THE REBOOT BLOG | December 10, 2020

Building a Youth Group with “B-list” Kids

by The Reboot Grant Team

“None of our ‘A-list’ kids can come on the retreat in late September. We could pull together some of our ‘B-list’ kids, they’re free that weekend, but we would rather not,” explained the senior pastor. That statement came out to justify why their church wouldn’t have any youth representatives at a fall training event for congregational youth ministry. The pastor then blamed the supremacy of the “Friday night lights” football culture in their county seat town. “Football reigns here from August until November.”

We’ve heard dozens of these kinds of expressions in a year of Reboot work—most recently from a large suburban pastor who diagnosed their youth attendance problems with this dismissive statement: “It’s a bunch of geeks.” The pastor continued, “We need some influencers—some quarterbacks and cheerleaders—to really attract people and grow this ministry.”

It’s hard to know where to start digging into the cascade of concerning issues with a ministry that categorizes youth into A-list and B-list—geeks and quarterbacks. But it’s always a good idea to start with what we can learn from Jesus. He actually had a lot to say about such a sentiment. There’s a multitude of teachings and parables to choose from, but for now, we’ll consider these three texts:

  • Jesus chose Isaiah 61 as the text for his first – and last! — sermon in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. The text he taught on explains that he was anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and liberation to the oppressed. Not ‘A-list’ folks, to be sure. (Luke 4:16-30)

  • Jesus taught his disciples not to invite the influencers to dinner. (Luke 14:12-14)

  • Jesus immediately followed up in that verse with the Parable of the Great Dinner. In her book, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, Amy-Jill Levine reminds us that “Jesus told parables because they serve as keys that can unlock the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: how to live in community; how to determine what ultimately matters; how to live the life that God wants us to live. … They are remembered today not just because they are in the Christian canon, but because they continue to provoke, challenge, and inspire” (p. 275). In this parable, the first set of invitations went out to A-list folks, but they refused. They had property, possessions, and family commitments that kept them busy, or at least provide a busy excuse. Jesus didn’t leave it there. Invitations went out to different folks, for our purposes – “B-list” folks – not only once but twice the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame were invited. They filled all the table settings, and the dinner commenced. (Luke 14:15-24)

Let’s consider Jesus’ parable in light of the pastor’s comment about A-list and B-list kids. Given all we hear about how busy the “A-list” kids are with extra-curriculars – sports, music, cheer, drama, college prep – why the invitations first and foremost to them as the pastor did in the opening scenario? Why the hyper focus on them? What time do they have to be discipled, to spend time cultivating a deeper faith, to volunteer at church, or a soup kitchen, or come to youth group on Wednesday nights? They already have full weekend and evening schedules and plenty of leadership opportunities.

Instead, let’s lean in to Jesus’ parable and invite youth who have yet to be invited, or who have been overlooked, rather than tapping again and again the so-called “influencers” to build the youth group. Look to the youth who are staying home from Friday night lights because there’s nothing else happening for them to join. They may very well be the ones who will fill up the empty places at the banquet.