What makes Young Life unique? Choice.

What makes YL unique?

There are several things that make Young Life unique amongst other ministries that seek to reach high school folks. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean better, it just means that these are things we do that differentiate us from other ministries. I firmly believe that Young Life is just one small part of the body of Christ that fulfills a specific purpose.

Today I want to point out something that makes YL unique that we rarely talk about, and is almost never mentioned in any YL training. But first, let’s cover a few other things that make YL unique.

In most Young Life literature and training you’ll discover that what makes us unique is our focus on relational ministry. Our goal is to develop trusting, no strings attached, relationships with high school folks so that when we share with them about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him, they are hearing from a trusted source, instead of someone who is just a religious leader on a stage. While this is true of Young Life, it’s not terribly unique. Most evangelism and outreach is somewhat relational, even if that isn’t readily evident at first glance. What makes Young Life unique relationally is that we befriend the non-Christian. That’s who we want to get to know.

Another thing that makes Young Life unique is that we have the luxury of organizing ourselves the same way that kids do, by school. When I talk to youth pastors I’m always overwhelmed at what their job entails. They are trying to know and reach kids at many, many schools. They don’t have the laser focus on one school that a YL leader has.

However, the most overlooked thing that differentiates Young Life from many other ministries is this….

It is totally and completely voluntary.

What do I mean?

Pretty much every student who shows up to a Young Life club is there voluntarily. There is no one forcing them to go. They aren’t there out of obligation. They chose to show up. Their parents didn’t force them to go (there are rare exceptions to this), they didn’t have to be there to get credit for something at school or church, and they came to YL because they made their own independent decision.

This is the heartbeat of what makes YL successful. The entire premise of Young Life is that it is voluntary. Whether or not you show up at YL is voluntary. Whether or not you believe the gospel is voluntary. High school folks are independently mobile. What that means is that they can decide when and where they spend their time. So they can choose to be a part of YL on their own, or choose not to. They aren’t dependent on their parents to get from one place to another. So if they want to be a part of something, they are, and if they don’t want to be a part of something, they aren’t. This is in contrast to your average church youth group, where a much higher percentage of the attendees are there whether they want to be or not.

The decision to show up to YL club (or Campaigners or any other YL event) actually is a decision that oftentimes costs kids something. It costs them time away from studying, or other activities that they could be doing. Because high school folks have more choices now than they ever have before, it is potentially more costly than ever.

It’s incredibly encouraging that every kid who is involved in Young Life really wants to be involved! What a gift, and what a testimony to the effectiveness of “earning the right to be heard” and living incarnationally among young people.