We Asked: “What’s Stopping Your Friends From Attending The Youth Group?”
It’s a simple question. Right to the point.
“What’s stopping your friends from attending the youth group?”
I’m sure every youth leader has thought it, but it was the first time I had asked.
And our students answered without hesitation.
- “Our friends don’t come because many live with one parent who has to work late and can’t give them a ride to youth group.”
- “My friends would come if there was food! That’s all they talk about after school! But they have to go home to eat. After that they usually just stay home.”
- “Our friends think other stuff is more enjoyable, like going to the park or the mall, or watching paint dry.”
Ok, I added “watching paint dry.” But ouch! That hurt! We’re not “enjoyable?” Come on!
Our students knew that we wouldn’t be offended by the truth. Besides, they were coming every week, so we were doing something right.
That night I decided that we would label these obstacles “Giants.” Our youth staff prayed and then we worked together to “slay” these giants. It began a really fun and adventurous journey.
I’m sure that every group has unique “Giants” to slay. These were ours:
GIANT #1 – STUDENTS DON’T HAVE A RIDE
That next week, right after school, I drove a van to the local high school to give our students and the friends they invited a ride to youth group (I let the schools know I was coming).
Very few students got on those first few weeks. But soon we had a group waiting for pick-up outside of each school. As more schools caught wind, we had to recruit multiple drivers and eventually we had a route that included every school and some locally known hotspots. After about a year we had to make multiple runs and eventually we had to start turning students away, sometimes in the dozens!
We spoke to our church leadership and prayed about it. We decided to take a step of faith and purchase a retired city bus at auction for about $3,000.
No one could drive the bus however, so I had to get my commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement. Eventually, I helped train up several men in our church to be drivers as well so that I was no longer driving the bus.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It was.
But let me tell you how amazing our God is. Picture a city bus pulling up to your local high school and 30-50 students cheering as you pull into the parking lot? Talk about effortless promotion for your youth ministry! Every sports team practicing after school that day was talking about our youth ministry. We even reconfigured the light-up LED screen on the front of the bus to show our youth ministry’s name when we pulled up to the school.
We kept in close contact with our local schools so they always knew when we were coming and who was driving the vehicle that day. We also had students complete release forms that we would scan and provide to the schools on a monthly basis.
GIANT #2 – STUDENTS DON’T HAVE FOOD
After we picked up those students we would bring them to our church, where a team of leaders would be waiting to chaperone them. This team was a mix of weekly volunteers, stay-at-home moms, and friendly retirees.
As students were walking in they smelled food being prepared by some of our parents. We tasked a team of moms with making a cheap but delicious meal for our group. Our students would hit the café like a plague of locusts!
I asked a local contractor how much it would cost for him to build us a small café in our youth center so that we could create an “after-school” type of ministry. We had several fundraisers lined up to pay for the café. The contractor gave me the price, and then called me the next day to let me know he would be picking up the tab! $20,000. He donated his time and all of the supplies citing that God had spoken to him the night before and had told him to do it.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that whenever I step out in faith, he does the heavy lifting.
GIANT #3 – STUDENTS AREN’T ENJOYING THEMSELVES
Since we were picking students up right from school, we had several hours to kill before our evening program started. We spent this time playing dodgeball, basketball, and ultimate frisbee. We also set up several gaming rooms and a couple of rooms where musicians donated their time to help students learn how to play instruments. We also had a homework room where students could be tutored if they requested it.
We went from being the place students weren’t enjoying themselves, to the place where students couldn’t get there early enough. Our dodgeball games produced such good players that we started entering our group into local and regional tournaments. We went undefeated for four years. What do you expect when your students play for hours every single week? They were unstoppable!
Needless to say, after a year or two our group had grown ten-fold. By no means do I think WE did anything exceptional. As a matter of fact, many of these ideas are pretty ordinary, if not lacking ALL innovation.
You know what I think? I think that when I asked that question to our students God heard it in the form of prayer.
What giants are standing between you and the students in your community?
Rob Gillen is the High School Pastor at Christian Life Assembly in Camp Hill, PA and has served in student ministries for 10 years. He has his Bachelors in pastoral ministry and his Masters in theological studies from the University of Valley Forge. Rob and his wife Kara parent a son and two beautiful daughters.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.