You keep calling that one student who used to be very active to come back to youth, but every time you call they tell you they’ve been busy. Yes, they’re busy, they’re busy in another youth group that values them. To the other group they’re not just a number, they’re part of a bigger picture actively using their God-given gifts to build that community.
This may not be your story, but for many youth pastors it is.
If you want to not only keep the students you have but attract even more, let me offer you five ways to value your students.
Listen to Them
Your students have opinions and ideas about youth group. They may not always be right, but their opinions are worth listening to. Listening gives you insight into a problem you did not know exist or gives you an idea to improve what you’re already doing. Listening is not weakness. Listening is not a judgement on your leadership. Listening communicates value to a student who cared enough to bring their ideas, or even a complaint to you. It shows that they care and you care back by actively listening and thanking them for sharing with you.
Instead of looking for praise for all the hard work you do, share that “power” and responsibility with your students. I think of the parable of the vineyard where it says,
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
There are students who are just “standing around in your ministry, and if you stand around too long, someone else will empower them to do the work. Give them roles, responsibilities and leadership and you will keep students longer and build deeper relationships with them.
Jesus said, in regards to the disciple going out and staying at people’s homes, “for the laborer is worthy of his hire.” In other words, if you’re doing the work, you should be properly compensated. I’m not saying you should pay students, I am saying you should reward and recognize their efforts.
In one group I served, I had an awards dinner where I recognized students efforts with a handmade trophy. Other times I would pay for kids camps or take them on special trips with me to a conference or just take them out to eat. I never regretted rewarding the behavior I wanted them to repeat.
Whenever I found out about a kids hobby, I would ask them about it, I wanted them to explain it to me or show me how to do it. Why? Because, if they are that passionate about it, I wanted to share in it with them, to a degree. I wanted them to know I was interested in what they were interested in, even if nobody else was.
Asking to join a student in their hobby/skill is an opportunity to learn and build relationships. You are always asking students to come this and that so why not ask them if you could come to their debate meeting, sporting event or join in on their hobby.
Youth ministry should not be a place where students come to sit and listen, but to come and learn. I wanted students to say 10 years from now, “I learned that at youth group”. I wanted students to learn how to run the sound board, make graphics, speak in public, how to run a meeting, etc.
In teaching and equipping I was hoping to spark something in them that might be a life long love or even a career. The teenage years are a time of tasting and I wanted to offer a buffet of opportunities for them to try. I wanted to honor their curiosity.
The fact is, people go where they’re celebrated not where they’re tolerated and if you do not value your students someone else will.
If you need help in reaching and retaining students in your youth ministry, check out my coaching program. I want to help you build a successful youth ministry.
If you gained some value from today’s article, you can support my work of training the next generation of youth pastors here