Climbing Out of the Glory Days Pit
It’s a tough road to walk as a youth worker when the church you’re serving is dragging you backwards into the days gone by. “We used to have #100 kids every Sunday!” “We took two buses on every choir tour!” “This church grew because of all the youth that used to come!” Comments like these come from all sides and the unspoken sentence? “If you were doing your job…”
And here you are, just trying to share Jesus with the 20 faithful kids you have coming through the door every week. You know you’re working as hard as you can, but all those flashbacks from church members make you feel as if somehow? You’re not measuring up. It’s a discouraging dialogue day in and day out.
So, what do you do?
First of all, know this: God sees and knows what you’re doing. How hard you’re working. All the late nights. The one-on-one’s you’ve had with students. Keep tuned into God’s direction and He will lead you home.
Second, understand and sympathize with where the “glory days” members are coming from; it makes it all easier. Longtime church members are fearful: they see that their church isn’t what it once was, numbers are declining, families are leaving or just not coming. They’ve loved the church for so long and deep down inside? The want their church to still be there at the end when they reach their final days on this side of eternity. Knowing the anxious statements of past “glory days” comes from a place of fear and then under that, a place of love truly does make it easier, doesn’t it?
Here are some practical tips to keep the unhelpful comparisons minimized:
Plant cheerleaders of your ministry into those members circles. Periodically share positive stories and God sightings from your ministry to those cheerleaders so that they’re re-telling the stories within those circles.
Be sure that you’re helping change negative narratives by utilizing the communications forms these members read. In other words, no your students don’t read the church bulletin or newsletter…but long-time members do. Keep giving them the good news of what your students are doing in communication form that meets their “read only” needs. It’s worth it, I guarantee it.
Find ways to weave your students into the places where older members are. The occasional presentation by youth to an older Sunday school class or Bible study will go a LONG way towards equipping them with new stories of encouragement, filling their hearts with love for what’s happening now, not just what happened “way back then.”
The surprising benefit from a little intentional story-telling-sharing will be that youth (and you!) will make Christ-like relational connections with people you’d never expected. Don’t make the mistake of silo-ing your students to just your corner of the church. Many studies show that the faith of a teenager sticks when nurtured by people of all ages within a church, when roots are planted deep from the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding that student.
Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry to children, youth, and adults in the local church (both large and small) since…a long time ago. Her humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting and coaching at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is now Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects, which allows her to help churches assess, vision, and formulate their ministry game plan.
Her books, Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker, were published by Group/Simply Youth Ministry. Her latest book, Smaller Church Youth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem, was published by United Methodist Publishing House in December of 2016. Her next book, Ten Solutions (to 10 Common Mistakes in Smaller Churches), comes out in 2018. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources like YouthWorker Journal and Group Magazine. Check out Stephanie’s blogs at youthministry.com, youthspecialties.com, Princeton Theological Seminary, and others. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX. Their 7 children are all grown!
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.