Over the ten years I have been at my church, one of the things I have found most frustrating is having to “compete” with kids’ schedules. It seems to be a constant battle against tons of homework, sporting events, the play/musical, pep band, games and AP classes. And that’s just school.
There are family parties on the weekends, clubs sports to attend, and professional sporting events to watch (usually in person – this is Blackhawks and Cubs country after all)!
This all boils down to the fact that some of my students are lucky to make it to church at all, let alone youth group. It got so bad I finally realized I had to concede a loss, but not surrender entirely. So after last season, my team of leaders and I retreated, regrouped, re-evaluated and came up with a very different looking battle plan.
To try to engage students in youth group more, we did the following. This is not an exhaustive list or the ultimate go-to list that must be carbon-copied for all youth groups. But hopefully, you might find something helpful in one or two of the following suggestions.
1. Sunday Nights
We realized that students were much busier during the week and less so on Sunday nights and therefore, moved our meeting nights to Sunday. This made the day much more hectic for me, but overall the response has been good.
This allowed for us to meet a bit longer which was nice since, in years previous, we were always rushing to jam things into the lesson or having to toss ideas altogether due to lack of time.
2. An Intergenerational Meal
This also allowed for us to extend our intergenerational side of things. We asked members (small groups, Bible studies, families or individuals) to serve supper to the youth group. Volunteers would prep the supper, serve and eat with us and then do clean up while we headed to the youth room for our lesson. This has been fantastic as the “family meal” is getting to be less and less practiced in the home. Just eating a meal together has been a great way to connect with kids, encourage a more relaxed feeling and intermingle with other people from our church.
3. Alternative Ministry on Wednesdays
Because we moved to Sundays, this meant Wednesday nights were now free and there were some students (and myself) that still wanted the mid-week interaction with something church-related. So I started what I call “Baker’s Pie n’ Chat. Whoever wants to come meets at Baker’s Square for pie and just to chat for an hour. You would be amazed the stuff you find out about your students once you get a little pie in them. Pie really gets the words flowing unchecked.
As leaders, we like to connect for a bit following each youth group time to talk about the meeting and what might be going on with various students. When we met on Wednesdays, we dismissed pretty late. With everyone needing to get up early for work the next day, I would really move those meetings along and not spend much time on anything. With the move to Sunday, we were able to start meetings earlier. This means we now have more time at the end of our meeting to talk about upcoming events as well as do what I call a “Kid-Check.” And it is working! We have tracked kids, their absences, their issues and their prayers requests so much better simply because we have time to do so.
For years I fought a battle that I couldn’t win – getting kids to choose youth group over anything else. I had to compromise a bit and found that the results were better than I could have hoped for. Instead of combating their schedules, I began to find ways to work with the schedule rather than fighting it. Yes, there are still days and events that sometimes conflict with youth group and yes that still frustrates me. But being open to changing just a few things is what ultimately helped me win a minor battle.
Sarah Vanderaa is currently serving as a full-time youth director in a church located in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is close to wrapping up her tenth year there and is excited to see what year eleven will bring. On her rest days, she can often be found behind a computer writing and updating her blog, while drinking lots and lots of coffee. In between naps, she still finds time to read novels. You can connect with Sarah through her blog at WWW.UNLOCKANDRELEASE.TUMBLR.COM or her Facebook page @UNLOCKANDRELEASE.