When I was 13 a friend from my soccer team brought me to youth group. That very same year I accepted Christ as my Savior. However, a year later the youth pastor was asked to leave the church and the entire youth group fell apart. Everyone had been so hurt that they all decided to quit coming to youth group.
There were two volunteers, Don and Cheryl, that offered to take over what was left of the group . . . which was me! Every Sunday night the three of us would sit and stare at the clock hoping more students would walk in. When six would roll around, Don would clap his hands and say "Okay, let's get started!" At any point Don and Cheryl could have cancelled youth group due to lack of interest, but they never did. I imagine they figured as long as there was me, there was ministering to be done. Because of their willingness to serve and invest in me, I discovered my calling: to become a youth pastor. I wanted to do for someone someday what Don and Cheryl had once done for me.
I started youth ministry two years ago and I will never forget sitting in my office the first night of youth group doing the same thing I did with Don and Cheryl years before: staring at the clock. Then in walked Jamie. She was the only one to show up that evening. Instead of giving the sermon and activities I'd planned, I ended up taking her to McDonald's and playing board games. I do have to admit, even though I had fun getting to know Jamie, I left that night feeling a little down. Where were all the kids I'd seen in church that morning? Was it me? Am I not cut out for this?
In that moment God took me back to the days when I was just that one kid showing up to youth group. I knew then that even if Jamie was the only one to ever show up, there was still ministering to be done. It was a very humbling experience for me and made me appreciate all that Don and Cheryl invested in me more than I already did. Are you struggling with getting your youth group to grow? Do you sometimes get discouraged when you see other youth pastors with big groups?
If this is you, keep these things in mind:
Don't get discouraged!
God has a plan for everything. If you have a small group it's for a reason. Don't compare your group to how big the youth group down the street is. This is the one God placed you with, big or small. And you have a job to do. Numbers don't necessarily equal success.
Don't take it personally.
At first I thought I was the reason the kids weren't coming to youth group. It turns out the reason I only had one person show up my first night was because there had been a miscommunication on the date I started running youth group. Then there were some students that already had Sunday night commitments. Small groups don't necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong. I also learned that I could do more to reach out to students, not for the sake of numbers, but for the sake of forging relationships with those students who were unable to attend youth group. When I saw students on Sunday mornings that didn't come to youth group, I reached out to them. It's important to touch base with them on Sundays or give them a call during the week.
You have a lot more leeway to just pick up and go do something without having to rent a van and coordinate tons of chaperones. Take them to Wendy's, go see a movie, or have a thrift store fashion show. Kids may not always remember the sermons you gave, but they will always remember the random, fun moments you created for them. Jamie still talks about how much fun she had that first night.
Have more one on one time with each of the kids.
With a smaller group it's easier to get to know each one individually outside the group. Take them to lunch, have them run errands with you, go watch their sporting events or dance recitals. It will mean so much to have you there to support them.
In the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15, we see Jesus' acknowledging the "power of one." When we share God's love for the individual, we'll realize that small numbers may unlock the door to deeper relationships.