A Thousand Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Die (And How To Avoid It)

I saw a post on Facebook from a youth worker, and the opening line was

Honestly, we’re not looking to grow our group; we love our kids and are much more interested in quality of program than number of kids.

I sat stunned in silence for a few minutes. Look at the clock and said, “Time of death 2:35 p.m.” But, the time only marked the beginning of a slow death, like being told you have only months to live except this will take years.

The post continued to share about ask why kids were choosing other activities over youth and how to get parents on board with saying yes to you and no to other stuff.

If a youth ministry is not interesting in growing, by default, it is interested in dying. The call to reach out to others is loud and clear and the call to be mediocre does not live in the the mouth of God.

A youth ministry can die a thousand ways, here’s there of them.

Death by disinterest

How long does it take a kid to be become disinterested in a youth program? Almost immediately if there’s no call to something greater than themselves. A kid will stick around until the fun dries up, if fun is the only thing you’re using to get them there and keep them there.

Over the years I have sped up the time line for getting kids involved in leadership much sooner. Leadership, to me, means allowing a kid to serve and develop their gifts as they go rather than to wait until they “ready”. This process has worked good and has kept kids around much longer.

The old adage I live by is, “If you want someone to show up give them a job”

Death by disruption

The forces of attention are alway pulling at us. The magnetic force of sports, plays, video games, homework, etc. have been at work for a long time and have only increased. Youth programs that are not engaging and fulfilling lack the magnetism to draw kids to it.

Our youth group peaked about a year ago. I can’t get any more from them. The disruption came through home schooled kids getting older and they smiley lacked the influence to bring anyone else in. Our church has gone through a similar phase and faces the same issue.

Death by demographics

Maybe you’re like me. You work in a church where 80% of the people are 50 and above are with little chance of younger families or couples coming through your doors. This could be reversed but when people are slow to change atrophy wins.

I have to say, it’s not anyone’s fault that your neighborhood is changing, it is someone’s fault when change is not embraced to meet the needs of a changing community. If the church is not growing and changing neither is the youth ministry or the children’s ministry.

You have to care about the numbers. If the call to evangelism and outreach dies, so does the youth ministry.

I would never ask a kid to come to church simply so “we” could “survive”. To be really honest, in some cases, a youth ministry should die until the right leadership is over the ministry; be it paid or volunteer.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some ideas on how to revive a dying youth ministry. I’ve used these ideas in a few of my youth ministries and had great success but there is no secret sauce, it’s just prayer and hard work.

My hope is that if your youth ministry is on the precipice of decline, my words will inspire you to take hold, hang on, and work hard until you see the breath of life return to your ministry.

Watch  for The Nine Dynamic Ways You Can Revive Your Youth Ministry in coming days.


Is This Youth Pastor Persistent or Delusional?

Think about this youth pastor. His name is Brad, he’s 25 and thinks he could be the next Steven Furtick? Delusional, right? Maybe.

What if he listens to every Furtick message, dresses like Furtick, uses social like Furtick and baptizes a 1,000 people a day? Is he Furtick? Nope. Is he closer to being being Furtick than most? Sure. His persistence has paid off. His skills brought him nearer to his goals.

But what about a young lady named Beth who’s a youth pastor of 12 kids. The church is around 125 with an average age of 50 in a run down area of a big city. She has dreams. She doesn’t want to be the next anything. She just wants to reach teenagers with the gospel and grow the youth ministry and make disciples.

She been there for eight years and has seen zero growth. She’s had a few good events, lots of kids cycling through, but, overall the ministry hasn’t experienced sustained growth and neither has the church. She’s been persistent, worked hard, but the ministry has remained stagnant. Should she persist or is she delusional, believing that something could happen in a place where nothing is happening?

Now, I know what your thinking. “But God can do anything”. He sure can. Then why doesn’t He? Why don’t all youth ministries grow? Are we not following the right formula? The same gospel is preached. Youth workers (volunteer and bi-vocational mostly) are working hard and doing all they can, to know avail.

That’s the thing. Persistence can turn into delusion and we don’t even know it. We soldier on, believing if we change the way we play games, the videos we use, and adjust our preaching  it will work and yet, nothing.

“But if they would just..” Yeah, I’ve said that. Some of this advice is true and would work if implemented on a small scale.

I’m just wondering how many good youth workers are working persistently to attain results that are never going to come and how many youth workers have figured out their delusion, bailed and experienced unbelievable relief.

God can do anything. That doesn’t mean he will, no matter how hard we pray, work, fast, tithe, or worship. Sometimes we have to accept that our effort is just not good enough, and move on.

Is this what Jesus meant by shaking the dust from your feet? “Stop being delusional and move on. They will never accept what you are offering.”

So, is it is easier these days to become Steven Furtick or grow a youth ministry?

What do you think, what’s the difference between persistence and delusion?

How To Double Your Youth Group Attendance In One Year

If you are planning on on being at your church for only a year, then doubling it should be easy, but you have to hurry.

Throw lot’s of party’s and events.

Games, more games,  and game nights.

Keep your messages to ten minutes tops.

Do not challenge anyone to serve or lead.

Give away lots of expensive stuff.

Crank up the hype machine.

Don’t mention the cross or following Jesus.

Don’t talk about giving, sacrifice, or surrender.

Have a hot band with shallow worship songs and a worship leader that just wants to be seen.

Make sure you take lots of selfies with the latest whatever and whoever.

At the end of the year, thank them for showing up to all the cool stuff and avoiding Sunday school, Small Group, prayer times, revivals and anything that remotely looks like commitment.

Pack your car and head out.

Sarcastic rant ended.

Granted, a youth group can double in a year minus some of these tactics. Demographics, church culture, and honest moves of God can all play a part, but why the rush to grow?

You want the real secret to growing your youth ministry?

You ready? Here it is. Patience.

If you’re planning on being at your your church for more than three years you have plenty of time to grow numerically. Until then do this

Love kids.

Show up to their stuff.

Build a foundation of identity and community.

Build a reputation of reliability, faithfulness, and godliness.

Serve the whole church.

Teach and preach scripture with passion.

Love and serve families.

Call kids to follow Jesus, not you.

Encourage small groups and small encounters.

Make Jesus the focus of your worship.


Love kids.

Everything else is a tactic.

Want to draw a crowd? Tactics will do.

Want to make disciples? Patience is the key.

Watch me break it down  below

7 Questions You Must Answer Before Your Youth Ministry Will Grow

 7 Question Grow

Seth Godin’s post give 7 questions anyone should follow if they are interested in reaching the people in their neighborhood. Some people want to reach people in  their neighborhood with a product, a promotion, an event, or a service. I and my youth ministry want to reach kids in our neighborhood with the gospel of Jesus Christ (my guess is yours does too) and in order to do that I have to be honest about these 7 questions.

Every marketing challenge revolves around these questions

WHO are you trying to reach? (If the answer is ‘everyone’, start over.)

In our case, we look at attracting middle class kids in High School and have been successful. I don’t know if it’s as intentional as we’d like it to be but that is what the programming is attracting so we stick with it. In the spring we divided up and sought to draw middle school students with  separate program and it got mixed results so we’ll be more intentional in the fall. Considering we have a bunch of students who are home schooled we are doing better than average.

HOW will they become aware of what you have to offer?

We use Instagram and FB quite a bit. Not a lot of Twitter users in our group. We have some students who are good at posting and sharing their youth ministry experiences and that’s a plus.

I will be volunteering this year at our High School to simply be a presence not necessarily to promote  but I’m sure conversations may lead to that.

I take a lot of video of our YM and share it often.

I engage with my students on Social Media and their friends see that.

WHAT story are you telling/living/spreading?

The main story: God loves you and is calling you to know Him through His Son Jesus Christ. In Christ there is peace, joy, love, hope, and purpose.

The sub-plot: You have God Given gifts, abilities and talents, us them to give others a a peek  at God’s kingdom here on earth.

DOES that story resonate with the worldview these people already have? (What do they believe? What do they want?)

Yes. Most, if not all, people want to know why they are walking around on planet earth and no one more so than the American teenager. Most people in our town want to find hope when they’re desperate, love when they feel cold. and kindness when they feel mistreated. All of these are found in a community called The Church.

WHERE is the fear that prevents action?

My fear is the fear of standing alone with my dream. That if I take the lead into uncharted territory no one will follow, save God.

WHEN do you expect people to take action? If the answer is ‘now’, what keeps people from saying, ‘later’?

We don’t program a ton. We keep things pretty simple. We ask kids to come to what they are available for and not to everything all at once.

I keep things relevant but biblical.

I don’t try to be everyone’s friend so I can be their Pastor.

I keep thing moving along. Boredom = Death.

WHY? What will these people tell their friends?

We believe kids don’t just listen to sermons we believe they can experience God in every service. Thankfully no one is going around bragging on my sermon but they are going around bragging on how they felt loved and how God touched their hearts.

Here’s a sample: This student posted about her one year anniversary with us

So around this time last year Jenny (name change) invited me to come to her church because she was leading worship that night, and I didn’t want to miss service at the church I was going to but I thought “it’s just one night, what the heck” so I went for that one night and haven’t missed a service since then! This year was one of the hardest years yet but this youth group has been there for me and supported me through it all and have become my family. At this church I have made many lifelong friendships and seen God move more than ever before and I am so blessed to be a part of such an amazing youth group! I love you all and I look forward to many more years with you guys!

Nothing about how I made her feel but everything about how the group made her feel and what God has done and is doing in her life #Winning.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I have to ask these questions, pray hard, get wisdom, make hard choices and execute on what I think the right move is. Comments like the one above is a combinations of hard work and God’s grace (with emphasis on the latter).

The good news for you is that comments like these are waiting (if you haven’t gotten them already)  to be posted about your youth ministry and the work God is doing in you and through you and your kids.

Need help answering these questions? Feel free to leave your questions below or click here to check out my Real Time Coaching Package to go deeper.

Your Turn

Which question is hardest for you to answer? Easiest?

Which question is hardest to execute on?

Other Resources About Story

A good article from Youth Specialties on the Power of Story

Your Youth Meeting Is Another Opportunity To Tell A Great Story

The Story That Wins

What’s Your Story?



Four Week Youth Outreach: The Hunger And Thirst Games


I have recently finished putting together the four week series The Hunger and Thirst Games for public consumption. The four week outreach will help draw new kids to your youth ministry and connect Christ and culture to reach kids where they are at.

I will be adding a few nuggets to make the outreach even better, because hindsight is 20/20 right? I usually think of different or even better ideas to use the material after it is finished. If you use the material or just read it and come up with some other ideas, just post them here.

You can purchase The Hunger Games Outreach HERE .