Here’s the scene: You’ve spent the past few hours (maybe several hours) getting ready for students to show up at youth group. The sermons pretty much good to go, volunteers are showing up, pre-service music is going, and you just found a new game you’re really excited to play with your students. You notice that time has gotten away from you and there’s only 30 minutes left till your scheduled start time but… no students have showed up yet. You check your phone and social media to see if anyone has commented or text you…nothing. Ten minutes. Five minutes. No one shows.
This scene is one that all of us reading these words have probably been experienced. We’ve all felt that panic run through our minds (and our hearts) of realizing that all of our work we’ve done in preparing is going to be pointless for tonight because only two students show up; or worse… no one shows up.
If you are anything like me, it’s at this point that I go down the rabbit hole of feelings of inadequacy, failure, doubt, and disappointment. Even worse, the next day when people ask us “how did youth group go last night” cough…cough… senior pastor…. we have to look at them and tell them that no one showed up.
So if you have found yourself in this spot, you’ve probably asked yourself this question: What do I do when “no one” shows up for youth group? In my 15 years of doing ministry, I’ve asked myself that question many times (unfortunately). If you’re just starting out in youth ministry or been at this for awhile; you’re still gonna have these moments. I wanted to offer up the classic list of 4 things to think about when this happens to you. These 4 thoughts are ones that I have come to find very valuable in my years of ministry.
One night’s attendance shouldn’t dictate how we feel.
The easiest thing for us to do is to connect our temporary setbacks and apply them to our long term worth. However, we couldn’t be more wrong when we do this. For many years, my wife could tell how many kids were at our programming simply by how my attitude was when I got home. When I would have a “no show” night I’d have a terrible attitude and start looking for a new job. When we had a “record night” I was on cloud nine and would start dreaming about a new youth center! Regardless of the number students that show up on our youth group night, we cant let attendance numbers dictate how we do our job or influence how we walk out the calling God has placed on our life.
It’s time to evaluate.
If you find yourself in a spot where you have low attendance on a regular basis, it’s time to evaluate your programming. There is a well of resources to help you evaluate and help dial in what you need to be doing to reach students. There are facebook groups, youth ministry organizations, and other online resources to help with this. Don’t forget to ask your students about what changes might need to be made to be more effective as a ministry. Ruthless evaluation is a really effective way to be the best that we can be.
Be realistic about students’ schedules.
If there is a choir concert, two home games, a huge field trip, or a break from school; you’re going to have fewer kids show up. It’s how life works. As much as we want to fight it and complain about it, school schedules take priority over church schedules in most families. It goes a long way to know about times in the school year that you should expect lower numbers or that you might just be better off canceling youth group. Students are busier than ever and so are families. Factoring in their schedules when you plan events and programs is only going to help you win.
Think outside the box to do ministry.
When I started to factor in students schedules in my ministry, it opened my eyes to how I might be able to do ministry in a different context. I once had a Wednesday night when three sports were all having home games at the same time! I knew no one was going be at our youth group that night. So I decided to change up my ministry that night so that I wouldn’t have to face one of those “no show” nights. We took youth group to them. We arranged all of our students to be “superfans” for the night. All of us showed up in superhero gear and we roamed the school area cheering like crazy people at all of the events that were happening. It was a great success.
Ultimately, each of us are going to have different situations we will have to navigate; the number of students that show up will always be a battle we have to fight. Hopefully, one of these four ideas can be a help as you seek to serve the students in your group.
Jeremy Clark is a high school and college pastor at a church in Ohio. He has served in ministry for 15 years in several different contexts. His Nicki is the best thing to happen to him besides Jesus. He is a big fan of his dog Teddy, sports, music, and Marvel films.