Let’s be totally honest. We all know that the main thing about youth work is not the number of young people who come along each week. We all know how easy it is to measure success by numbers: how many came, how many got involved, how many spoke. But, there is a danger that we have dismissed numbers as completely unimportant. If something is growing in a healthy manner, you’ll also find that it is growing numerically. Numerical growth isn’t necessarily the focus but the fruit of the being healthy.
The Bible takes numbers seriously, there’s even a whole book about it! But there are also stories about ‘feeding the 5000’, ‘, the miraculous catch of fish records catching 153 large fish and on the day of Pentecost about 3000 people were baptised. On each occasion, the number isn’t planned but it is worth recording. Each occasion expected some kind of numerical response.
So, how can we lead our youth groups in a way which they naturally grow? Here are some simple steps to follow:
1. Love the ones you have
I understand the frustration I heard from a concerned youth leader who said to me,”we only have three young people in our church. How can I reach their friends?” But the first question shouldn’t be how do I use the ones we have to reach those who don’t come, rather it should be how do we love the ones we do have so much that others want to join in? The advantage of only having a few young people in our youth group is we can make sure that they are cared for properly, that there are several adults investing in each one, older Christians regularly praying for them, birthdays and other important dates celebrated and they are publicly cheered on by the rest of the church. Make sure you do everything you can to make each young person feel special, loved and valued. These are emotions every one of us wants to feel and when we see others experiencing them, we want in as well.
2. Build community
Each time you meet as a group, make sure you include time to share life together. Find out how the last week has gone. What’s been the highlight? What would they never want to go through again? What are they hoping for at the moment? Help the group to invest in one another and to properly share life together. It builds friendship, trust and accountability. Again, something that’s attractive to the outsider.
One way of building community is to make sure there’s a regular social aspect to your programme. This might be once a month having a meal together, or a games night or even a trip or weekend away. Keep the social calendar regular and varied.
4. Involve young people more
As part of your regular youth group meetings, get the young people who come to help run it. This might be leading a game or a discussion, or making a cake for the group to share. It doesn’t really matter what but it is important that everyone who comes can serve the rest of the group. This builds ownership and a sense of belonging.
Create eye-catching publicity for your youth group. Have a general leaflet, poster or postcard which you can give to each member of your group and they can use as a poster on their bedroom wall. Each term, create a colourful programme which includes intriguing titles for the meetings and outlines the social events. Make it something that they might put on their fridges so parents can make sure their children don’t miss out. By doing this, you are creating something that their friends might see and ask more about.
These five steps have nothing to do with actively attracting more young people to the group but will, if done creatively, naturally attract friends to ask questions, to notice something different and want to experience the group for themselves.
In my next blog post, I will share five steps you can take to actively invite members’ friends to get involved with your youth group.
Here is the challenge: which one of the 5 steps I have just outlined are you weakest in? Do one thing this week that could help you improve in that area. You might like to list your step in the comments section below.