You might say the hardest part of ministry is just getting students to show up. I’d say it is more difficult to try to figure out WHY students aren’t showing up.
I want to share with you 5 reasons why students stop showing up and what you can do about it:
1. Everything is predictable: We live in a world that is constantly changing. It’s moving at such a fast pace. Old things are being replaced with new things, and what worked 10 years ago doesn’t work any longer. Church leaders don’t seem to get this. We move at a slower pace, aren’t apt to change, or still take stock in last year’s offerings. The truth is we’ve become boring and predictable…and teens lose interest quick. Action item: Take as much time each week to think through the environment you are creating as you do on the message or program itself.
2. No welcome mat: Teens typically want to know “who” is going to be present before they attend an event or program, right? Now think about the student who doesn’t know anyone. Are you doing everything to make them feel welcome? If your leaders don’t take time to learn someone’s name and give attention to the attendee, they won’t be an attendee for long. Sometimes, we spend too much time talking “at” teens (from the stage) and not enough time talking “with” teens. Let’s face it; no one likes to be ignored. Action item: Learn 3 to 5 names this week (whether current students or guests).
3. Dislike! I visited a church one time and the pastor literally said to me, “If I weren’t the pastor, I would leave this event.” Sometimes, we don’t have to say anything because our face or body language communicate that we dislike our own programs. If we don’t get excited about our own event, we can’t expect students to magically feel the same way. Action item: Focus a little extra time this week planning the one or two elements of your program you most enjoy. Chances are the additional investment in these elements will excite you.
4. No challenge: I’ll never forget a student saying to me a long time ago, “I don’t need (or want) to be entertained at youth group. I want to be challenged.” Even though you might argue that most teens don’t feel this way, I’d respectfully disagree. Students want to “enjoy” youth group, but they want to be challenged. I think we are ministering to a generation of students who want to live out a radical faith…and if we don’t challenge them to do so through our conversations or teaching, they will be more likely to find it elsewhere. Action item: Don’t challenge students to do something you aren’t doing yourself. You must accept the challenge first!
5. The problem isn’t you: Youth pastors get blamed for many things. Sometimes, we put the blame on ourselves. Over the years, I’ve probably been hardest on myself when I thought a student stopped showing up because of me. We must realize that, in many cases, the problem isn’t us to begin with. Sometimes, teenagers don’t show up because of circumstances outside of our control. I’ll offer 3 possibilities here: the student is involved in extra curricular activities and cannot come, they cannot get a ride to church, or my personal favorite, the kid is grounded from church! Action item: Continue to reach out to teenagers who aren’t regularly attending. Students need to know you care about them regardless of whether or not they are present for your program.