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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The Be-Attitudes of Evangelism

Part 3 in this series on evangelism from Youth Specialties Blog. This series is written by Maina Mwaura and Sabrena Klausman.

I could smell the marijuana a mile away when Sean walked into the student center. Sean had been attending our church for a few months. Up until now, he hadn’t caused a lot of problems. As he got closer, I remember hearing the Sprit say, “Do not confront him out of anger but out of love.”

Sometimes the boundary between love and confrontation can get blurred in youth ministry. Sean had become a participating member of our student ministry in a unique way. He began attending because his grandmother had begged him for months to come. I will never forget Sean’s words after I approached him about his drug behavior.

“I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but I appreciate you coming to me out of respect.”

In John 4, Jesus surprises a nameless woman who is in need of help. Although she doesn’t realize that she is in the presence of Jesus, she soon discovers that what she has been thirsting for can only from him. The nameless woman noticed that Jesus is intimately acquainted with her.

When you and I are approaching students, we must realize that Jesus hasn’t called for us to judge, but to introduce them to a God who loves them just as they are.

If we are to approach students and lead them into a relationship with Jesus, there are four attitudes that we must embrace:

BE LOVING.

Jesus had a dying love for people. Even the woman at the well walked away knowing that she had met someone that showed a true interest in her.

 Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah? (John 4:29)  

BE UNDERSTANDING.

Give your students the benefit of the doubt. Often there are unseen factors that drive destructive choices. Before Sean’s grandmother took him in, he had been abused. After understanding Sean’s background, it became very clear to me why Sean had fallen into drug abuse.

BE TRANSPARENT.

Unapologetically share with students what Christ did in your life and how he changed you. I can remember telling Sean how he and I shared some common life experiences and sin struggles. I will never forget him asking, “Even you struggled with sin?”

BE AUTHENTIC.

Relationships take time and investment. God has given us the authority to make that investment in such a time as this. We must take the authority that we have been given by Jesus Christ and embrace a culture and students who need to hear and see the gospel lived out.

I will never forget sitting with Sean as he crossed over from darkness into light. After a period of intentional relationship building, he accepted Christ. As I baptized him, I reflected back to our first confrontation. I can remember thinking and thanking God for the privilege to have been the one who introduced Sean to Christ.

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Mimicking The Church Down The Street

Part 2 of evangelism series on Youth Specialties Blog. This series is written by Maina Mwaura and Sabrena Klausman.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I loaded up my green Honda Civic, and headed to Atlanta. I had just graduated from seminary and was on my way to a mid-size church in suburban Atlanta. To be honest, this opportunity was what I had always dreamed of – my very own student ministry, with a large budget and the resources to go along with it. As I settled into my new home church, I can remember hearing these dreaded words: “The church down the street does youth ministry better.” 

Although most of us would love to believe that these words don’t matter, they do.

And they don’t just matter; they twist our thoughts so that, before long, we begin to believe that our ministry fails to measure up to the church down the street. Even worse, it can cause us to think that we’re not effective. Perhaps instead of doing something original, we just need to copy what the church down the street is doing.

In Acts 2, Jesus never calls the local church to carbon copy one another. In fact, he demands for us to love people. Yeah, it’s that simple – love people. When we love people, we think and plan around what the person needs, just like Jesus did with us. He made each of us uniquely different. Too many leaders are trying to compete with what someone else is doing. Yes, I said compete. I know it doesn’t sound nice, but it’s true. After 22 years in student ministry, I have come to realize the danger in emulating the church down the street. 

Let’s focus back on Acts 2:42-47. I love this passage not just because Jesus is laying the framework of the local church, but also because of the creativity that Jesus brings to the passage.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. (Acts 2:43)

Jesus is disclosing to the early church that he is the one who brings awe and wonder. As student leaders, when we decide to follow the creator in reaching students, I truly believe that Jesus will bring the awe and wonder. So the next time you struggle with wanting to mimic the church down the street, remember the following truths:

  1. Jesus desires for you to ask him how to reach your students that are far from God. Your primary source of wisdom not whatever model the student pastor down the street is embracing.
  2. By being creative, you are never more receptive to the desires of what the Holy Spirit wants you to do. Remember to embrace awe and wonder.
  3. When we are asking God to give us his dreams and desires for reaching students, we will find something that only he can give – individual wisdom. Remember that we are asking students to follow him, not the church down the street.

I truly believe that when we compare ourselves to Christ, and not the church down the street, than we will find the growth that we are looking for, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)

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Idol Evangelism

This series was found on Youth Specialties Blog. This series is written by Maina Mwaura and Sabrena Klausman.

We’re excited to share this Evangelism Series on the YS Blog! Over the next few weeks, Maina Mwaura and Sabrena Klausman will dig into how youth ministries approach evangelism and start some great conversations. 

During seminary, my husband was required to memorize a two-page evangelism script, after which he embarked into the community, visiting strangers in their homes. In one particular home, he connected immediately with the man, bonding over shared interests. In the man’s garage my husband introduced him to Jesus. As the class left the neighborhood they informed him that he’d gotten it all wrong. Script first, Holy Spirit second. It would seem that venturing off the script could cause world-altering chaos to ensue.

THE SKY IS FALLING

The only thing worse than the sky falling is to be beneath it when it collapses. Winter is devastatingly beautiful. The tiers of translucent ice glaze the fragile branches of the trees, and a silencing blanket of God’s control smacks the face of our utter lack of control. Snow collects on the canopy of trees, creating what agriculturalists coin as widow-makers. As the season advances, the sap is unable to reach the end of the branches and the limb, cut off from the source, slowly dies. The trees morph from peaceful sculptures to kamikaze pilots. You never know when a limb will come crashing to the ground, taking out everything in its wake.

THE SCRIPT

Winter in ministry will also come, times when the surrounding culture is frigid, and resistant to change. During these times, we take comfort in the way things have always been. Gazing upon our tree of evangelism, we become mesmerized by the haunting beauty and ignore the danger. Brushing the snow off our Roman’s road script, we passionately preach one evangelistic script from the stage. We encourage students to hide these verses in their hearts, so they will always be prepared to reach out to every stranger they meet (all good things). But we ignore the peril of propping up man’s tradition as an idol. In doing so, we block the sap of the Holy Spirit from giving life to our efforts. 

TRADE THE SCRIPT FOR SAP

As weight of winter settles, the cracks in our one-size-fits all evangelism script begin to appear. As the seasons change, so does our culture. What once thrived has been cut off from the life of the tree, the Holy Spirit. The vitality of the system is compromised and the method dies. If we leave it there, just to honor our tradition, we risk destroying our influence. 

“Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the left or the right. And you will defile your graven images… and he will give you rain for the seed.”

Isaiah 30:21-23a

Don’t get me wrong. Within itself, there is nothing wrong with the script; yet, because the Holy Spirit lives within us, we have a mighty reconciliation power at our disposal. Our tendency to worship systems trips us up every time. It is time to move beyond the script and grab the chainsaw. The sky is about to fall.

Head over to YS Blog to leave comments and be on the lookout for Part 2 soon.

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