Ministry is not a competition
Sports, theater, clubs, part-time jobs, homework… what do these all have in common? Well, for many youth workers, they seem to be our competition. They take students away from our youth ministries; we’re constantly readjusting our schedules in order to get as many students to youth group as possible.
“What if we stopped viewing our student’s schedules as obstacles to navigate and saw them as ministry opportunities?”
What if we, as youth workers, started to think differently about these “competitors”? What if we stopped viewing our student’s schedules as obstacles to navigate and saw them as ministry opportunities?
If your mission, whether you say it out loud or not, is to get students to come to you, then you are not fulfilling all of God’s plan. Christ even called for us as disciples to “Go and make disciples.” Why are we set on making sure students always come to us? The reality is, if your job as a youth worker is only spent in your office, you need to adjust your thinking. You can’t always expect students to come to you, you are called to reach them, which often means going and meeting them where they are.
We need to stop giving them the ultimatum: your events or youth group. So, how do we turn it around? How do we start turning students’ schedules into creative, ministry opportunities?
Go into the school
This is one of the first and biggest ways to navigate the busy schedules. I know this can seem difficult for a youth worker; many schools have strict security or policies in place to prevent visitors on campus. So here are a few other tips to help you get started in this aspect.
- Go to the school(s) around you and contact the person in charge of a parachurch ministry there. If you are having trouble trying to get your foot in the door, talk to someone that may already have their foot in the door. Parachurch ministries are not the enemy—you are all on the same team. If they are in the school, odds are they are trusted by the school and can put in a good word for you.
- Meet with administration. Tell them you’re willing to serve or help in any way you can. Most likely this relationship will take time to develop, but once again, if there is already a parachurch ministry involved, they can put in a good word for you!
Go to students’ events
Instead of fighting their schedules, take time to go see them do what they love! Go to their games. Go to their plays. Go to their mock trials, their dance competitions, or whatever else they may be doing. Show them you don’t just care about them showing up to your events, but that you genuinely care about their lives. Take a little time after the event to say hi and congratulate them (and their parents) or to empathize with them if it didn’t go well.
Don’t forget, you can visit your students at work too. There’s a wide variety of reasons for why a student may get a job, but on just about every level, they’ll be encouraged that someone cared enough to stop in while they were on their shift.
Keep in contact
If you haven’t seen them recently, don’t be afraid to shoot students a text and let them know you missed them at youth group and you’d love to meet them for coffee if they have time. If they don’t have time, just ask how you can pray for them. You can always go a step further and write them a hand-written note. Birthdays, important games or shows, and academic achievements are great reasons to send a note, whether you were there for the event or not.
Keep parents in the loop
Most parents care about their children. If you see them at church without their kids, say hello and ask how their child is doing, but be sure not to shame them for choosing soccer over youth group. When you do that, you are really saying you are more important than anything else. If you see the parents at an event, just say hi to them, let them know you came and ask how they have been doing if you’ve missed any of it. When you hold parent meetings to inform on what is going on in the youth ministry, even if their child hasn’t been coming for a while, still invite them to be kept in the loop, don’t count anyone out!
Train your adult volunteers to do all of the above
This might be the most important one of them all. If you multiply each of these suggestions by the number of students in your ministry, you literally don’t have enough time! This is why you have adult volunteers in the first place, because it is not good for you to do this alone. Make sure your adults don’t feel overwhelmed by all these suggestions, but train and join them in the process and you may see them discover other ways you would have never thought of!
Winning strategies with students aren’t always about getting them to your door, they must involve doing life with them. Your students need to see you genuinely care about them and that you aren’t just trying to “shove the Gospel down their throat.” Just because a student isn’t at youth group doesn’t mean they are not receiving the Gospel or that they don’t want to be there; their lives are incredibly busy. So don’t try and compete with their schedules or make them choose between you and the rest of their lives, but start reaching out in a few ways to show you care.