Building Momentum in Your Student Ministry

By Joe Harwell

What unexpected resource have you stumbled upon that’s been a huge help to you or benefited your students?

There is one resource that has been a great help to me over the past two years. The book, Make Believe: 5 Things Great Student Pastors Choose To Believe by Ben Crawshaw and Kevin Ragsdale is the best book on student ministry I’ve read in the last 10 years. I like to read, however, I can often get bored with a book. NOT this one. It is funny, honest and incredibly practical and reminds student ministers of what is still possible. It’s an incredible resource and is foundational for building a student ministry or rebuilding a student ministry.



 width=What recent XP3 series have your students responded to and why?

Our students loved the XP3 Series, “Once Upon a Time.” First and foremost, a number of our girls are glued to ABC every Sunday night at 8pm to watch the TV shows. They love fairy tales and love the idea of story. I think what I enjoyed most about this series was the exploration of four different parables and relating the practicality of Jesus’ teachings to my students. When we connect Jesus’ parables to our own lives, it reminds us that their stories are still our stories and hit a little closer to home that we might care to acknowledge.


What’s been one successful, special event that you’ve pulled off in the past year?

Our most successful event is a missional event we call Big Game Outreach. We call it Big Game Outreach because the name “Super Bowl” is licensed. Anyway, Big Game Outreach is an event we do annually on Super Bowl Sunday, and we host 200-300 of our homeless neighbors. We invite them in, we serve them, we build relationships, and we sit with them and hear their stories. We do “giveaways” during commercial breaks. It is one of the most energetic nights of our year. Parents and students are table hosts and are attentive to every need at their table. It is an event where I see senior adults, parents, students and children serve their neighbors and love them in the name of Jesus. We provide weekly meals for the homeless community and I cannot tell you how much I love seeing my friends who come to our “daily bread” lunches. But, Big Game Outreach is a night where I see the church at its best, where we are working together for a cause much bigger than ourselves, where we are fulfilling Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25.



How are you mobilizing students to own their faith?  What’s a great way that you’ve been able to partner or connect with your students’ parents?

I cannot take credit for mobilizing our students to own their faith. That was happening before I got to First Baptist Church Marietta. Part of First Baptist’s DNA is that they want to be the presence of Christ in Marietta, Cobb County and around the world. That mission, that vision, dictates to us what we value, and what we value is not just talking about loving others because God first loved us. Nope, we want to be on the front lines. So, missional living and being present in hands-on mission is where we are mobilizing students to own their faith in a real way.

We have monthly missional events that are church-wide and intergenerational. We provide a week of mission in the summer that we call Mission:Marietta. This is an event where we partner with the Marietta Housing Authority and other local government organizations and go out into the community and repair houses that could not be repaired otherwise. No questions asked. This is an amazing week where we see people’s homes – and often their lives – transformed because they have experienced the love of God through students reroofing their home or renovating their bathroom.

Secondly, the event I mentioned above, Big Game Outreach, is a huge opportunity for our students and parents to be mobilized and express their faith in a tangible and real way. These types of events are where I have seen my relationships with parents grow because we are partnering. We are working alongside one another for a cause that has brought us together, and it is a cause that is personal for each of us. We have an investment in it, and I’ve seen such meaningful conversations come out of these events, as well as a trust level that has been formed by leaning on one another.



Where do you have the most momentum in your student ministry?

Missionally, we are in a great place and there is a great area of momentum in terms of our missional emphasis. I believe we are starting to build momentum and trust relationally with our students. Make no mistake, we have a ways to go before I would say we have reached our full potential, but I see our students trust our leaders, our Sunday morning small group teachers and facilitators. We have to continue to nurture these relationships and we must like our kids, love our kids, and be interested in the daily happenings of our students’ lives. Momentum does not just happen. We have to tangibly invest in these initiatives every day. I see this, though, as the most rewarding part of student ministry.


 width=Joe is the Minister to Students at First Baptist Church Marietta, has been there a little over a year and a half and has been in student ministry for 13 years. Joe was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. He loves spending time with his gorgeous wife, Courtney. They enjoy playing tennis together, hiking, trying new recipes and finding new restaurants to try. Joe and Courtney have a daughter, Miriam. She is 18 months old and Joe loves introducing her to Taylor Swift videos and “Frozen.” Their other child is Watson, an Australian Shepherd. Watson loves to take Joe on walks/runs and run around in the back yard and, of course, lick Miriam repeatedly. Joe loves Student Ministry. He couldn’t see himself doing anything else. He loves relational ministry, meeting kids on their turf and sharing with them how much God loves them and how crazy He is about them. Connect with Joe by following him on Instagram.


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