The phrase started at the youth group at Bedrock Pres. Church lead by Og and Oog. It has been re-uttered exactly 2.5 million times annually since then (6,000 or so BC). It is the sloppiest way to “grow” a youth group and it is universally used and accepted. However, as my years have gone by I have realized that this isn’t a youth group isolated gaffe. No, churches in general do the same thing. No no, don’t stop there. Any group of any organization uses this “strategy” to further their “cause” or membership numbers. Does it work? Sometimes…a little. However, if that is all that you’re doing you are doomed. This phrase has so many hidden pitfalls in it that you may as well say, “let’s fail but allow me to get ahead of this and create an out for the failure (they just didn’t bring…their friends!).
“Why the hate Jay?” you say? It’s not hate…it’s disdain. It’s lazy, counterproductive, manipulative, and for those you are speaking to it sets them up for failure. Here’s how. Little Johnny, 5th grade comes to youth group. He is told to “bring a friend.” Johnny has 3 friends. He excitedly runs home and tells his mom that he has to bring his friends next week. The moms speak (some of them) and 2 of Johnny’s friends show up the next week. Ok…so far. Jade is a bit older, she is told to bring a friend to her high school kick off event (she just started going to church this summer and is very excited). She invites all 6 of her close friends (actually she is only close with one or two of them but she invites all 6 of her BFF CREW). “Jay, what is wrong with this picture?” you are thinking, “What is wrong with this?” I am showing you.
One of Johnny’s friends comes back the next week, 2 of Jade’s become “regulars.” Johnny and Jade both are not discouraged too much (though expected that all of their friends would be on board) and each week do as their told and invite their friends invite their friends invite their friends. After one month, Johnny and Jade don’t really talk to their non-youth group friends anymore. Oh, they see them in school but it’s not the same. They are hurt that the friends don’t go to youth group anymore and their friends avoid them like Ebola or the kid who ate gum from the bottom of the cafeteria table. Effectively, the “Bring a Friend” campaign has cut both Johnny and Jade’s friend group in half.
Yet, it doesn’t end there. Each week they are told to bring their friends. THEY HAVE NO MORE FRIENDS!!! This is it, this is the list. Johnny and Jade feel like failures. They have made some new “friends” at youth group and feel safe there. Their old friends don’t talk to them anymore and consider them to be “weird now.” Og and Oog tell them to not worry about those who make fun of you for going to youth group and that they are bad, lost, and just don’t “get it.” Johnny and Jade have learned to look down at them. They are hurt that they have been “rejected” by THEM and no longer consider them to be friends.
“Jay, this is a good thing. They are now surrounded by ‘good kids’ and we have successfully separated them from the negative influences that these mean other kids were in their life.” you say as a counter point to my assertion. Oh controon monsoon (my French may be off, I was never invited to French club by any friends…see what I did there?). Anyhow, within the walls of that youth group are two “groups” or subsets of kids. Those who have grown up in the church (or are long time attenders) and the newbies. The newbies are almost, almost always looked at like outsiders. There is a pecking order. Johnny and Jade may lump their 1 and 2 friends in with the other newbies and after awhile those friends stop coming, or all of them are considered newbies and aren’t really accepted by all of the other kids.
“Bring your friends” is hammered away each week and they know that the other friends they had are gone and are bad. They can’t go back to them. Thus, they have to fully embrace where they are and begin to play that game to earn the acceptance or respect of the established group. The rest of the school looks at the “youth group kids” as these weird kids who think that they are better than everyone else. This is true for the most part, they do think that they are “better” than the “bad” kids. However, Johnny and Jade feel no better and are made to feel worse by the long time members of the group. They would turn to the leader for help but all they keep saying is…”bring your friends!” They feel that they have no choice but to fully embrace where they are and hope to turn things around with the established members. The entire youth group is viewed as a clique. Within the group ARE cliques and each group clearly knows where they stand.
What started out as a way to “grow our youth group” has resulted in a zero to minimal numbers bump, a division of Johnny and Jade’s friend group, isolation from the overall student body, loneliness for Johnny and Jade (and their friend or two who are now regulars) within the group, and Og and Oog telling everyone “kids, they are just tough to work with.”
“Well, that’s kids for you.” you might think. That’s people for you! The same thing happens in churches too. You know, us big kids. I have actually been to a church that had “bring a friend day.” Are you kidding me? Who, in this world of ours, has an endless supply of these friends to which we are to continually reach out? After that fails we resolve to having our church friends being all that we socialize with and those outside that group are just to be dealt with.
Fatalistic and narrow minded? Perhaps. However, most of the intent of this post is to illustrate a point. The mindset from the beginning is flawed. “Bring a friend”…to what? Why? Sadly, it is most often so that the leader of said group can feel better about their job performance or create more stable job conditions (programs, $$). It’s not their fault really. They are almost always altruistic and want to have a positive impact. They just don’t know how. It is so sad when I see a church member (or staff person) race to a newcomer at a church service and ask them, “Did you like it? What do we have to do to get you to come back?” There is a very fine line between leaving someone feeling neglected and swarmed/suffocated.
I ask again, “What is your goal?” Slow down and ask yourself this question. Is your goal to positively impact the people in your world and to love them on behalf of Jesus? If this is not church related is it to positively impact your organization and cause it to grow? Either way, learn to love and serve (or provide a service) to people that they need/want.
“But how Jay?” you ask. I’m glad you asked. It’s about…relationships. Yep, that old bug a boo. When you simply ask/beg someone to come to something and then hound them about coming back all you have done is abuse the existing relationship. Rather, don’t only enhance and grow your existing relationships but begin new ones. Do it with gentleness and respect. Again, “how?” you ask. Once again, I’m glad you asked. That is where we are going here in the coming weeks. Yes, I will keep you updated as to how Trey is but the other posts will be centered on how to create and grow new relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial. With existing relationships I have dedicated many many posts on how to make them stronger through the meeting of emotional/relational needs and simply comforting all who suffer (which is everyone). There is a lot of overlap with creating new relationships. Yet, there is a lot to teach about creating new ones. Again, we will be doing that in the coming weeks.
So, if you are interested, check back in to my site. While you are at it, tell a friend to check out my site as well (see what I did there?).