Three Ways to Reach More Teenagers Starting this Fall

In your community less than 10% of 6-12th graders are a part of a youth ministry.

Photo by Martin Ringlein via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In most communities 2%-3% of eligible teenagers are involved on a good week. Ouch. Here’s a strategic reality check for you: Tweaking your mid-week program or plugging in a new communications tool or even working harder isn’t going to help you reach the next 10% of students in your community.

Simply put– what you are currently doing is only going to reach maybe 1%-2% more people next year. And if you believe, like I do, that a life with Jesus is better than a life without Jesus, this is a call to action more than a call to give up!

Have you read the book of Acts, lately? It’s the most dangerous book in the Bible! And yes, that’s possible today.

To reach more students you’re going to need to implement additional strategies. Don’t freak out. Launching additional strategies doesn’t mean you have to do more work. But it does mean that you might need to make some room and cast a wider vision for ministering to adolescents in your community.

Here are three ideas that you can start this Fall

Starting with resources you probably already have, these three start-ups will reach a different population than you currently can.

  1. Drop-in center – A drop-in center is a safe place for teenagers to hang out. If you have a youth room already.. or even better… a local business who allows you in, it is basically just having night hours a couple days per week and staffing it with volunteers. (Say, open from 8pm – 2 am, you know… when the students you need to reach are out and bored.) Allow local bands to come in and play. Have some occasional theme parties or movie nights. Offer beverages, snacks. Adults who staff it focus on building relationships, inviting those interested to check out Jesus in an exploratory study on who Jesus is. It can be a rough and tumble option. But definitely needed in most communities and a great way to expand your reach. If you have some bouncer looking adults in your church, they’d love this. Give to them and get out of the way. Tip: Tell your church kids it’s not for them.
  2. After-school program – This is especially helpful in reaching 5th-8th graders. I’m always surprised that more churches don’t offer after school stuff since churches usually really close to schools! You would be surprised how many middle schoolers are going home to empty houses and this provides an easy alternative. When they come, offer free time and a snack so they can unwind from the day. After that, offer a quick lesson on virtues or values or even hygiene…. Then flow into an hour of homework help. This might seem intimidating at first. But I guarantee that every church in the country has a retired teacher or someone who wants to run it, some stay-at-home moms to jump on board, and other folks who would love to pitch in because they love kids. If you break it into two roles, the free time and lesson crew and the homework helpers– it’s a lot easier to staff as one tends to intimidate the other type of person. Tip: You’d be surprised how much money is out there in federal grant money for this. You can probably do it with existing unused space and a grant to cover expenses.
  3. Partner with the school to provide mentors- Mentorship is the buzz word in youth ministry circles and educational circles. Meet with your principal before he leaves town for the summer and ask if you could help them get a mentorship program going pairing educated adults with students who need a little extra care. (Or support the one they already have.) Even if you just became the point person for the school’s mentorship program, you’d probably be the principal’s best friend for life. I’d bet my mother’s right arm that you can find 25 adults in your church willing to volunteer 2 hours per week mentoring a middle school or high school student. Chances are also good that if the school posted the opportunity you’d have an additional 25 volunteers come out of the woodwork, you’d hold one quick volunteer meeting, coordinate with the administration, and it would be off to the races. Tip: The key to any interaction with your local school is meeting with the principal and asking, “What are your needs? How can I get people to support your mission?” Coming to him and pitching a mentorship program might not be the best idea. But if it comes out that its a need of his, jump on it!

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

9 comments

  1. I love all of these ideas! We have been playing with these ideas in our head for awhile on our youth ministry committee. We really are in a perfect location, central to our city and in the main area of town. However, the logistics of these ideas feel a bit intimidating to me, especially since I’m in an aging congregation.
    But you’ve got me thinking again 🙂

  2. Thanks Adam! If we are already in the office why not make our doors open to students?! Especially for those with amazing youth rooms, but even for those with limited space after school ultimate frisbee at a local park would be better than sitting on facebook all afternoon.

  3. Big blockers here are time and resources. My wife and I don’t usually get home until between 5 and 7 most weekdays, limiting our ability to implement most of these approaches. One very interesting possibility is a “Saturday Academy.” Google it for more info. My local HOPE worldwide chapter is apparently looking at getting one started, and I’m excited at the prospect.

    1. I like that idea Adam. One key to any of these three approaches is not seeing yourself as the gatekeeper. Just because you cast vision for it doesn’t mean you’d have to do it. With unemployment at 10% nationwide something tells me that you might be able to find a person will to run with it, especially if it leads to a federal grant, which could offer them a job.

  4. I love all these ideas. However, not all communities are like the one described. I live in a small southern college town where the only night of the week that does not have sports or meetings scheduled is Wednesday…because that is youth group night at all the churches. In a town of 12,0000 and countless churches of all denominations, there are multiple youth ministries that will have upwards of 100+ kids. Not to mention Young Life is the biggest thing in the area high schools since Rock n Roll haha. Despite all that, I am trying to work with other churches in the town to have a community-wide hangout times like mentioned above and a different week have them at different churches…let the kids know that no matter if you are Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, or Pentecostal, we all worship the same awesome God and we are all God’s children

  5. Great thoughts! I think tackling 1 of the 3 would be an undertaking to really do well, but definitely worth it!

  6. When I was a youth our church had a night where they hosted swing dancing (and we were baptist!). It was the big thing then. There were adults and homeschoolers who knew how to dance around to help anyone who didn’t. We had a lot of unchurched kids who were regulars there, many of whom started attending our youth group and our girls group and our guys group. It was an easy thing for us church kids to invite our friends to. If you can find out what the kids are into and cater to it, they will definitely show up.

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