I’ll never forget my friend Rick telling me about the night students were “fighting” to come to his midweek program! One evening, just before youth group started, he looked outside to see more students than he had ever seen at his church. He quickly thanked God for the gigantic turn-out and then went outside to greet many new faces… That’s when he discovered the sobering reality: One of his students was in conflict with another student at their local high school, and both had shown up to his youth group to “settle the matter”. Apparently a large number of students had come to watch the main event too! Rick tells of how he “settled the matter” with the students in a more Christian way, but yet many of the students stayed for youth group.
As I talked to him about this incident, I will never forget thinking this: How can we get that many students to passionately show up for youth group and bring their friends every week? (Without the fights of course).
In the first few months of the Fall we have seen a big jump in numbers and have actually struggled to keep up with much of the growth we are seeing. If I am honest, I can point to some factors that have helped us grow numerically, but I don’t know that I am wise enough understand the full picture. However, below I mention what I consider to be the greatest factors that have helped us grow in depth and numbers. Caution: This has taken nearly two years of prayer and hard work and there has been no quick fix to create growth…
Pray Earnestly! I know this should be a given, but it’s easy to get into the habit of depending on our skills and programs and forget to partner with the Holy Spirit. We cannot expect great things to happen unless we are depending on the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.
Fixate On Healthy Community: When I use the word “fixate”, I really mean that! Our students will tell you how much we have talked about, taught them, and created activities to build healthy community. We have students from over five different school systems and it is easy to have pockets of students who never get to know each other. If we don’t fixate on building healthy community we will default back for comfort and cliques. Therefore, it’s been imperative to create ice-breakers and activities that get new and established students talking, laughing, and working together. Students begin to realize that they have so much in common with people they did not know before. This in itself helps them to belong!
Listen and Give Ownership: Every year we survey our students to gain insights in a number of ways. It’s imperative that we listen to them! One question we ask them is, “What issues or struggles are students facing that we could talk about and help with?” From this question and ongoing conversations with our students, we gain incredible insights to their world as well as their spiritual and emotional needs. When we create a message series based on these needs you can bet they will show up! Next month we will also being doing a video series called “Slice of Life” where I video interview students about their faith, their struggles, and how God has helped them. We did this series last year and it had a huge impact. It all came from an idea one student gave us… Students show up when their questions are answered, their hurts are healed, and their ideas become reality…
Note: Obviously, we create messages and Bible studies based on what we know they need too. We can’t only respond to their felt needs. There has to be a good balance on “fire-fighting” the issues while also teaching many foundational “fire preventing” topics.
Invested Leaders: In my usual month I have many meetings and conversations with my youth leaders. In fact, I would say that my contact time with leaders has recently been higher than my contact time with students. It’s imperative that I realize how my investment in caring adults will pay off in the way they invest in students lives. I can either choose to be a shallow hero to every student, or I can choose to equip my leaders to become the fully invested youth leaders who make a greater difference on student at a time. Students will show up week after week when they know that a caring adult will be there to listen to their heart, celebrate life with them, and challenge them to grow spiritually.
There are many things I can add to this list, but I feel these are the “big ones” that have impacted our ministry over the last couple of years. What is working for you? What are you working towards? How are you helping students to fight to come to youth group?