I think we have to realize that there are many kinds of situations as to why a student who comes to church but not youth group.
They live further away but attend a youth group near them
Families can travel up to 45 minutes, one way, to come to church which makes bringing their teens to youth near impossible on a weeknight due to work/school issues.
They have outgrown the youth program
It’s possible that a 15-17 year old teen has simply outgrown youth group especially if there’s a high percentage of middle school students who attend. It’s also possible the young person has been homeschooled and has spent most of their lives around adults and has adapted to an older mindset.
The student wants to come, but the parents aren’t keen on it
There are students who desperately would love to come to youth but for some reason, their parents are not bringing them. The parents may have an issue with the programming, the day, the time or even with certain leaders on your team.
Parents are human and can be petty like anyone else but it’s their kid and their rules for better or worse.
The parents want them to come but the student is resistant
The student may be the one putting the brakes on showing up. These students may be shy, have anxiety or insecurities about fitting in. They may have beef with other students that are school related and have nothing to do with the youth program. It could also be that they’re just not spiritually ready.
These teens may be at church because their parents make them come and they have no choice, which means that attending another church service, just for youth, is out of the question.
There are theological/ideological differences
This reason is attributed more to parents than students, although the students may parrot the reasons over time. Parents might feel that youth ministry and separating the family is unbiblical and do not want their kids to participate.
Parents might feel your program is too worldly, too game-y, to strict or doesn’t not line up with their theology.
Kids in your church, who do not show up to youth have reasons, all kinds of possible reasons for not showing up including that they do not connect with you or the students.
If it’s hard for you to imagine why any student would not want to come to your youth program regardless of how many games you play, how bangin’ your worship is, let me say it again, “It ‘s not about you or what you’re building and you should stop taking it as a personal attack.”
If change your goal from, “How do I get them to youth” to “How do I help a willing soul grow in their faith?” or “how can minister this family, when appropriate” then it’s about serving.
If you can set aside your feelings, you may actually put yourself in a better position to minister to that young person and their family.