Paying for Quality vs. Free Junk

OK, so the church isn’t a business, and we in church leadership don’t “charge” people for access. But the truth is that we’re offering something that puts the decision in the hands of the people as to whether or not they’re going to participate. Actually, in most cases, people are actively choosing NOT to participate in lots of faith communities.

Duh, right?

That was my first thought but I had to learn a lesson here that impacted the drive and momentum of our student ministry.

First of all, congratulations are in order. People come to your church or ministry. This means people are making cognitive, active decisions to participate in what you’re leading.

Don’t get ahead of me; now it’s time for the bad news. There are way more people that are making cognitive, active decisions to NOT participate in what you’re leading.

To say that differently and in my native language, youth pastors across the country learn the quality vs. free junk lesson every year. They offer pizza, give-aways and free stuff all the time in hopes that students will come in droves and that they won’t have enough room in their area to hold them. But they don’t come.

Let me put it another way: If our local Wendy’s was giving away cheeseburgers, I’d still go pay for a meal at Chick-fil-A. Why is this true? Because I don’t like cheeseburgers? Nope (see author photo). It’s simply because free stuff isn’t as attractive as quality stuff.

This principle transfers to ministry. People want quality stuff, not free stuff. Not only do they want it but they need it. Providing a consumer product will only contribute to these unfortunate and incredible student ministry stats. Students are tired of having bright, flashy things waved in front of them. Entertainment is so short-term; short-term enough that they forget the reason the church even exists. They need truth and depth; thought-out ministries that lead them to be fully-devoted followers of Christ.

So, how do we quality-check our ministries?

  1. Go back to the place God called you. What’s your passion for ministry? Is it obvious that your passion for ministry is a huge part of your ministry? Or, are we just offering a set of programs and calling it “ministry?”
  2. Listen to outsiders. They’ll tell you the truth. If you don’t know any outsiders, ask your insiders what outsiders are honestly saying. The answer might shock you.
  3. Check out other quality ministries. The truth is that God has called you to lead your own ministry, but seeing others lead quality ministry may be just the boost of energy and inspiration to get on the right track with your own ministry. Don’t have the time or money to get away? Budget for it next year—it’s that important.

If students aren’t committing their lives to Jesus, I need to re-evaluate the quality of our student ministry. A give-away is the last thing that should get the focus.



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4 thoughts on “Paying for Quality vs. Free Junk

  1. Ok, so i've got a question. Is this article saying that ministries shouldnt do giveaways at all? I understand that people want quality, but if the giveaway was of quality items then why not do a giveaway. Don't do one every singe time you meet but maybe twice a year or so. About 3 months ago we had an amazing Sudent service and for about 3 weeks before the service we gave an announcment that the 4 students who bring the most people with them to the service will get to wax the legs of the student pastor. Our student ministry usually runs about 50-60 students regularly, but that night we have over 110 people in there. It was an amzing night in the life of our ministry. So i do understand that quality is needed but you have got to figure out the life of the students before you figure out what you need. Just a thought
    Josh Baker

    • Josh, great thoughts! I'm not saying don't do give-aways. I've done them myself and have seen huge results (in peak numerical jumps). A friend of mine, Ryan Guard (, helped me to realize that a lot of times giveaways do have an adverse effect to the express purpose.

      The truth is, though, that this article isn't saying giveaways are good or bad. It's more about what you're inviting students into. What happens after the giveaways are given? What systems do we invite our students into? What processes aid them to follow Jesus and be discipled? We've (read, "I've") gotten really good at getting people in the door, but the gold is in the discipleship process when they stick. Maybe the problem is that our churches aren't sticky enough? i'm currently reading Larry Osborne's stuff about that (

      Thanks for engaging the conversation!

  2. Hey man,
    Sorry if my origional post sounded mean. Yeah, i totally agree that the discipleship is key after getting people in the door. And I do agree that it can also be what gets student into the door also, cause if you can disciple a student who then goes into the school or community and they start having a relationship with someone and bring them to church, then discipleship is key. Thanks for straightening that up for me. But yeah, i totally agree now!