For the last several months since January, we’ve seen a HUGE increase in the number of students who attend our student ministry. And I’m not talking about those that lurk on the sidelines, who aren’t involved, aren’t connected. I’m talking about our visitors who are checking us out and come back the next week “all in”.
I had someone ask why is our student ministry growing? First off, do you notice how I said “our” vs “my”? I’m not a big fan of saying it’s my ministry, because in the trenches, it’s really not my ministry but a combination of awesome leaders who work ALONGSIDE me. But I guess that can be a different post.
If you’re a progressive leader (in which I would consider myself) you may not like my answer. In January I STOPPED focusing on how to build an ATTRACTIVE MINISTRY and STARTED focusing on building ATTRACTIVE RELATIONSHIPS.
As I looked at the ministry as a whole, I stayed at church real late after a youth service to debrief with me, myself, and I. My heart was aching for the students that were faithful in coming but I didn’t feel complete me as a leader. I have a heart for outreach, for the broken hearted that don’t attend church, for the ones walking in the school hallways that are dealing with issues that even their closest friends don’t know about.
So I made a shift in our strategy.
After spending some time in prayer, I grabbed a legal pad and began writing down as many students that I knew off hand. Then I went to our online data base and grabbed all the students who have been coming. For the next few weeks I wrote notes on them from the outcome of conversations. Sports, favorite things in life, biggest hurdles, biggest wins, schedule for school, life events, etc.
I shared these with the rest of the leaders.
Every Monday I would begin to pray for these students BY NAME! We started asking questions ABOUT THEM. We started investing our conversations that pertained to THEM.
We changed our sermon series to things that came about in our conversations. (We never picked out a specific conversation, but when planning our series, we would notice specific themes and those would be concentrated on).
After a month with this change of mentality. I got a phone call from a parent. A parent who DID not go to our church (Say what?!) She had heard from another parent of what we’ve been talking about in youth and that her daughter really never fit in anywhere. She said she had been hearing great things about our student ministry and they were praying that her daughter would find a place to connect.
I forwarded that e-mail to my leaders. She was there the next youth night. The week after that, she brought a friend. A week after that they both brought a mutual friend. And that is only one story. When I had e-mailed that mom after the first week, I wanted to see how it went. I wanted honest feedback on how a visitor perceived our ministry. This is what she wrote:
“Thank you so much for having our girls last night! ###### could not stop talking about the wonderful new friends she has met and how fun her evening was. ######## felt at ease and exceptionally welcomed! she even promised new friends she would see them next week! You may be used to hearing this, but it’s huge for us in our search for a place for her to belong! I am beyond thrilled to finally get the excited feedback I received last night and into today from #######. Her heart has been guarded because of some past experiences, so to feel so welcome is a blessing she has been praying for!
Thank you for your email and for checking on us. Taking the time to do so reflects your caring and compassionate nature, and means so much to our family. ####### cannot wait for next week! I too look forward to becoming a part of your church community and building new relationships.”
So friends started bringing friends and our group tripled since January. I can’t exaggerate the power of relationships. We’re wired for relationships. We all don’t need them to the same degree, but we all need them. Students (Whether Middle or High School) are no different. Making it a priority to build into our student ministry the value of “helping students develop healthy relationships.” Helping them understand the importance of meaningful relationships with their peers, with adults, and with Christ.
Middle School students, specifically, are facing the most tumultuous years of life alone.
So why has our youth ministry grown, because we stopped focusing on what they were attending, and started focusing on those who attended.