This week I was reading through posts on Vineyard Youth USA’s facebook page and I came across a discussion that was both challenging and encouraging. I wanted to encapsulate it here. I’ve obtained permission from the commenters, and you can visit the link above to read the discussion as a whole.
The question was posed by Willie Herath (also an author on this site):
Question for Youth Pastors: I spoke with a long time member of our church today. She has two kids that are youth group age, but do not want to go to church/youth group. She wants her kids to get involved, so she asked what can be done. As I think about all of the “core” families that go to our church, there are many in her position. Dozens of kids are in the same place. She sees the youth group growing and sees other kids experiencing/following Jesus, but her kids are not involved. As youth workers, how do we deal with the “lost sheep” that are the kids of “core” families in the church?
Anyone who has been in youth ministry has dealt with these issues. Who is youth group for, teens in the church, or teens outside the church? How do you attract both groups? Should you try? How do you let teens who don’t want to go to youth group, still know you care for them and are there for them? How do you invest in their lives without that regular interaction? Is it even possible?
The community of youth workers on our page had a few suggestions that I’d like to pass along.
GET PARENTS INVOLVED
Leah Pavel had this to say
I find this phenomenon really interesting because my mom told me I was going to youth group. We have some families with the same situation and, honestly, I’m surprised at how many parents simply let their kids opt out. Maybe greater parental encouragement is a key factor?
As a parent of two teens in my own youth group, I totally get where Leah is coming from. If push came to shove, would I “let” my teens not attend youth group? I don’t think so. And you could argue both side of this couldn’t you? On the one hand, its a priority for our family, and its “what we do” – like going to church, or eating healthy. On the other hand, is forcing your teen to go to youth group going to produce the results you hope for, or will it produce a sense of rebellion? Another conributor, Joy Barlean expressed the other side:
I actually kind of love that parents give their teens a choice. This is the point in their life that we really want to see their faith become just that, their faith, not their parents.
What do you think?
INVITE TEENS PERSONALLY AND EXPRESS THEIR VALUE
Joy continues her thought:
So, I like to think about this as a person not going to church, what would get them there? Well, I know people want to be noticed, they want to be valued and they want to be invited. And teens want desperately to be their own person, not their parents child. So, having a conversation with the youth is important…
I have to agree. I have found that when I’m able to make some sort of connection at the inviting stage, the chances of them attending are much greater. For me it is a ‘both-and’ with the parents. I often try to “sell” the parents on the importance and value of youth group (encouraging them to make the sacrifice to get their kids to events). With the teens I try to connect relationally, and find some common threads. When possible I try to be led by the Spirit in speaking to the good I see in the them, and what they could add to the group.
Chelsea Holdridge expanded on this thought:
When as a community we invite people to relationship they respond. My children will only attend youth group when there is food and fun. Why? Because they desire relationship and while they have no idea the relationship that God wants to have with them, they understand relating to others is fun. I think it’s through relationship that we draw people to God.
I think we can all agree that our society is becoming increasingly fragmented. Community is a powerful force in everyone’s lives, that applies to teens. I have found this to be so true: if they feel they don’t have friends there, they WILL NOT COME. How do I get friends there? To be totally honest, I often try to encourage new people to come with a small group. I know this may breed “cliques” but sometimes for that new teen to have a buffer of at least one or two friends is a huge blessing.
ACTIVELY REDUCE OBSTACLES
Jason Patrick continues this thought about community and friends and takes it further:
Some of the hurdles I’ve seen in the past have been: (1) They don’t know anyone there and don’t want to be alone, (2) They don’t know what to expect once they get there, (3) Social anxieties (no one will like me, I won’t make friends etc. BIG ONE). Those are some of the main ones. I go in with the assumption that there’s 1 or 2 obstacles keeping a teen from coming. I try to Identify them and overcome them if possible. Some possible solutions could beL (1) Encourage them to come check it out with a friend. (2) Give them a run down of what to expect with a low pressure invite (social media, text etc.), and (3) let them know that they’ll be welcome, but not forced to do anything. [Also, (4)] train your student leaders to be welcoming and engaging for newer folks.
I love the idea of anticipating and reducing obstacles. As I read these comments my heart was challenged as a youth pastor to really think through our experience again. What does it feel like to be a first time teen? Which teens are having a hard time connecting even after 4-6 times of attending? Can I sit down and talk to them and call the process? Are my teen leaders actively welcoming?
Often when I read articles like this I leave with more questions than answers. Sometimes I walk away feeling discouraged. That’s obviously not the point. The point is, we can all learn from each other’s struggles and solutions. One of the best ways I grow as a pastor, is listening to how other pastors have solved the same issues I’m facing. Because God has given us different gifts, people bring solutions that I literally never would have considered.
So that’s why the last piece of advice from me, is pray. Can we saturate our youth ministry with prayer? Can we teach our leaders and teen leaders to pray? Not only praying on our own and ahead of time, but praying in the meetings. There have been times when we’ve had a chance to pray for a teen – and that produces a connection that nothing else would have. Something deeper happens, and they know they are loved by us and by God. And that brings them back!
What do you have to add? Comment below – and check out the facebook thread to read more!
Thank you to all who contributed to this article!