Our youth ministry shuffle

Our youth ministry took another blow this week.   Word trickled back to me that one of our families with young teens has found another church “where there are more kids.”  I’ve been here 4 years this month, and this is at least the fourth time this has happened.  We have never had more than a half-dozen kids at any one time, and they didn’t all come at the same time, so we’re struggling with how a small church creates a youth ministry.

I don’t blame parents with teens for wanting their kids to be in a dynamic youth group.  Debbie and I met at our church youth group when we were young teens.  We didn’t attend a huge church, but our youth group had about 20-25 regulars.  Several high school were represented in the group, so church was a place where we saw kids we didn’t see at school.  Out of our youth group several of us made commitments to full-time vocational ministry.  So, I understand the importance and impact of youth ministry on the lives of kids.

One of the realities of small church is you can’t be all things to all people.  There are some needs we can’t meet.  Right now, youth ministry is one of those.  But, we don’t quit trying.  This Sunday we honor our high school graduates — both of them.  But, for the two kids graduating, this is a big deal to them, and we’re delighted to share in this significant milestone.

While we can’t compete with larger churches, we can still care for the families and kids we have.  That’s our role right now, as we dream of ways to reach families with teens in the future.  How about your youth ministry?  Do you face the same challenges, and if so, how are you addressing them?  I’m sure many small-church pastors and leaders would like to hear your story.

12 thoughts on “Our youth ministry shuffle”

  1. Our problem is a little bit different. We’ve averaged about 10-15 kids on a Wednesday night, but only a handful on Sunday morning (if we were lucky). Our problem is that there are very few parents that come with their kids. The students come on their own. Most are from broken families, so there are some issues related to that. When I’ve met their parents, I’m usually brushed off. They have no desire to come to church, they are just thankful that we are willing to babysit their kid for an hour or two. How do we reach people that really don’t care about spiritual matters?


  2. At my current church we’ve been blessed with many kids…not mega numbers but around 15-20 in high school and 15-20 more in middle school. That hasn’t always been the case. We called an associate pastor for youth and education 4 years ago. We’re big enough to afford that and it has paid off for our youth. We used to have PTers but with a FT staff person it’s really helped. Occasionally someone still leaves but normally that’s made up by someone else joining us.

  3. Tim and Marcus, thanks for your stories! Tim, our church had a similar situation before I came — big Wed night group, but no parental involvement. It eventually dwindled to nothing and our commitment was to reach the whole family. Not as easy as it sounds.

    Marcus, we tried the staff approach, but unfortunately we really couldn’t afford it. We’re exploring the possibility of a community youth ministry with Young Life, but we’re not very far along with that. Anybody else have ideas or experience with youth ministry in a small congregation? -Chuck

  4. I pastor a small church over in Martinsville, VA. My story could be yours and Tim’s. Over the past two years, our Wednesday night emphasis has been on student ministries and I have been the overseer. Until about 8 weeks ago, we were averaging 20 to 30 each Wednesday night. How did they get there? We have a van and go pick them up. They come from a variety of situations and again very little parental involvement. Somewhere in the last 8 weeks, the bottom dropped out and since then we have been lucky to have 10 to 15. Our Sunday morning story is similar as well, just a fraction of those show up. It’s really like I pastor two different congregations.

    We tried the staff thing twice. Once it caused a huge conflict in the church (that was before I was here.) I tried to hire a “youth pastor.” But it’s tough to get someone to relocate for a part time salary. I suppose the right person would work.

    The leadership of our church is still trying to figure out what happened in the last few weeks. It has been an interesting journey though.

    The weekend of Memorial Day we honored both our high school and college graduates in the morning service and then with a lunch afterward. I asked the parents for pictures and made a nice video that we played during lunch and had the video put on a DVD so it could be played at home. It was very well received.

    Tonight we have an schools out picnic. I will lead some worship and then teach a devotional to all ages and then we will have hotdogs, potato chips and ice cream.

    Just some thoughts from another small church pastor on the Southside.

  5. Sure identify, Chuck. 8 years ago, our small church took a step like you did for building a community center. We turned our hearts towards community youth and became a Oneighty affiliate. Oneighty originated as the youth ministry of Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. We created a game room and cafe in our old building. We began with 14. In 6 weeks, we hit 50. In one year, we were running over 100.

    After a couple of years, the Lord opened an opportunity for us to purchase an old vacant grocery store for $50000! We took 2 years to renovate the 21,000 sq. ft. The new facility consists of a 250 seat auditorium; 10000 sq ft of game areas and café including a 3 on 3 dunkball court, hackiesack/ping pong cage; 18 video game stations; Dance Dance Revolution; breakdance performance venue; billiards room.

    Our Oneighty is a county-wide outreach to 7th-12th grade students of Sheboygan County, WI. Most of the teenagers that attend each Wednesday evening don’t attend church here – many don’t attend anywhere.

    The key for us was a huge concentrated commitment and effort of our whole congregation. It’s taken a lot of money but some of the easiest money I’ve raised. Plus the whole community really got behind it. Oneighty changed our church as we turned our hearts toward youth and learned to flex where we could in order to win some. You can get a better look at our site at http://oneighty-wi.com .

    Hopefully our story will be an encouragement to others. I really enjoyed and celebrated your story of the Community Center. It looks amazing – well done!

  6. I don’t think success should be judged by numbers. Too often we want numbers to validate what we are doing. But if we are sharing God’s truth and building relationships with the youth and helping them grow and mature then number won’t reveal that. The youth’s life 20, 30 years down the road will.

  7. First of all, I just discovered your blog and I am loving it. I am a small church pastor and what I have read has been so encouraging and helpful, so thank you. The youth ministry shuffle you describe is spot on with our context. We have about six youth with only three or four who come regularly. We have emphasized building relationships with the youth and youth group well we do not do it. Sunday morning has been good this year. But my wife has started a process of building a youth ministry team that has grown out of prayer and discernment. Its based on Mark Yaconelli’s work, which is detailed at http://www.ymsp.org. We now have 12 adults many of whom we never would have guessed would be interested in youth, praying, learning, growing together and discovering how they can come alongside of the youth in our congregation and within our broader local community. That is about where we are so far, but it is missional to the core and we are excited about what will emerge. Again, thanks for your wisdom and insight.

  8. Dale, thanks for the insight into your youth ministry here in Southside VA. I empathize with your situation, but it sounds like you guys are looking ahead, while evaluating what has worked and what hasn’t. Constant process. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    KR, you guys rock! I checked your site and you’re doing great stuff. Keep it up and I want to follow more closely what you’re doing. I know it took you time to get there, but good work!

    Ross, true numbers are not the only, or most important measure. Sometimes numbers are the easiest thing to look at, however. But, you’re right about the impact we make on one or one hundred — it’s the personal touch that counts.

    Joel, thanks and welcome! I’ve heard of Mark Y, but will check out his stuff more closely. Sounds like you guys are on to something, and I like the idea of building a team of adults. Great work, and keep us posted on how this develops.

    Thanks to everyone who weighed in on youth ministry. My apologies for being slow to respond, but the community center is still wrapping up, but I really do appreciate your comments. Thanks. -Chuck

  9. Those who are in small church ministries have to really physchologically deal with this statement: “There are some needs we can’t meet.”

    Can small town pastor still be okay considering our people pleasing mentality if we cannot be the super hero pastor?

    Yes, you are right Chuck we cannot meet the needs of everyone, but I know for myself, I have a tough time coming to grips with this reality. We are a small church–bottom line.

  10. Our church is fairly small and I teach Sunday School ages 3-5. I have an awesome relationship with the parents of my kids and an awesome connection with the kids. I send each child a post card or note letting the child know we are praying for them and miss them and that Jesus loves them at least once a month if they miss more than 2 sundays in any month. I call the parents every couple months and ask if there is anything I can do for them or if there they have any special prayer needs. I send personal invitations to all activities. I make an effort to know each families situation and pray for them often and communicate with them. I have special chairs for each child in our church who has been a guest or I know is old enough to be in our class. They have their names on them and it helps us remember those kids who are not present or we pray God will provide a way to get there. That way when they do come we jump for joy and say we and your chair have been waiting for you – I am so glad you could join us today. Over the past year I have gone from 1-2 regulars to 6-9 regulars. My prayers are with each of your ministries. Sincerely Humble Servant on Fire for the Lord.

  11. I also would like to know if any of you know of a church who could use Free Sunday School materials. We have been doing major spring cleaning at our church and have found years worth of excess student materials. They are not full sets but for churches with small classes it would be perfect. They are lessons and activities for ages Preschool thru 6th grade. I have them very organized into weekly lessons, grade levels ages 3-5yrs, 1st-3rd grade, and 4-6th grade. There are craft activities, story posters,resources for teachers and lots of student story/song cassette tapes. We would like these to go to a good home where they will bless many. Could any of you use these items?

  12. Tonya i have someone who is a childrens minister that might be interested and i can find out for you.

    I have been to oneighty in Tulsa infact it was my youth group before they moved to the new building they are in. I no longer attend Church on the move because im not in the Tulsa area anymore but i can tell you that it is spiritual. But why do we always have to conform to the stuffy image of religion or the stereotyped version of christianity in hollywood?

    Jesus was cool and if he was hear today starting a church i believe he would use any means to get people. I think to many people are relying upon the old days and thinking that we must not let go of what we have been thought in the past.
    If you do not reach the Youth today and the people of tomorrow the future leaders of tomorrow then your church will be like so many i see around that does not have anyone under 50 in it and each year the church members are shrinking.

    I urge you to check out Church on the MOve and oneighty before saying they are not spiritual. While they cant guarantee what kids will do later in life they can help them right now. But that goes for any church you have no idea what will happen later in life but at least you can lay down good foundations now.
    There is nothing wrong with providing something fun for teens and young people to do. I hated going to church when i was younger because youth group was boring and really did not teach anything or it was hard to understand. You have to put the message into something they understand. NOW im not saying water down the message im saying just put it in a different form put it in something they can understand and relate to.

    I may be in my 30s now but i know i have a daughter who will be growing up and i want her to have something like oneighty to be in. I know many HS kids when i was growing up would have been in church every week if they had someone that cool to be in.

    We are starting a youth center here in the kansas city area soon. My wife and i are wanting to do something not really a youth group as such tied to one church but something where kids can come hang out and have a good time safe enviroment from the street. Most of all they will be around christians and there will be people there to talk to if they need them to and people to pray with.

    We also want to have an auditorium where we can have youth group later on. To start with i dont feel thats what we should be doing. But i think what we can do is get with several churches in the area and they can all help out and maybe they can hold youth services there one night a week.
    I know i enjoy a great praise and worship band and i know others would to. What worked when i was in grade school and middle school wont work for those kids today. They are growing up in an age filled with the world at their fingertips and there is so much to offer them with Wii;s and xboxs and PS3 and computers and the internet and ipods. When i was a kid we thought it was cool to get to just get out of the house for 1 hour a week and have just do something anything besides sit at home in front of the TV.
    Today you have to have good music and i have seen youth groups where they just use prerecorded music for the youth or its one guy on a guitar and someone on a keyboard. No you have to show them something.
    My belief is the games and fancy lights and rocking music wont win them over BUT what it will do is give them something to talk about and they will hear of this cool place to hang out and spread the word to their friends. Then more will come for the games the fellowship and fun THEN what happens is they will be there and hear a great message and then many will turn to God.

    If you want to know more about what we are doing and are interested in supporting the idea or just want to learn more about it to put into your area send me an email jason@techtronicsinc.net and we can talk.

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