“I’m utterly and unshakably convinced that the next generation needs hope more than ever,” says Greg Stier, who founded  Dare 2 Share Ministries in 1991 to inspire and equip students and youth ministers to share the Gospel. Stier’s words underscore the organization’s vision: for every teen everywhere to hear Jesus’ message of hope from a friend.

But Stier, who has served in youth ministry for more than twenty years, didn’t grow up surrounded by such messages of hope and encouragement. “I was an unlikely person to have heard about Jesus, much less follow a path into ministry,” he admits. “It’s a good thing God doesn’t see hopelessness or believe in lost causes because early on my family represented both.”

On the Wrong Side of Man’s and God’s Law

“I never knew my dad. I was raised by my mom and her five brothers in one of the highest crime-rate neighborhoods in Denver,” Stier recalls. He doesn’t mince words when he describes his early life. “I come from a body building, tobacco chewing, beer drinking, street fighting family of thugs,” Stier says of the rough, and often violent, world where he grew up. “There were gangs, and the Denver Mafia knew my uncles as the crazy brothers.

“Me? I was just a scared little kid. I was scared of my uncles, my neighbors—everyone,” Stier admits. “My own family thought I was weird because I was quiet and read a lot. I was surrounded by people who weren’t living on the right side of the law—man’s or God’s,” he says.

The Dare That Changed a Family’s Destiny

But, when Stier was eight years old, a preacher nicknamed Yankee reached into the violent corner of the world Stier and his family had been allotted. “One of my uncle’s friends attended Yankee’s church and dared the charismatic preacher to talk to Uncle Jack about Jesus,” Stier recalls.

According to Stier, his Uncle Jack was a huge, angry man. Heavily tattooed, Jack arm-wrestled for money and had no respect for the law. “He was always in and out of jail and had actually choked two police officers to unconsciousness,” Stier relates. “His friend, whose name is Bob, saw how desperately my uncle needed to turn his life around. But who can blame him for being scared to approach him without a preacher standing between them?”  Stier asks.

Yankee knocked on their door, determined to tell Jack his life could be different. “Jack came to the door with a beer can in each hand—one for drinking, the other for spitting tobacco into. Yankee said, ’Your friend, Bob, dared me to come tell you about Jesus,’ ” Stier relates.

Stier remembers Jack’s straightforward reply: “I don’t know Jesus. But I know Bob. So I’ll give you five minutes.”

And those five minutes mattered.

“Yankee told my uncle the Gospel isn’t complicated, Stier says. “It isn’t a religious thing; it’s about relationships. It’s about grace.”  Stier was also drawn to Yankee’s plainspoken talk. “We’re all just sinners who know we can’t do this thing on our own. The good news is, we don’t have to,” Stier explains.

When Yankee asked his uncle if he believed this, Stier says Jack responded with the simplest of sinner’s prayers: “Hell yeah!”

“That was it,” Stier says. “Two words changed Jack’s life—and our family’s destiny. It wasn’t an instantaneous thing, but it was a miracle.”

The transformation in his family ignited Stier’s passion to share the life-changing hope of Jesus with others. And he began with the most important person in his life—his mom.

A Son’s Forgiveness 

“I was 12 when my mom finally told me I was the result of a sexual relationship with a man she never married. Up to that point, I’d just assumed that my half-brother and I had the same dad,” Stier recalls.

“I always knew my mom loved me, even though she wasn’t a soft woman,” Stier says. “But there was a sadness in her when she looked at me, which I later understood was because she wanted to have an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant with me.

“She drove to Boston to get an abortion because it wasn’t legal in Denver at the time,” Stier continues. “But one of my uncles ratted her out to my grandmother, who insisted she come home. That’s how I was raised by my mom, uncles and grandmother,” Stier says. My family was dysfunctional, but they circled the wagons where a baby was concerned,” he notes.

“My mom held on to her guilt and shame. She questioned whether Jesus could forgive her really bad stuff,” Stier explains. “But I told her it was just a matter of trusting Him.”

Stier says he’ll never forget the day she looked him in the eyes and said she could try to do that. “She discovered Jesus forgave her, and that allowed her to finally forgive herself,” Stier says. “It went unspoken that I forgave her.

“One by one, my family members fell like dominos into the arms of Jesus’ love and grace,” Stier says.

Columbine Was a Wake-up Call

In 1991, Stier founded Dare 2 Share. He was a full-time youth pastor with a part-time ministry offering relational evangelism training for youth leaders. But the April, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado brought Stier’s mission into laser focus.

“I was at a nearby church promoting Dare 2 Share programs when two teens launched a deadly assault on their classmates that took a horrific toll—13 dead and 23 injured,” Stier recalls. “It rocked my world and was the impetus for my moving into a ministry to reach out to teens full time,” he explains. “God used this tragedy as a clarion call for me to focus on one thing: mobilizing teenagers to reach their world for Christ.”

There was evidence the two teens who gunned down their classmates at Columbine were bullied and considered outcasts at the school. “I don’t have all the answers to mass violence, but I have to believe if Christian teenagers took the mission of Jesus as their very own to reach out to and love their friends, fewer young people would be left to feel isolated and alone with a time-bomb of anger and hurt inside,” Stier states.

“Whenever I hear of (yet) another shooting—at a movie theater, mall, concert or school—my stomach turns, and my heart aches for the victims and their families.” And he redoubles his efforts to reach as many young people as possible through the Dare 2 Share organization.

“It’s easy to get paralyzed by fear in the face of the exponential rise in violence in our country,” Stier says. “But I want to channel my energy and our resources to inspire and equip the next generation of Christian youths to live and love like Jesus.  I want to see our driving mission be to deliver a message of hope to our friends and neighbors, strangers and family.”

Opportunities for Deeper Connections 

Stier recognizes teens are saturated with a constant flow of conversation—group texts, snapchat, Instagram and more. “And a lot of those conversations aren’t nice. With smart phones in their hands, teens face bullying and temptations on a 24/7 basis, and there is so much shame, it’s hard to embrace grace,” he acknowledges.

“We have a culture that’s concerned about political correctness and no longer holds God’s Word up as absolute truth. Christians don’t want to offend or come off as mean. So we just let things go, and the standard of God’s truth slips until we are accepting everything,” Stier posits. “These are tough conversations to have with our young people. And they’re even harder for teenagers to initiate with each other.

“But every concern has the potential to be shaped by God into an opportunity,” Stier states. “Dare 2 Share offers teaching tools to help young people have meaningful conversations online and in person.  It’s crucial for kids to know how to translate everyday chat into a spiritual conversation and to make deeper connections.

“This is where being authentic is key,” Stier emphasizes. “We can’t spout off doctrine as if we have things figured out simply because we attend church. We have to admit our own weaknesses and tell others what Jesus has done in our lives,” he adds.

“My life, my family, my whole future was a wreck until one friend dared to find a way to bring good news to our doorstep. Every Christian has a story about why we desperately need Jesus.  My prayer is that it will make us bold in sharing and being love and grace,” Stier concludes.

Greg Stier is a pastor, husband and father. He resides with his family in Colorado. For more information about Dare 2 Share Ministries and student evangelism resources visit: www.Dare2Share.org and www.Leadthecause.org.