If you want a better youth ministry, pay attention to author John Green.
Many teenagers follow John Green closely. John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars has been made into a movie and currently is showing in movie theatres. Many teenagers not only read John Green’s books, but they also visit his YouTube channel—and often subscribe to it.
If you know John Green, you also know he has a brother, Hank Green, and the two of them are revolutionizing an entire generation of young people. How? By listening to them. By challenging them. By being entertaining. Effective youth ministry can learn a lot from John Green.
Be yourself--John Green is smart, witty, and honest about his personal journey. In his YouTube videos, he tackles tough (and silly) issues, and he talks to his brother, Hank, which makes young people feel like they’re listening in on a conversation between brothers. One of John Green’s most poignant YouTube videos is on bullying where he shares his personal story while also telling the story of a young person who contacted him about this issue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u90dGnKhhlk.
Listen to young people--If you watch the bazillion YouTube videos that John and Hank Green have on YouTube (and many young people have seen them all), you’ll notice that they encourage young people to contact them, talk to them, give them ideas, share their stories. They’re constantly listening to young people and then creating content that reflects what young people care about.
Be bold--John Green takes risks. He says what’s on his mind, and then he either resonates with young people—or they correct him. He likes that, and so do young people. He models what he wants young people to do themselves. Embrace life and live to the fullest.
Be human--Church leaders often get criticized for living a “part” of life or “the squeaky-clean” version of life. Part of John and Hank Green’s popularity is that they acknowledge the muck and the shadows in addition to the wonders. You may become uncomfortable with parts of their video, but if you watch closely, they always end on a positive note. They promote positive values. John was a hospital chaplain early in his career.
Be involved in the world--John Green constantly gives money to help charities and encourages young people to do the same. So far, his group (called Nerdfighters) has donated more than $4 million for micro loans to the organization Kiva http://www.kiva.org/team/nerdfighters. He and his brother also sponsor an annual Project for Awesome http://www.projectforawesome.com/ to encourage young people to give to “decrease world suck” http://fightworldsuck.org/. While some people may think some of their language is gritty, young people are pouring lots of money into their charities to make the world a better place.
Have fun--John Green jumps onto current, fun events and gets young people excited about them as well. Right now with the World Cup going on, John Green bought each of the 32 shirts from the 32 countries competing in the competition and invited young people to donate money to charity while voting for the team they want to win the World Cup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnXwIgpmU8Q.
No wonder Time magazine included John Green in the magazine’s 2014 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He’s become a prophet for young people, encouraging them to be smart, to be themselves, and to make a difference in the world. That’s what our youth ministries should be doing as well—including making it cool to live a life of faith.
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