Really, another church service?

After reading about Unplugged, a friend commented, “It sounds like another church service,” and then asked “why would I want to go to church again in a week?” Psh. Whatever. It’s not another church service.

Here’s what prompted her question: "On the first Wednesday of the month, we come together for Unplugged. We’ll spend time in prayer, praise, and the Word as a speaker brings it to us." This comes from a previous blog post. There’s language on the ave.’s website that’s pretty similar.

I’ve read that sentence near a hundred times. But when I reread that paragraph after her question, it was like I was reading it for the first time. This time, without the pastor specs.

Prayer, praise, and a speaker giving a message from the Bible. Yup. Sounds like church.

And honestly, if Unplugged is just a repeat of church, I’d be asking that question right with her: “Why would I want to go to church again?”  Or if you normally don’t go to church, “why would I want to go to church at all?”

I’ll even go a step further. If Unplugged is a repeat of your Sunday morning (or other set aside church time), and I arbitrarily decide you should come to it, I’d be guilty of the most selfish and intrusive sin: redundancy. There are few things I tolerate less than giving time to something I’ve done/heard/endured already. If Unplugged is just a repeat of church, you shouldn’t come.

IF that’s the case. Which it isn’t.

Unplugged is a community/event/gathering unique from the normal church experience. It’s defining characteristic is: real. This isn’t to say that the church you might attend isn’t real, but Unplugged is different in that it’s for no one but you. We are incredibly specific in our target audience: 9-12 grade students in the Fox Valley. At the same time, our target audience is absolutely open.

Because at Unplugged, the staff, speaker, and leaders have no preconceptions about who you are. We can’t fine tune Unplugged until we know you. We want to be a ministry real for you, so we want to meet you. And the you we want to meet is you--not the person you think we want to meet.

We place a priority on being real with each other, because this authenticity is a catalyst for change. When there are no norms and expectations, there is no status quo. When we remove the status quo, what remains is a canvass for growth. So when you come to Unplugged, you’ll hear speakers who intentionally reach you at your heart. We want to speak to real issues and questions that you have in a way that is transparent and real.

And the cool thing is, we don’t have to be afraid of this transparency. Because it’s God’s Word that’s behind us. The more we see through each other, the more its God Word that we see. So we end up with this unique confidence that no matter where God’s Word takes us and no matter how vulnerable and broken we find ourselves, the movement is always forward. The movement is always upward.

Really, Unplugged is pretty simple then. It’s us being real with God’s Word and real with you. When you bring an honest heart to this equation, this is a powerful reaction.

The praise we sing at Unplugged comes from the real change that God’s Word works on our hearts. It’s honest, raw, and unadorned, whether we’ve got one guy, a guitar, and his voice leading us or a full band. Our praise is the product of God’s Spirit working on our hearts in his Word.

So the big question: why should you come? I’m not going to tell you to. I only want to see you at Unplugged if you want to be at Unplugged. But here’s the deal: if you see your life as something that can have a purpose more than just maintaining status quo, I think you’re going to get a lot out of Unplugged, and I think you’ll be able to give a lot to the other students at Unplugged. We’re starting September 3rd, and we’d love to have you join us.

The Cheat

So, in case the anticipation to find out what our cheat is hasn't paralyzed you with...anticipation, here it is.  (This post will make much more sense if you read this post first).  The key to making yours and every student ministry absolutely rock. ...

Okay, not so much.  Really, this is something that we think is a pretty good idea in our particular niche of God's earth, and we think it holds a lot of potential--for us.

We call it "the ave."

It is a consolidation and unification of WELS student ministry in and around Appleton, WI.

Depending on your perception of Appleton, WI, (if you have one), this might seem like an excellent idea or a terrible one.  We're hoping for the excellent one.  Appleton is dense with Packers, churches, and opinions.  I grew up in a district of the WELS where the nearest WELS church was a 30 minute drive from my house. Now, there are 13 WELS churches within 10 miles from my church.  And for the most part, the student ministries that happen in these 13 WELS churches aren't much different from mine.  There's certainly reason for frustration with this picture.  At the same time, this prospect shows incredible potential.

13 + congregations who aIl want to do more youth ministry better cooperating for a common cause is a powerful engine.  We've identified what we want to be, and we're making it happen.  None of us have a hundred students in our student ministry?  Together we do.  Together we have more.  We don't have the resources to hire a full-time youth minister our church?  We can pool our resources.

Since the end of Fall 2013, WELS youth pastors have been scheming what it would look like if we did student ministry in Appleton as a collaboration.  It looks like the ave.

On May 7th, we're going to premier the ave. as a student ministry serving all high school age teens in Appleton, WI.  It doesn't matter what church you go to.  It doesn't matter if you go to church.  The ave. is a place for any high school aged student to come and ask questions, meet friends, hang out, have fun, and most importantly, have their worldview challenged by a perspective that suggests there is more to life than our immediate context.

In short, the ave. will begin as a bi-monthly gathering at the Copper Rock on College Ave.  On the first Wednesday of the month, we come together for Unplugged.  We'll spend time in prayer, praise, and the Word as a speaker brings it to us.  On the third Wednesday, we return to Copper Rock for Plug In where we dig in deeper with friends to what our speaker brought us earlier in the month.  Grab some coffee, grab some friends, grab your bible, and join us.

A team of 7 WELS youth pastors steer the ave. with the mission of engaging teens with God's Word in a way that results in a life led by faith.

The ave. is not tied to any one church.  In fact, we hope that it will encourage students to get more active in their own churches.  The ave. is supported entirely by donations from congregations who find value in the ave. and by individuals who are passionate about the cause for which the ave. exists.

We're excited about kicking the ave. off in a couple of months.  We hope that you'll join us by being a part of the ave, coming on board with the ave. team, or supporting us in your prayers as we cheat our way through student ministry.  Follow us on twitter or Facebook for news as the premier draws closer.

I think we need to cheat with youth ministry

I don't think that my experience in youth ministry is anything unique.  In fact, I know it's not, because I've asked. We have five to ten (on a good day) of the most dedicated teens I know who come together faithfully on Sunday evenings at our praise center for a game that's supposed to make a point, a devotion and bible study, a few announcements for events that may or may not happen, maybe a bag of chex mix and some dew, and then... well, that's about it.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this.  It centers us on the Word of God.  It encourages us to form godly relationships with our friends.  It provides a safe place to be honest with questions and challenges.  It challenges us to live with a higher purpose and to see faith as our leading principle.  I mean, at least that's what I published as the goals of this teen ministry.

There's just more that could be right with it.  There are two obstacles that I see which are keeping us from being what we want to be.

Problem #1

Our church has 40 members who are between the ages of 13 - 18.  8-15 of them engage in some way with our youth ministry.  I praise God for the 8-15 that I am able to serve through youth ministry.  I want to serve a larger percentage of that group.

Problem #2

Okay, problem #2 is really just what's behind problem #1.

I picture the trend in our youth ministry as a self-defeating cycle.  We don't get many new students beyond our core who come to youth group because there aren't a lot of students [like them] who come, and those potential students [like them] who might come and make a larger student body base don't come because there aren't a lot of students [like them] who come.   To put it another way, one aspect that might attract students is a larger student base that carries a more diverse demographic thereby suggesting that there will be someone like me that I can connect with.  But for that larger student base to exist, we'd have to first attract those new students.  Yet those new students are primarily going to be attracted by a larger student base.

So here's the issue I've been sizing up for a while: how do we build a larger student base when we lack one of the major components for building that?

With the help of 6 other youth pastors in the area, I think we've finally settled on a pretty good solution: we cheat.

Enter the ave.