student ministry, growing students, how to do discipleship, reaching hard to reach students

Moving Students From Crowd to Core

By Jeremy Hetzel March 8, 2017

Back in my early days of being a youth pastor, I encountered Duffy Robbins “Funnel of Programing.” (You can read about this idea in his book, Youth Ministry that Works.) Robbins explains that the task of a student ministry is to help students move down an intentionally developed funnel from disengaged to disciple, but this is no small task. Only with the right combination of meaningful relationships and balanced programming will we see students move from crowd to core.

Using Robbins’ tool, our volunteer leadership team recently evaluated the health and balance of our youth ministry. It helped us determine where we are, where we want to go, and how we plan to get there, and it may help you do the same.

Where we are

We found that most of our students currently fit into one of these four groups:

  1. Far Out — Students who are “Far Out” are not currently connected to our student ministry. They may be friends of our students, or their family may have attended our Sunday morning worship service once or twice.
  2. Fringe — Students on the “Fringe” are students who (1) are involved in our church but not student ministry or (2) have been engaged student ministry in the past but are not currently involved.
  3. Frequent — Students who are “Frequent” participate regularly (minimum once a month) in student ministry activities.
  4. Fully Engaged — Students who are “Fully Engaged” are students who come to many (or most) of our activities. They are fully bought in and are excited about growing as disciples and leaders.

Where we want to go

It’s our goal to see students move from Far Out to Fully Engaged, but we recognize that students’ movement may not always be linear. Both your experience and mine tells us that students tend to move backward and forward. Maybe a student broke up with their girlfriend. Perhaps they got a job or got busy with other extra-curricular activities. Maybe all their friends graduated, and they were left behind. Regardless, we want to be at a place in our ministry where we have developed ways to move students at each of these four stages forward.

How we plan to get there

With this in mind, we began to evaluate our weekly programs and their effectiveness in moving students down the funnel. We realized that most of our weekly activities were geared toward the kids who were Frequent or Fully Engaged, but we were doing very little to connect with or grow Far Out or Fringe students. Sure, we hoped that disengaged students would join us for our regular activities, but we weren’t intentionally reaching out to them on a weekly basis. Our lack of focus on outreach was preventing us from moving Far Out and Fringe students down the funnel.

This realization led to the birth of a new ministry at our church! Next month we’re hoping to launch a Sunday Morning Student Hangout, tentatively called “Breakfast Club.” The idea is to create a space where Far Out or Fringe students can connect with other students and caring adults in a comfortable and non-threatening space. If they’re going to be at church already, let’s make sure we connect with them! We’ll have good food, hopping music, fun games, and giveaways. We see this as a great first step to make sure fewer Fringe and Far Out students are left out of our ministry.

A balanced ministry will meet the needs of students regardless of where they fall in the funnel. Use Robbins’ principles to evaluate your own ministry. Determine where you are, where you want to go, and what actions you can take to get there. A balanced approach will help ensure that you’re students move out of the crowd and into the core of your ministry.


About the Author

Jeremy Hetzel

Jeremy Hetzel is the Director of Student Ministries at Family of Christ in Colorado Springs, CO. He loves reading, spending quantity and quality time with his family, and following his favorite sports teams (Boston Red Sox, San Antonio Spurs, and whichever fantasy team he’s managing at the time).