Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ebb and Flow of Student Ministry

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “It was going so well, but now our numbers have dropped. What happened?” Asking these questions is perfectly normal. It happens to just about every student minister (or pastor for that matter). This is what I call the ebb and flow of ministry.

Although everyone deals with the ebb and flow of ministry, I am going to deal specifically with student ministry. I will talk a little bit about why it happens and then I will suggest some of the best way that I know how to combat it. So let’s get started!

What causes a Student Ministry to Ebb?
Most of the time an ebbing or dwindling in the number of students in your ministry is a combination of a bunch of little things rather than one big event. Some of these things are unavoidable—like graduating senior going off to college. Some are common but should be combated—student’s who leave because of clicky teen groups or teen drama.

The last three reasons that a student ministry can ebb are the most heartbreaking:
  1. Students can’t commit to coming to church on a regular basis or don’t like the conviction they feel when they are at church. So they quit.
  2. Major conflict in the church and the whole family leaves. This could be conflict between two groups of parents or between the parents and the church staff or even between two groups of students. Whatever the situation, there may be students and possibly whole families who leave even if everything that can be done is done to resolve the situation.
  3. Students get tired of the hypocritical behavior of the student minister and/or his family. Sadly, I have seen this happen before. Sometimes the student minister is the culprit and sometimes it’s his kids or both. It can be particularly hard on a youth group if the youth minister has teen kids who are angels at church but mean and malicious to students at school or in the community and the youth minister does nothing to stop it.
What can You do to Sustain the In-Flow of Students in your Ministry?
Yes, much of what we just talked about it out of your control. No, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any effect on it or the outcome of the situation. We talked about three major reasons that students leave a student ministry so I want to talk about three of the best ways I know to bring students into a student ministry and to keep them there.
  1. Teach the Word. Don’t be afraid to go deep. I was reading the statistics the other day and the student ministries who have the most retention of students and dedicated students are the one who are digging deep into the Word. You will still have the students that will show up once a month and you will have the ones who quit because this isn’t their cup of tea, but the students who are hungry for the Word will stay.
  2. Encourage group unity and a place where students will be accepted. I dealt with a lot of rejection and being made fun because I have always been a big guy so I have a particular passion for making students feel accepted. We try to do activities where students are forced to mingle and get to know each other. I don’t allow students to call each other stupid or to make fun of what another student is wearing. If I hear it’s happening, I deal with it. I will go to the student responsible and talk to them. It’s hard and I am not always popular but it helps maintain the unity. The youth group maybe the only real family some of these students have.
  3. Live what you Preach. Don’t expect students to do what you are not willing to do. If you don’t want them to cuss don’t cuss. If you want them to have higher entertainment standards don’t watch rated R movies or listen to music with inappropriate lyrics. If you want them to witness to their friends and bring them to church then you would be doing the same with students and with your adult friends too. If they don’t see you living up to the standards you are imposing on them then they won’t respect you and they won’t stay for long no matter how many Xbox 360s you might have in your youth room.
Post your ideas for maintaining a student ministry in the comment section. I would love to get feedback and new ideas. Share some with me below.

1 comment:

StLphotogirl said...

It is so easy to see the downward spiral of the attendance numbers, get discouraged, and give up. Thanks for giving suggestions on ways to help overcome the backflow and to get things back on the right track again.