This post will likely generate some emotional responses. The purpose is not to attack or criticise big youth events or those who plan them. I have no doubts that we could generate an exhaustive list of positive things associated with them. Some who read this can attribute their salvation to a big youth event. That's a good thing. A very good thing.
However, I do want to point out some of the weaknesses of big events. These are often overlooked. They're subtle. They often go unnoticed for months, if not years.
Let's start with an analogy. Big events are a vehicle to a destination. At least they should be. If you're doing big events simply for big events sake (or to keep kids out of trouble), the YMCA might be a better fit. I would hope that there's a purpose behind each event we plan (evangelism, service, etc.).
There are lots of ways to get somewhere. Lots of vehicles will work. Some are more appropriate than others. A skateboard works to go to the neighbor's around the corner, but isn't a solid choice if you want to take someone with you. A car is unnecessary for a trip next door, but works well if you're going across town with your family. A bus doesn't work if you're wanting to become intimate with everyone on the trip, but it gets a lot of people to the same destination.
Big events as a bus. Lots of people. Minimal connections.
Are you starting to see the weakness of big events? Nothing necessarily wrong with a bus UNLESS that's the only vehicle your ministry ever chooses to use.
Here's the major weakness I see in big-events based ministry. It trains teens that ________ can only happen on the bus. Fill in the blank with whatever word you like: evangelism, service to others, compassion, discipleship, etc.
Just a week ago I received a call from a former teen who is now attending a state university. He excitedly told of how he was on a "spiritual high" that came from reading his bible in his dorm room. Then he said, "I just want to do something for God. I mean, there's so many of my friends who don't want anything to do with Christianity. I was thinking, man, we really need to do something big for God. I don't know... Something HUGE! Something on campus. Like we need to bring in Chris Tomlin...and, and, and Hillsong United, and some big athlete speaker like Reggie White - except he's dead - but someone like him that they'd really look up to. And it needs to be more than just one day...it should be like every day for a week. But it needs to be bigger than just our campus. And it needs to be bigger than Ohio. I'm thinking it should be, like, HUGE. Like nationwide..."
He went on for at least ten minutes, dropping names of nationally known speakers and artists and talking about filling stadiums and arenas all across the United States. It took everything within me to keep from saying "cha-ching" every time.
Despite my best efforts as a youth pastor to teach him otherwise, he saw big events as the only solution to his friends' "lack of Jesus".
Big events - busses - condition teens to wait to do the things they're supposed to do every day as followers of Jesus. It leads teens to think, "My friend needs Jesus! We need to plan (or wait around for) the next big event." rather than, "My friend needs Jesus! I need to tell him."
More to come...