Veteran youth worker Terry Linhart says adults are integral to teens being effective in reaching peers with the Gospel.
When he and Dave Rahn of Youth for Christ/USA began researching youth ministries, adults at the time were removing themselves from the ministry and letting students reach fellow students on their own.
But after two years of research on youth groups that have been successful in seeing teens come to Christ, Linhart found that adults are "super important" in helping young people develop a faith that is "courageous and contagious."
"Adults can't remove themselves from the lives of teenagers," Linhart said in a recent interview with the Fuller Youth Institute.
They're integral with regards to modeling their faith, sharing their experiences and providing support.
Modeling, he stressed, is the number one curriculum of youth groups.
"We're in a day and age where people either scream the Gospel or they're silent about it," Linhart, who teaches youth ministry at Bethel College in Indiana, noted. "And we need to find that middle where we're living it out."
Linhart and Rahn released a book earlier this year titled Evangelism Remixed: Empowering Students for Courageous and Contagious Faith, reminding youth workers of "the importance of helping students develop to the point where they naturally influence others for Christ in their everyday lives."
They wanted to bring evangelism in youth ministry – a topic that Linhart believes has all but disappeared from youth ministry conversations until recently – back into the conversation.
The co-authors visited 24 different youth ministries across the United States and interviewed 400 teenagers to find out what they were doing to effectively reach young people for Christ.
"When we talk about students reaching their friends for Christ, stories either drift to the extraordinarily gifted young people who are favored by the Holy Spirit to do something revival-esque (inspir...es us) or they describe almost mechanical approaches to developing student leaders that cut everyone from the same cookie cutter mold," Rahn wrote on the book's Facebook page. "This book offers original research to get at reality and paints biblical boundaries for empowering students that should anchor and unleash us."
In addition to discovering that adults play a vital role in youth ministry, the co-authors found that prayer, inviting and telling proved to be key activities in teens reaching teens. The more students engaged in each of those activities, the more they saw results in people coming to Christ, Linhart noted.
Instilling a "going mentality" in the minds of students is also essential. Teens should be encouraged to go and reach rather than just wait and expect people to come through the church doors. Short-term missions also play a role in helping teens develop a heart for mission not only in reaching out to people overseas but also to those in their schools and neighborhoods.
Linhart and Rahn are sharing their research and leading discussions on evangelism in youth ministry at this year's National Youth Workers Conferences, organized by Youth Specialties. The last conference will be held in Atlanta, Nov. 20-23.