Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Most Important Factor in Getting Kids to Church

I've been doing this thing called youth ministry now for a long time...and wouldn't you know, I'm still trying to figure it all out. I've read books, been to conferences, sat in formal classes, discussed with my peers, joined discussion forums, and just about everything else I can do to understand these slightly-smaller-than-me people God made called teenagers. While everyone will say that numbers don't matter, there still seems to be this unwritten pressure to get more kids in the door. Youth leaders like me are always discussing the perfect event, the perfect activity, the perfect format for our meetings (you know, hang out, then structured games, then worship, then Bible study), the perfect outreach event or trip, and how important small groups are to our ministries. And these are all good. But I think I've figured out the #1 factor in whether or not a student attends a particular church or youth group. That factor is....friends.

Yes, friends. Why do some kids want to go to a different church than where their parents go? Friends. Why do some of the kids who come to your youth group have no family members in your church? Friends. Why do some kids whose parents are very involved in your church choose not to come to youth group meetings? Friends. How could friends cause them not to come? Because their friends are not at youth group. The people they consider to be friends are in 7th period algebra or on the basketball team with them. They are playing video games with them on Friday nights before crashing out on the living room floor with a half-eaten bowl of popcorn.

So, what do we do when a kid in your church doesn't consider the other kids in the youth group to be "friends"? This is a common thing in my group as we have 5 school districts and nearly 10 campuses in the area around my church. I also changed churches my 7th grade year because I was the only kid in my youth group who went to a particular school and felt I had absolutely nothing in common with the other students there (which was true). I went to a smaller church with a smaller youth program because of one thing. Friends. So here are some things to help kids connect and make their "friends from church" just their "friends".

1. Schedule games and activities that encourage the kids to interact with each other. Play silly games that encourage interaction and team building.

2. Allow for informal relationship building with time for kids to hang out. Video games are a great way for kids to connect with each other.

3. Encourage kids to spend time together outside of youth group.

4. On short trips, discourage your kids from bringing video games or MP3 players to encourage interaction with one another. (On long trips your kids may go crazy without these things and will probably eventually bond anyway.)

To be honest, though, I wrote this post not because of my expertise, but because of my frustration. It seems the main reason I have some kids who are not as active is because they don't consider the kids at church to be their friends. Some of them attend other churches. Some don't come at all. Some of my kids who do come are very active because of the friendships they have there. What is it that you do in your youth group (or out of it) to allow kids who go to different schools or run in different social circles to build relationships and become friends?


arlee bird said...

Ideally, wouldn't it be wonderful if kids wanted to attend church because Jesus is their friend. And that they were yearning to learn more about the Bible and God. How do we get there?

Jason Huffman said...

I wish I knew, but you're exactly right. I think identifying Jesus as a friend happens when another caring person who represents Jesus becomes their friend. Maybe that's an adult volunteer. Maybe it's a youth worker. Maybe it's a mature friend who is missional in their friendship. Thanks for the comment.