Youth ministry is shifting and changing. It is morphing into something it has never been before, and I am not sure any of us know what it will become. We know that there are some students who want to be at youth group anytime the doors are open, and others that seem to fade in and out. We blame over-extended schedules and boredom as the reasons we can’t seem to help students stay connected.
I hung out with a youth pastor friend from another part of the country recently. We had many good conversations on whether or not numbers should matter in our youth groups, especially in summer. It used to be that students went on a short vacation in the summer and then were back looking for things to do. But now, more and more activities are pulling at our students year round. Summer is now seen as the time to perfect your skills in sports, singing, or even academics through special camps, training, and practices.
We can keep complaining about the way students’ schedules are now, or we can start learning some things, change our approach, and start this summer with good perspective.
It’s Not You (or Their Parents)
We like to blame parents for “making their kids” be over-extended. We try to rack our brains for awesome ways to get kids invested. We decide to use Snapchat to go wide with invitations, create more fun activities, and even find ways to be deep, yet there are those who STILL choose other things over our youth group. Unfortunately, it isn’t you or their parents. It’s their activity of choice taking over. Coaches and directors expect every participant to be very serious about their involvement. There are high expectations to show up every day of the summer to practices, camps and lessons to perfect their craft. The day and age of doing things “for fun” are over. So when you ask them to choose youth group, camp, or the trip, your not up against parents as much as you are the coach or director. Please understand, they do love Jesus and probably even your activities. Yet, they know that you will give them grace when they miss out while the sports team coach may not.
Ingenuity Must Prevail
An event or special idea might spark an interest, but a busy student is busy. They can take the time for one night of fun, but if you are looking for consistency you just might have to find ways to go to them. Could you meet before school once a week? Could you do something on the sidelines of the field? What can you do to look into the lives of your students and go to them instead of constantly expecting them to come to you? Summer is the perfect time to try a few new things and see who you might be able to meet at their point of interest.
Raise The Bar
I have a rule that only students who are consistent are allowed to go on trips and camps with me. I want students who want to be involved to get the boost of these special times. Students will meet the expectations you put in place for them. I have found they will not go past the bar, so we are forced to raise the standard. I raise the bar really high, and THEN I HELP students get there. I ask them what we can do to help them be involved. They might need a connecting point, a person or another way to draw them to be part of what we offer.
I remember hearing Francis Chan tell the story of his own youth pastor. He set up a breakfast once a week before school with some guys who wanted a deeper Bible study. If I remember correctly, the youth guy even offered to buy the food. The group started with several high school age boys, and within a few months Chan was the only one left. He attributes much of his spiritual growth to the willingness of a youth pastor to meet him at the time of day he could meet, even when he was the only one to show up.
Maybe this summer is the perfect time to try something new, go to your students, and then don’t be worried if only one shows up. That one might just be the one looking for something more.
What are you doing to go TO students this summer?