Help! Another Church is Stealing our Youth!

A couple of weeks ago there was a search that led to my blog which has intrigued me. So naturally I decided to blog about it, since I do not believe that I have ever set aside a post specifically for this particular topic.

The question was  “Another church is stealing our ministry.”

This is a fairly common occurrence in traditional youth ministry. In fact, there is not a ministry in the world that won’t lose students to another ministry across the street, across town, the next county over. It will happen to us all! So this is your first thing to know, remember and to be encouraged by.

  • Teenagers are finicky. Yes, it is true. Teens are at a point in their life where they will bounce around from place to place and activity to activity. Some are searching for something more entertaining. Some are searching for something deeper. Some are searching for something more shallow. Some are searching for a ministry with better looking students. Some are looking for a place to get away from the embarrassing things that their peers in the old ministry know about them, seeking to re-invent themselves. Thee are a multitude of reasons that you might be experiencing a drop in numbers.
  • It is not about numbers. This is the tough one. Along with knowing that it might not have anything to do with yourself or your ministry, we need to remember that numbers should not be our primary goal. Sure it is nice to be able to proclaim to other youth workers about just how big our ministry is. But remember two things: Numbers are useless if your teens are not growing. There will always be someone who has more teens in their ministry than you do. So don’t panic because you see your numbers dwindling, because they are really not that important.

As little weight as I like to put on numbers, they can be used to measure growth. Are we growing because our teens are reaching out to their friends? So if you find yourself dropping in numbers, and as much as you might not want to even look, we also need to explore whether or not our ministry is truly doing what it needs to. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we meeting our students’ needs?Are students being fed? How? Are we giving them relevant application of Scripture? Are we communicating effectively with them or are we falling short (or going over their heads) with our teaching? Are we teaching Scripture, or are we built around simple fun?
  • Is the ministry teens are jumping ship for solid? Are they teaching Scripture? Are they meeting teens where we are missing the boat?
  • Is there anything we can learn from the ministry that our teens are leaving for? 
  • Are we teaching hypocritically? Are we teaching teens one thing, and turning around and doing the exact opposite? (teens are very perceptive and can spot a double standard from a mile away).
  • (Provided the other ministry is solid) Can we link up cooperatively with this other ministry?This can be beneficial for both ministries in many ways.
  • Are we focusing too much on grace and mercy, or too much on justice? Teens will leave if we are preaching hellfire and brimstone at them each week, and will not grow if we merely focus on the justice side of God’s character.
  • Are we involving our teens in Kingdom living now?Teens today are very interested in causes (on a national scale. Your area may be different. I know mine is). Is your ministry involving them in both the life in the church now (instead of telling them that they are the church of tomorrow)? Is it allowing them opportunities to make a difference in the world around them now?
  • Are you providing ministry or programming? – We tend to get wrapped up in the programs that we offer as a ministry. Are you mentoring students? Are you building relationships with students? Are you able to speak into their lives at a deep level because they see you live out your call? Or are you (and your volunteers) merely figureheads in a program for them?

These are some great questions that we need to be asking if we are noticing a drastic drop in numbers in our gatherings. Sometimes the other ministry is simply flashier. Sometimes it is doing a more effective job in growing youth into disciples. If you ask yourself these questions and find that the other ministry is offering a better, more Biblical ministry, see what you can learn from them. If you find that it is merely a better production, find comfort in the fact that you are providing a Biblical ministry to grow your teens.

And the most important thing to remember: Don’t lose yourself in the trap of comparing your ministry just because you might think the other one is better. God granted us each with different gifts. Discover yours (and your volunteers’) and maximize those. That will be the best ministry you can offer. (And don’t forget to teach Scripture!)