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The Awesome Potential of a Failed Event

By Andy Lawrenson June 21, 2016

As youth workers, we are always planning—for the future of the ministry, for our messages over the next year, for our weekly youth group worship, for our events. If you are like me, when you plan, you dream big. I tend to focus on the potential. I may plan for 45 kids at an event, but only 15 show up. That’s okay; I like to dream. (Dream big or go home, right?)

How do you react when the response to an event is minimal to zilch? I usually get frustrated at first. I want to say, “We’ll never have another youth event if no one is going to participate!” Then I remind myself never to make a decision out of emotions. What is a better approach? I have four suggestions.

Look. Look at the calendar and watch for the conflicts that might affect the outcome. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in planning events—and it’s happened more than once—is forgetting to look at our local school calendars. Pay special attention to major school or extracurricular events. If you know in advance when homecoming or prom is scheduled, you won’t accidentally plan a conflicting event. Also, consider the time or season of the year. Scheduling a Banana Split Blast in January may not be the best idea if you live in Michigan.

I live in an area driven by the tourist industry. We’re located near the beach. Students can get jobs in the summer at age 14 and start making bank. This impacts our ability to do events in the summer. Even though I know this, I have still set myself up for failure by scheduling events in the summer. Look at what is happening in your community and church to better evaluate the potential success or failure of an event.

Ask. Ask students why they didn’t participate or sign up. You may find they were on a family trip, working that night, or just plain uninterested in a basket-weaving tournament. And don’t assume you’ve discovered the problem after talking to only one student. Your youth group may have more than one obstacle preventing participation at events. Ask parents. You may discover that even though you promoted something for two months, sent out eight emails, and plastered ads all over social media, parents never heard about it. (Sometimes good old-fashioned snail mail is best.) Find out why students didn’t participate and use this information to plan your next activity.

Failed Event_quoteEngage. Instead of canceling an event due to a lack of interest, you may want to carry on with just a handful of students. This could be an awesome opportunity to have deeper and more meaningful conversations, something you never could have done with 50 students at the event.

Once, early in my youth ministry career, I planned a bowling trip—literally a trip, because we had to drive to a town with a bowling center. Only one middle school boy showed up to hop on the van. The other adult and I could have cancelled the event, but instead we took the boy bowling. He scored a free meal, ice cream, and bowling since he was the only participant. We engaged him in conversation and showed him that he was as important to us as anyone in the youth ministry.

Change. You may want to change the way you plan events. That’s where I am. I have been doing all the planning, generating all the ideas, and enlisting all the volunteers to help. I’m looking at change right now. Maybe you are, too. What would happen if you gathered three or four students and said, “I’ve been struggling to plan some youth group events. Would you help me plan the next one?” Let the students come up with the ideas, and guide them as they organize the event. The students involved in the planning will definitely attend, and they will be more likely to encourage others to join in. Along the way, you will be building leaders and doing ministry with students instead of for students.

So the next time your event flops, don’t get down. Step back, evaluate, and decide how to plan differently in the future.

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