It was May 1982 and I had been on full time staff with Young LIfe for about four months when one day the phone rang and the voice on the other end of the line said, “This is so and so from the ice cream store and I’m calling to let you know we’re open.” After a brief pause I said, “Thank you, but why are you calling me?” The very nice woman on the other end of the line said, “well I call every year to let you know we’re open so you can get the ice cream for the 100 foot banana split you’re going to do as a gimmick to attract kids to your meeting.” Apparently the idea was to have a huge banana split in September to kick off the beginning of the school year, and one in May to sell camp. I had heard of these things and even knew folks who used this approach, but I also knew it wasn’t what I was going to do. I thanked her for her call and told her that I was new to the job and we wouldn’t be doing the banana split any more.

I was, and am committed to a “no gimmicks” approach to ministry. Instead of gimmicks I believe the key to great ministry is relationships, and my energy and effort has been in equipping leaders to relationally engage the world around them with the Gospel. While a gimmick can have immediate results and attract big numbers for a night, the relational approach takes time. After I had been in that first job for about a year the mayor of the town (who was on our board) came to me one day and said, “You haven’t had anyone meet Christ yet. Maybe it’s time to do a banana split.” I said “I’d rather quit than do a gimmick. The relational approach will work but you just have to give it time.” That summer thirty kids met Christ at our camp and the club went on to be one of the best I’d ever experienced, attracting over a hundred kids every week.

We have seen the Lord use this approach in our ministry in four different areas (including Canada) and by others across North America as they have adopted this approach. I believe this approach reaches more kids, enables them to grow deeper in their faith, and produces more leaders and I invite you to explore the possibility of transforming your ministry into a relational model and say, “no banana splits” too.