Greg Stier: An App to Unleash Youth Evangelism—Part 2

The Life in 6 Words app helps teens and adults share the gospel through a combination of tech and relationship.

In Part 1 of our interview with Greg Stier, founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, he talked about the transformative role evangelism played in his early life, and why evangelism is critical to teen discipleship and effective youth ministry. In Part 2 below, he explains how leaders can play a role in galvanizing stagnant youth ministries. He also shares details of Dare 2 Share’s new evangelism app, Life in 6 Words, which helps teens and adults alike share the gospel using a combination of tech and relationship.

When a youth leader approaches you seeking to transform their ministry, what’s typically the problem? And on a larger scale, what’s not working in youth ministry in the American church today?

I think we’ve inherited a youth ministry box full of cool youth ministry stuff. You know, games, pizza and short curricula. I love youth ministry, but there are things missing. The number one characteristic of youth ministries that are thriving is intercessory prayer for the lost. Well, the average youth group spends way more time on announcements than prayer, let alone prayer for the lost. And we wonder why we’re not experiencing revival, you know? Then there’s relational evangelism. The average teenager isn’t going to youth group. If you ask them to share the gospel with you, they cannot clearly articulate the gospel message in a way that would be clear enough for an unreached person to understand and respond to. We have to train and equip. We have to give them a heart for the gospel.

I think the whole system needs to go back to a radical new paradigm that’s 2,000 years old. This is nothing new. We need to get back to our book of Acts roots. There is a report called The Great Opportunity, and it says we’re going to lose more than a million evangelical teenagers from our churches per year between now and 2050. The average youth group has fewer seniors than juniors, fewer juniors than sophomores, fewer sophomores than freshmen. I think one of the big reasons is we’re boring them with games. We’re boring them with light lessons. What students are looking for is the same thing I was looking for: security and significance, to know they’re unconditionally loved by God and others, and that they have a mission here on this earth.

At Dare 2 Share we call it the Cause, because to a teenager the Great Commission just sounds like a bunch of money somebody made on a real estate deal. Teenagers are into causes, and this is the ultimate cause. So we present disciple making as the ultimate cause, and we link it with other causes. Feed the hungry bread, but also give them the bread of life. Give the thirsty water, but also give them living water. Give the homeless a house here on earth, but also one in heaven. Stop human trafficking, and also stop soul trafficking. When you position things like that, teenagers get excited about it.

What we’ve found is when you give students Christianity as a cause and a mission instead of just a meeting, they find ways to get to youth group because they want to be a part of something bigger. I think we need a total re-engineering of youth ministry with this on the leading edge.

What role does leadership development play in turning that around?

Our leaders have to model this. The bottom line is, Jesus said in Luke 6:40 that no student is above their teacher. When they’re fully trained, they’ll be like their teacher. So if the leaders aren’t praying for the lost, aren’t reaching their neighbors, their friends, their family with the gospel, then the kids aren’t going to. It just becomes another program. Leaders lead the way. They don’t have to be good at it, but if they’re going for it, students know their leader is really trying. I think that’s all a teenager needs. They need Spirit-fueled, love-drenched effort on a consistent basis, and when they see it, they’re motivated.

You obviously want to use wisdom as you begin implementing this. When you implement a culture change, it takes time. It’s not just a plug-and-play program. The more entrenched and institutionalized the culture, the longer it’ll take.

We need to start with prayer. I really do think the battle is won or lost on our knees. We really do need to be praying for our kids, praying for adult leaders, praying for strongholds to be torn down. And then we need to get our kids praying for their lost friends. We need to figure out how to get that into their world. Some of our youth group have a prayer wall, like the Wailing Wall. They put the first names of their friends on sticky notes, and they go to the wall and pray for their friends as part of youth group every week. Some groups take time during the youth group meeting, and they say, Okay, why don’t you turn to the person next to you and pray for the person God’s put on your heart? We have one youth group in McLean, Virginia, that starts every meeting on their knees, praying for their friends who don’t know Christ. Some do that in small groups. It’s my theory that when students pray for the lost, they begin to see the lost, and doors of opportunity open.

Secondly, we need to train and equip those teenagers how to have a gospel conversation. How do you break it down? How do you explain the gospel? How do you give people the opportunity to say yes to Jesus? How do you deal with objections? And then I think we need to program storytelling time into our youth group meetings. In other words, the typical youth leader has what we call a quarterback approach. You bring your friends out to youth group, I’ll throw the touchdown pass and give the gospel. But what we need to do is help those youth leaders move from quarterbacks to coaches. In other words, Yeah, I may throw the touchdown pass on Wednesday nights, but I’m going to coach you every day of the week to initiate gospel conversations. Then when you come back, we’re going to give you the opportunity to share. It becomes normal, and it’s an ongoing movement, not a once-a-year curriculum or event. It takes time to get there, but when students really get this, they get excited about youth group and youth ministry.

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What should leaders know about today’s teens that would help them lead more effective youth ministries?

They’re open to talking about spiritual things, and I think that surprises people. Now, it’s a little more of a challenge to get them to believe in the exclusivity of Christ. But they’re open to engaging in the conversation. When it comes to evangelism, we train teenagers in ask, admire, admit. Ask a lot of questions. Admire what you can about what somebody believes. Then admit the reason you’re a Christian is because you’re so messed up you needed Jesus to save you.

Forty years ago, when Josh McDowell was on college campuses, he was able to preach by leading with apologetics. Today I don’t think you lead with apologetics. We tell youth leaders to train your teens to share the love letter of the gospel, and then use apologetics as the P.S. You know, P.S.: It’s all true, and here are some things to think about. I think even though the way we engage them may be different, the gospel is the same, so we need to share the gospel as a complete story, the metanarrative. We need to explain the gospel like we would to an unreached people group, because teenagers today are in many ways an unreached people group.

Let’s talk about the app itself, Life in 6 Words. What unmet need does the app fill, and how does it work?

What we found is a lot of teens (and adults, for that matter) struggle with how to engage someone else. The app is what I call face-to-screen-to-face, instead of face-to-face. It’s a teenager taking their friend through this. It’s a little bit more comfortable for the teen, because they’re guiding their friend through an app, and they’re not necessarily having to look each other in the eye. But they’re not just dropping a gospel video on them and walking away. They’re literally explaining it as they go. It forces the Christian teen to engage in the conversation. And to be honest with you, even though I’m definitely not a teenager (I’m 54 years old), I use this app all the time. There’s nothing about it that makes it just a teen app. Our staff uses it. I think it’s something churches could use church-wide.

We’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and what we’ve found is that people like to talk about themselves. And Life in 6 Words is designed with that in mind. You begin by opening the app, and 14 words pop up. You ask the person to describe their life using six of those words. Things like ‘God,’ ‘adventure,’ ‘money,’ ‘family.’ People take time to engage with it, and it really triggers something in a lot of people. I’ve probably used this app (or some form of it) at least 200 times, and I’ve never been turned down when I’ve asked someone to choose those six words, which is really unique. After that, you ask why they choose those words. Their six words pop up on the screen, and you hear their story and learn all sorts of things about them. What I love is that you spend the first amount of time really listening and getting to know somebody. Obviously if this is a teen talking with their friend, they already know them, but even then, they can learn some new things about them by the words they chose. You’ve already pre-programed your own six words in there, so you ask if you can show them yours. You’re able to use that to share your own struggles in your life and also the hope you’ve found in God. Then you ask if you can share six words from scripture. It’s an acrostic for GOSPEL: God Our Sins Paying Everyone Life. You’re able to swipe through each of those six words and explain them. Life in 6 Words is just basically the conversation hook. How would you describe your life in six words? Here’s how I describe my life in six words. Here’s how the Bible describes life in six words. And that’s when you give the gospel.

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At the end, there’s a simple question: Would you like to put your faith in Christ right now? Yes, I’m ready, or No, not yet. They push the button for their decision, Yes or No. If they push yes, you can lead them through a prayer and send them the six words they chose with a verse from Scripture for each. They put their information in and you can follow up. If they say no, you can still send them their six words and verses from Scripture, and you have the opportunity to continue to engage with them in that conversation. That’s part of what the app does. It gives what I call training wheels for gospel conversations. Ultimately, we want a user to be able to share Christ if their phone is out of power. We want them to be able to navigate the gospel conversation, but this gives them training wheels to get rolling.

So that’s the foundation of the app. And then you’ve got some other features in there too.

Yes. There are two other main features. One is what we call the Cause Circle. Again, the Cause is our term for the Great Commission. The Cause Circle is just a circle that says Prayer, Care, Share. Who you prayed for, cared for, and shared the gospel with. Users can preprogram the names of their friends who have yet to be reached into their Cause Circle. You can set up prayer reminders daily, every other day, or once a week to pray for your cause circle. If you take somebody through the app and send them their six words, they’ll automatically go into your Cause Circle, which is pretty cool, because it gives you a way to pray for them. So the people in your Cause Circle are those you’re trying to reach.

The other aspect is what we call Faith Sharing Groups, which you can either create and invite people to join, or someone else can create and invite you to join. This feature links every participant in the group so you can see any time they’re sharing Christ with or praying for somebody. Our Dare 2 Share staff is a Faith Sharing Group on the app. Right now we have 23 active gospel conversations going. There’s no leader board, so it doesn’t get weird, but you’re able to pray for people in the group and be encouraged. You can also see globally how many gospel conversations are happening and how many people are being engaged. You see the activity happening with everyone in your group. Teens can create a Faith Sharing Group within their youth group, or even adults in a church small group.

And then we have a section of the app with follow-up videos for training and for equipping new believers as well as long-time believers to grow in the gospel. The app is available in six other languages: Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, French, and Hungarian. We want people in these other countries using it too. We’re trying to raise up a global vision that Dare 2 Share reaches every teen everywhere. It’s a really robust app, and It’s free to download in the App Store and on Google Play.

The app is designed with some street style, hip hop elements, which does make it attractive to young people.

Yeah. It all came from a video we produced seven years ago with the spoken word artist Jason Petty, who goes by Propaganda. He traveled with Dare 2 Share, and we had him do a spoken word video on the gospel. It got more than 3 million hits on YouTube and was retweeted everywhere. We started using the video to help with evangelism, but then we wondered how we could develop a tool with resources to back it up. Propaganda and I did a six-week series on the gospel. The videos in the app are from that series, where we’re kind of unpacking each point. They’re almost based on the original video. This app is the next iteration of that, and it’s pretty cool.

Any parting thoughts?

The app is great, but that’s not what’s changing lives. The gospel is what changes lives. But I tell people it’s like serving food on a plate. The food is what matters, but you want a clean plate, right? You want to present the gospel on something clean and nice, and the app really serves that purpose.