, and I encourage you to pray for all the youth involved at your church in a youth group. 

I have personally been moved by a few relationships that have projected my life to go in another direction. The reason for this was I received the attention and love of people from different backgrounds. I believe we should approach all youth in an environment of unity and community because it is displayed throughout the gospels that this is what Jesus did.