Q&A with Troy Earnest

Q&A with Troy Earnest


Troy has been on staff with Young Life for 13 years, where he oversees adults who invest in the lives of kids in Atlanta, Georgia. Under his leadership, Young Life’s outreach on the eastside has increased from two schools to seven, and from 10 volunteers to 80. When he isn’t running around with leaders, kids and folks in the community, Troy works on photography, listens to vinyl records and supports the Georgia Bulldogs.

Q: Young Life focuses on outreach to kids who are not already involved in a church youth group program, so there’s not a big focus on discipleship. How are the churches in your community doing when it comes to coaching teens on spiritual growth? 01

I feel like some churches have seen the success of Young Life and have pivoted away from discipleship to do more outreach, similar to our approach.

I’ve been with youth leaders who literally ask me, “Tell me the specifics of how you do your meeting because we want to do exactly that.” And I’m like, no. Don’t do what we’re doing. These kids need a community to go deep with, to really dig into discipleship. If churches aren’t going to make that a priority, what then? Where do these kids go when they’ve made a commitment to Christ? In some ways, we’ve had to become a one-stop shop.

But then, I read the Barna data and I don’t think that’s ideal. Obviously there are kids who are ready to go super deep, but leaders can’t cater to them—in our outreach, that would be putting truth and faith out of reach for a lot of the students. But I’m sure that’s frustrating for more spiritually mature believers. We try to offer different groups based on where kids are at and that seems to help—different environments aimed at different kids.

The thing I wish youth groups would take from us is to focus on knowing kids, loving kids, showing up on their turf and befriending them. There seems to be a big focus on creating the right environment before they even get started. “We’re gonna spend all this money and have this great room, and there will be video games. Kids will definitely come.” But I don’t think that’s true. Or, if kids come to check it out, they probably won’t stay.

Because they want community, not a cool environment. Build a community of people who are committed to Christ and get serious about studying the Scriptures together—and invite the kids you’re going out of your way to know and love into that community.

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