The “No-Show” Generation

By Andy Lawrenson October 25, 2016

From the rise of the electric guitar and Instagram to the death of the youth choir and Chubby Bunny, I have seen a lot of changes in youth ministry these past twenty-four years. Long gone are the hours I used to spend cutting out clip art and using glue to paste exciting event flyers together! I don’t tend to worry too much about these changes, but as I look at youth ministry today, I do find that one change has me completely rattled.

Just ten years ago your church could have a youth event, and students would actually show up. We announced a night with games and pizza, told students to invite their friends, and just like that we found ourselves with a youth room packed with students. Fast-forward ten years. Now when we announce a youth event and students invite their friends, they’re met with rejection, and we’re left with what feels like a failed event.

At first I thought this issue was unique to my church, but the more I talk to other youth workers, I’m learning that it’s a nation-wide trend and one that has left many of the old times scratching our heads. I can’t quite put my finger on what has happened, but I do have some theories or ideas.

Changes in schedules
Students are busier now than they were ten years ago. With Advance Placement classes and an increase in academic requirements, so much of a student’s schedule is now devoted to homework and projects designed to put them on the fast track to college scholarships. Travel sports teams and club teams have also exploded over the past several years, cutting into time that was traditionally set aside for church and youth group. Students don’t have time their schedules for youth group.

Changes in culture
We’re living in a culture that is more tolerant of a variety of lifestyles and less interested in churches that are accused of mistreating those who believe differently. When students used to ask, “What will we do?”, they now ask, “Why should I go?”. Culture has also dictated that Wednesday and Sunday nights are no longer sacred; today’s churches and youth groups now compete with dozens of sports games, academic clubs, and extracurricular activities.

Changes in family dynamics
We’re seeing a decline in parental and family involvement in the church. Families used to go to church on average 3 Sundays each month, but now it seems that many have scaled back their church attendance to once or twice a month. Attendance is dropping, and priorities are changing. For many Christian families it appears that practices that build faith have been put on the back burner to the busy schedule, sports, and academics.

With all of these changes, I find myself a fifty-year-old youth pastor trying to figure out student ministry all over again. I won’t compromise teaching God’s Word each week, and I won’t neglect setting aside opportunities for students to worship together. I will continue to teach my students how to practically apply the Bible to their lives, but I do want to make changes on my end to reflect the trends that I’m currently seeing.

Read about my suggestions next week in Part 2, “Getting “No-Shows” to Show Up”.

About the Author

Andy Lawrenson

Andy Lawrenson has been in student ministry for 26 years both as a volunteer and paid staff member.  Andy and his wife, Misha, have been married for 28 years and have three children: a son in middle school and twin eight-year-olds, a boy and girl. Andy loves getting together with other youth pastors to talk about…  Read More