A couple of weeks ago, I was at a gathering of youth workers from smaller churches. We were having a discussion about issues that specifically relate to ministry in a smaller setting, and the issue that much of the group seemed to be struggling with is what to do when only one or two students show up. While many of us have never struggled with this problem, for those serving in smaller settings with groups of five to ten students, there may be weeks when almost all of your handful of teenagers have something going on. So what do you do when you’ve planned for ten and you get two? Or if you’ve planned for six and you get one?
First of all, there are few more deflating things for youth workers in any size church than planning an event—or even a weekly meeting—and having fewer students than you planned for. All that planning, time, and money can just kind of feel as if it’s going to waste. Also, if you’re working through something like a multi-part series that you want all your students to benefit from, you really want to make sure all your students are there. There are numerous reasons why almost no one showing up can be deflating, but we’ve got to press on through those moments. And there are definitely some things we can do to make sure those weeks of only one or two students will be fruitful and maybe even uplifting for us, too!
- Use the great relational opportunity God has placed in front of you.
It may not seem like it, but when only one or two teens show up, God’s just given you a really neat opportunity that youth workers in larger churches rarely get. You have the opportunity for some great one-on-one time with students—take advantage of it!
- Make plans that can be effective even if the whole group doesn’t show up.
Small-church youth workers have to be particularly adaptable. You’ve got to be able to make plans that’ll work no matter the group size. So, pick games that will work as well with two students as they will with eight. Create back-up plans so you can accommodate the fluctuating size of your group.
- Keep the quality high no matter who shows up.
When only a couple of kids show up, there’s always going to be a temptation to just phone it in—especially if you’re feeling discouraged. Avoid that temptation. Make sure that even if only one or two teens show up, you’ve put everything you can into making that event or youth meeting the best one they’ve ever been to.
- Stick with your long-term plans.
If you’re working through a multi-part study or have set long-range goals, don’t sacrifice them just because a few students are missing. If you jump ship on your plans with the students who do show up, you run the risk of making them feel less valuable than the kids who aren’t there. So keep your long-range goals intact, and keep working through your long-term plan. God knew who was going to be there when you prayed through that plan in the first place.
- Whatever happens, don’t forget that God has called you to wherever He has you.
It’s common—especially in small church ministry and especially after a down week—to start to question your calling. You’ll start to wonder if you’re really cut out for youth ministry or if you’re doing something wrong. But, especially after the down weeks when almost no one shows up, don’t forget that God called you to where He has you. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it, and even through those down weeks, God has called you there for a purpose.
It may be years before you know the impact that one-on-one Wednesday evening had on that student. But it’s those times when our plans fall through and we feel deflated that God often shows up and uses us in ways we never expected. Stay the course. Remember who called you. He may be doing things right in front of you that you won’t want to miss . . . even when almost no one shows up!
MATT LARKIN serves as the Coordinator of Student & Kids’ Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (WWW.ACGC.US). In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students all around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MATTWLARKIN.