When (Almost) No One Shows Up

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Found at Youth Specialties Blog

written by Matt Larkin

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a gathering of youth workers from smaller churches. We were having a discussion about issues that specifically relate to ministry in a smaller setting, and the issue that much of the group seemed to be struggling with is what to do when only one or two students show up. While many of us have never struggled with this problem, for those serving in smaller settings with groups of five to ten students, there may be weeks when almost all of your handful of teenagers have something going on. So what do you do when you’ve planned for ten and you get two? Or if you’ve planned for six and you get one?

First of all, there are few more deflating things for youth workers in any size church than planning an event—or even a weekly meeting—and having fewer students than you planned for. All that planning, time, and money can just kind of feel as if it’s going to waste. Also, if you’re working through something like a multi-part series that you want all your students to benefit from, you really want to make sure all your students are there. There are numerous reasons why almost no one showing up can be deflating, but we’ve got to press on through those moments. And there are definitely some things we can do to make sure those weeks of only one or two students will be fruitful and maybe even uplifting for us, too!

  1. Use the great relational opportunity God has placed in front of you.

It may not seem like it, but when only one or two teens show up, God’s just given you a really neat opportunity that youth workers in larger churches rarely get. You have the opportunity for some great one-on-one time with students—take advantage of it!

  1. Make plans that can be effective even if the whole group doesn’t show up.

Small-church youth workers have to be particularly adaptable. You’ve got to be able to make plans that’ll work no matter the group size. So, pick games that will work as well with two students as they will with eight. Create back-up plans so you can accommodate the fluctuating size of your group.

  1. Keep the quality high no matter who shows up.

When only a couple of kids show up, there’s always going to be a temptation to just phone it in—especially if you’re feeling discouraged. Avoid that temptation. Make sure that even if only one or two teens show up, you’ve put everything you can into making that event or youth meeting the best one they’ve ever been to.

  1. Stick with your long-term plans.

If you’re working through a multi-part study or have set long-range goals, don’t sacrifice them just because a few students are missing. If you jump ship on your plans with the students who do show up, you run the risk of making them feel less valuable than the kids who aren’t there. So keep your long-range goals intact, and keep working through your long-term plan. God knew who was going to be there when you prayed through that plan in the first place.

  1. Whatever happens, don’t forget that God has called you to wherever He has you.

It’s common—especially in small church ministry and especially after a down week—to start to question your calling. You’ll start to wonder if you’re really cut out for youth ministry or if you’re doing something wrong. But, especially after the down weeks when almost no one shows up, don’t forget that God called you to where He has you. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it, and even through those down weeks, God has called you there for a purpose.

It may be years before you know the impact that one-on-one Wednesday evening had on that student. But it’s those times when our plans fall through and we feel deflated that God often shows up and uses us in ways we never expected. Stay the course. Remember who called you. He may be doing things right in front of you that you won’t want to miss . . . even when almost no one shows up!

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Youth Ministry For One

Article by Melissa Goodloe

Is your little church surrounded by corn fields, near the only stop light 25 miles outside of the nearest town? Or is it so big that it’s a small community in and of itself?
small-church-01When we think of small community churches, we think of those that are in little towns located miles apart in rural areas; however, your small community could be located within a mega-church, or involve a specific group of people living within a large urban area.

No matter where small churches are located, we must be intentional about our ministry with young people, regardless of if we have one youth or one hundred.  Jesus tells us in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) that it is all about the one.  He leaves the 99 behind to go and find the one that was lost and then rejoices in celebration when the one is found.

I grew up in a small community (population 2,361) and my church was across the tracks outside the main part of town.  We had only two youth in attendance; another girl my age and myself.  We had the same Sunday School teacher, for as long as I can remember, and a congregation that loved us both.  It was not until a new pastor arrived in 1988 that I realized I was missing anything.  Our church could not afford a full-time pastor, so we were yoked with another church that had a handful of high school age youth.  He introduced us to church camp, convocations, youth rallies, and getting together once a week with other Christian young people.  As a pastor, he took an active role in the ministry to youth.  He encouraged the congregation to be involved also, and to seek God’s will in how they could minister to this group.  He was looking for the one lost sheep.

As I grew older and my faith matured, I felt God calling me into ministry.  After my ordination, I sought to minister to the young members of my congregation.  After all, they were a vital part of my church family with their own individual needs! Today, I pastor a church two miles outside a small town (population 7,284) and we have two or three youth in attendance. An added blessing for this congregation is the several younger children who will one day become a part of the youth group.  I am focused on our young people as individuals.  Each one has his or her own strengths, weaknesses, dreams and goals.  My call is to help guide them on the road to Christian maturity. The congregation shares this goal and seeks to encourage family involvement, as well as foster the learning and creative play needed for the young people to build a relationship with God.  They too are looking for the one lost sheep.

Pastors, youth ministers and Christian educators, let’s take a step back and look at what you are doing each week; are you doing all you can to reach the one that is lost?  Are we accepting the individuals who may not fit in with the larger group? Are we intentionally seeking the youth in your neighborhoods who do not attend?  Are we planning events and committing ourselves to be there if only one person shows up?  Are we completely focused on the one or two youth we have in our churches instead of going through the motions of youth ministry?

There is a return for being intentional in youth ministry. When planting seeds, you may not always see the outcome of your labor, but you may be blessed to witness them grow up to be used by God in a mighty way.  God is at work in the communities that are open to receive—no matter big or small, urban or rural.  You need only have faith and be intentional in your ministry.

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