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Unread 02-25-2013, 08:58 PM   #1
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Dying youth group?

Hi guys! I'm new here, but I was wondering if anyone has some advice about a struggle I'm dealing with in my life right now. I'm a member of a youth group at my church and have been for many years; I'm also active in many youth activities throughout my diocese. However, no matter what I do, I can't seem to help the fact that my youth group is dying. There are 20-30 people there almost every Sunday, but from having spoken to the parents of these kids, it's pretty clear that most of them are simply there because they're being "strongly encouraged" to attend by their parents.

I'm just wondering if anyone has some tips on how I can help reignite the fire. I currently am in charge of leading worship, and most days I end up leading by myself with just vocals and guitar because I can't seem to find any other youth interested in playing with me or participating in music ministry. At other diocese activities I attend, everyone is always active in worship, jumping around, and doing the motions to songs, but at my youth group, nothing I do can seem to get them fired up to worship Christ.

Our parish is strong as a whole, but youth is a big weakness and it's something that really concerns me. Most of the kids currently attending are there for the Confirmation class, but I'm afraid that once it ends, many of them will stop attending (as occurs almost every year). There are only 3 youth, myself included, who are in high school.

I know that this problem is much bigger than I am, and many people would probably be inclined to say I should leave it in the hands of our youth group's leadership and staff, but honestly, our staff aren't terribly consistent right now and most of the kids don't seem to respect them/connect with them that well. I'm trying to spend a lot of time in prayer focusing on this dilemma, but if there is any additional advice that any of y'all have, it would really mean so much to me!

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Unread 02-25-2013, 11:02 PM   #2
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How many people actually attend your typical church services?
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Unread 02-26-2013, 09:28 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by unashamed_love View Post
Our parish is strong as a whole, but youth is a big weakness and it's something that really concerns me. Most of the kids currently attending are there for the Confirmation class, but I'm afraid that once it ends, many of them will stop attending (as occurs almost every year). There are only 3 youth, myself included, who are in high school.

I know that this problem is much bigger than I am, and many people would probably be inclined to say I should leave it in the hands of our youth group's leadership and staff, but honestly, our staff aren't terribly consistent right now and most of the kids don't seem to respect them/connect with them that well. I'm trying to spend a lot of time in prayer focusing on this dilemma, but if there is any additional advice that any of y'all have, it would really mean so much to me
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This is the problem. It's not something you can fix on your own. Talk to the leadership and ask them if you can help. Offer to do whatever they want. But it's ultimately up to the leadership to decide on the course. Prayer is essential throughout this period. You are learning a valuable lesson in church leadership right now. Just make sure you don't internalize the failure because it's much bigger than one person.
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Unread 02-26-2013, 09:34 AM   #4
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I would say talk to your parents first. Maybe if they recognize a problem they can convince the youth group leadership to tackle some of the issues.

I would also echo what jeepnstein said, you cannot force the other youth to worship or grow in Christ. If the leadership and staff are giving the opportunities and encouraging people to attend, that is about as far as you can go. You cannot force anyone to attend. Prayer is going to be your best solution to the problem. You could also try encouraging the other youth yourself.
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Unread 02-26-2013, 05:11 PM   #5
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I've been a youth pastor the last 4 years, and I've been working with teenagers for the last 9 years. So this is my field and I like to write long answers...so I apologize if i get long winded. But feel free to ask lots of questions because I enjoy answering questions.



I don't overly simplify things, but the majority of teenagers reasons for attending a youth service fall into one of the following categories:

(1) They're looking to grow spiritually
(2) They feel obligated and/or they know it's a good thing to do
(3) They're being dragged by someone
(4) Someone invited them
(5) They find the environment fun and enjoyable
(6) They enjoy the community

Most people are mix of several of these, and their reasons for attending any given week may swap some of these out.



Without actually seeing your group and or knowing more about it, I can't diagnosis how to solve your problem. But I can make some quick observations based off what you've said.
  • It doesn't sound like there's much much community in your youth group. Building community can take a very long time and intentional effort.
  • No high schooler wants to go to an event where the ration of middle school to high schoolers is 10:1.
  • If the ratio really is 10:1, the teachers and people programming things are almost certainly catering to middle schoolers. If they are, most high schoolers will feel either the programing (if they're more shallow) or teaching (if they're more spiritual is beneath where they're at). If they aren't catering to middle schoolers, then it's no wonder no one wants to be there. It's not targeted towards the people who are there.
  • Unless you have control of everything which is happening (programming, worship, teaching) as well as the other things going on in the youth ministry, it's very unlikely you will be able to fix this problem. No tweak will be enough.


CAN YOU ELABORATE MORE ON WHAT YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY LOOKS LIKE (what are all the programs, what do the programs entail, what is the adult involvement)?



MY STORY AT MY CHURCH

I've been on staff at my church 4 years as a full-time pastor (and I was around 6 months before that part time). I would say we didn't start to have a healthy youth group culture until 2 years ago.

When we start the current form of our high school ministry (4 years ago when I started), only 10 kids showed up, but within 5 months we had a month where we averaged over 60 kids. And over the next year we continued to average 40 to 60 students. On the surface that may seem like I really knew how to grow a ministry, but in reality I'd just grown the attendance of a service. While our attendance multiplied five times over, we didn't add any new mid-week small groups.

People were coming because I was doing crazy stuff each week (which I knew how to promote) and they enjoyed our band and my teaching. People weren't connecting with each other or digging deeper into spiritual things. They were just attending a fun service which was entirely focused on what was happening on the stage.

Eventually I started to run out of crazy ideas and most of our band went off to college or joined the military. So the crowd of people drawn to see our antics started to fade away. Eventually we lost our meeting space for a couple of months and we had to meet in a home. Through all of this our attendance dropped down to 15. In the course of a year and a half I'd grown a ministry from 10 to 60 and then shrunk it back down to 15.

But through all of this I realized the changes I had to make. While only 15 people attended our high school gathering, we had over 15 student signed up for discipleship groups. When we got a new meeting space, we restructured to emphasize discussion groups and students interacting. Then over the next Summer we did a series of fun events and service events geared towards growing the culture of our youth group. Whereas before we had a gathering lots of people showed up to, now we have an actually student culture and community.

As of right now we probably average 30 students at high school gathering (usually 2 to 5 guests any given week), but we also have 30 students in discipleship groups. We took about 30 high school students on our recent retreat. I expect about 30 to sign up to help lead our summer kids Bible clubs. Students that come get connected to other students, to our youth leaders, and are challenged to grow personally.


FINAL THOUGHTS

All that to say, I can tell you some ideas for how to draw crowds which will probably be at least partially successful for a little while. However, it takes a lot more than ideas for how to get kids into the worship or have more fun to grow a healthy youth group. More importantly to make a big impact on the culture of your youth group, it requires a culture which builds that community.
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Unread 02-26-2013, 07:48 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by thesteve View Post
How many people actually attend your typical church services?
Our church has somewhere around 4-5 different church service times that they offer. I only typically attend the 11 am service, which is the most popular. I would estimate that about 150-200 people attend it, but I can't account for the other services throughout the day.

However, there are many youth who attend the service but do not come to Sunday school beforehand. It's not that the kids aren't coming... many just consistently skip Sunday school and attend the service alone.


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Originally Posted by jeepnstein View Post
This is the problem. It's not something you can fix on your own. Talk to the leadership and ask them if you can help. Offer to do whatever they want. But it's ultimately up to the leadership to decide on the course. Prayer is essential throughout this period. You are learning a valuable lesson in church leadership right now. Just make sure you don't internalize the failure because it's much bigger than one person.
Thanks so much for your advice! I know it's not something that I can do by myself, but at the same time, I really feel like God is calling me to do something about this. I've spoken with the youth leadership numerous times. My parish priest is on board with me, but there's currently no one who's really "in charge" of our youth ministry program, so I'm not sure where I should turn. My dad is also on our church's vestry, and my mom is on our youth ministry committee. They see the problems, and I know they'll be helping me solve them. Through all this, I will definitely be praying... it's just a frustration because in the past several years of my life, I've seen youth director after youth director, and I've seen our youth program decline from something powerful in earlier years to something that seems to be falling apart.


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Originally Posted by bravesfan007 View Post
I would say talk to your parents first. Maybe if they recognize a problem they can convince the youth group leadership to tackle some of the issues.

I would also echo what jeepnstein said, you cannot force the other youth to worship or grow in Christ. If the leadership and staff are giving the opportunities and encouraging people to attend, that is about as far as you can go. You cannot force anyone to attend. Prayer is going to be your best solution to the problem. You could also try encouraging the other youth yourself.
Yeah, I've talked to my parents about this. They definitely see the issues at hand, and they also have tried to talk to the youth group leadership, but many of their suggestions and comments have been pretty much ignored. The leadership and staff right now seem really discouraged with the whole situation; other than weekly Sunday school, they've pretty much stopped putting together events. If they do hold events, they announce them so late that very few kids can attend.

Talking to the other youth myself is definitely a good idea, and I'll try to do that, in addition to spending a lot of time in prayer. Thank you
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Unread 02-26-2013, 08:07 PM   #7
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Sean, thank you so much for taking the time to give me such a thoughtful response - don't worry about the length, I don't mind at all! Your suggestions and thoughts are completely welcome and appreciated, especially since you clearly have a lot of experience in this field. I'm glad you love to answer questions, because I certainly have plenty!

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Originally Posted by Sean View Post
(1) They're looking to grow spiritually
(2) They feel obligated and/or they know it's a good thing to do
(3) They're being dragged by someone
(4) Someone invited them
(5) They find the environment fun and enjoyable
(6) They enjoy the community
I would say that's a pretty accurate summary of the incentives that drive most youth. Unfortunately, I think my youth group is driven primarily by people that acknowledge reasons 2 and 3 mostly. Rather than allowing their children to choose faith themselves, many parents seem to have pressured their kids to attend the weekly services. However, as I mentioned earlier, once the Confirmation class is over, I expect that many of these kids will siphon off. I mean no judgment here, but I can just tell that many of them don't have the inner spiritual motivation to form a relationship with Christ as much as the outer motivation that comes from their parents.


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Originally Posted by Sean View Post
  • It doesn't sound like there's much much community in your youth group. Building community can take a very long time and intentional effort.
This is a very true observation. When I was younger, I always knew that the older kids had that kind of a community, and I looked forward to being a part of it. However, several changes in youth leadership and a large split in our church a couple of years ago have pretty much caused a lot of that sense of overall community to evaporate. Many of the kids who attend Sunday school/the confirmands are kids whom I rarely have seen at church in the past, and who don't seem to have that many ties to the church community other than friendships among themselves.


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Originally Posted by Sean View Post
  • No high schooler wants to go to an event where the ration of middle school to high schoolers is 10:1.
This is also very true. The youth leadership made a pretty controversial decision to mix high schoolers with middle schoolers during this Confirmation season in an effort to make the confirmands feel more welcome and like a larger part of the youth community. However, in this process, much of the high schoolers have fallen away. Our youth leadership complains regularly about the lack of high schoolers taking responsibility and leadership roles, yet fails to open up any doors for youth to actually self-lead.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean View Post
  • If the ratio really is 10:1, the teachers and people programming things are almost certainly catering to middle schoolers. If they are, most high schoolers will feel either the programing (if they're more shallow) or teaching (if they're more spiritual is beneath where they're at). If they aren't catering to middle schoolers, then it's no wonder no one wants to be there. It's not targeted towards the people who are there.
The teachers seem to be trying to do an awkward mix of these things. However, what I've noticed is that in doing so, the programming fails to fully address either high schoolers or middle schoolers. The lessons are relevant, but I notice many of the middle schoolers having difficulty paying attention. The high schoolers whom we do have are interested in their faith, but I have to put in a lot of effort getting my fellow high schoolers to help serve as leaders and set good examples for middle schoolers (for example, by getting into the worship songs and showing them that worship is more than just mouthing the words, but actually forming a connection with God).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean View Post
  • Unless you have control of everything which is happening (programming, worship, teaching) as well as the other things going on in the youth ministry, it's very unlikely you will be able to fix this problem. No tweak will be enough.
I actually do have a fair amount of control/influence. Not all the decisions are mine to make, but I know that by speaking to people, I could probably help make a few changes. I have complete control over the worship sector of our services right now, and I'm looking for a few other kids to help form a band with me, but I can't seem to find others who are either musically talented or confident enough to serve in this way.

However, my youth group is small enough and I've been a member long enough that I'm completely comfortable saying I do have an influence. Our youth leadership is struggling, but they spend more time worrying about the problems than seeking a solution. My mom is on the youth ministry committee, and my dad is on the church's vestry, so if necessary, I could also have them help me pursue avenues for change.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean View Post
CAN YOU ELABORATE MORE ON WHAT YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY LOOKS LIKE (what are all the programs, what do the programs entail, what is the adult involvement)?
In the past, our youth ministry has been much more active than it currently is. Right now, youth attend Sunday school classes weekly. Both high and middle schoolers going through the Alpha program (not sure if you're familiar with it) in lieu of a traditional Confirmation program. Every Sunday, youth arrive, visit for a few minutes, and then we sing a few songs (usually 2, because our youth leaders tend to allow too much time for visiting). After that, a different leader each week teaches a lesson. Then youth split up into small groups based on age and gender to discuss questions relating to the topic at hand.

In the past, programs also included Wednesday night youth programs. We're also responsible for a monthly service project which our youth minister usually chooses and then notifies us of only a few short days before, by which point it's too late for many kids to attend.

One of my frustrations with our youth program is also that we have so many diocesan events at our fingertips. Alone out of my youth group, I regularly participate in diocese-wide youth events, but when I try to encourage them to my youth ministers or the other kids, I'm told that events like that tear kids away from their individual churches. However, I believe that one's faith is far more important than one's allegiance to a given church, and I still manage to attend church very regularly even though I attend many diocesan events. These events and seeing the power of youth in the church community have strengthened my faith immensely and instilled in me a much greater desire to come to church weekly, so I don't really see the case our youth leaders are making.

Also, one of the weaknesses of our youth group (in my opinion) is its failure to recognize the strengths and capabilities of individual youth. Youth members are offered few opportunities to actually take leadership roles in the program (for example, giving testimonials about their high school faith experiences to the younger kids would be really effective). I personally think that could use a lot of improvement.


Thank you so much for all of your advice and ideas! Your story is incredible, and I would certainly love to hear some of your tools to draw crowds, although I know that doesn't guarantee spiritual commitment or growth. I really do appreciate that you took the time to reply to this so completely and thoughtfully.

Thanks,
Susannah
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Unread 07-11-2014, 04:33 PM   #8
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Ill say this as simple encouragement.
I am the youth leader in my little church which averages about 30 people altogether. The youth is maybe 7 kids of all ages counting my 3 kids. We strive to teach love and all of Gods ways but keep it fun also. I challenge my kids to invite other kids and really put themselves out there for the glory of God. We just trust in God's timing and wait patiently for the flood gates to open. So all in all be patient and wait on God to move and remember that we go to church to learn more about our savior and to be around like minded individuals regardless of thier age. Maybe you can ask the elders to set up a youth rally and invite the entire school, town or city to be a part of Gods grwat journey.
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