I have have seen it over and over again. Dedicated students who have been a part of the ministry for years lose interest, disengage, or simply walk away when they get into their later high school years. They get older, they get busier and youth group becomes less and less of a priority. It can be so frustrating as a youth worker who is trying to build a ministry, pour into students’ lives and maintain relationships. So, how do you keep juniors and seniors attending your ministry?
I don’t know why but over the last 3 years I have actually added seniors each year! It’s the opposite of what should happen but I have drawn them in. Sure I have some that get jobs and fade out but new ones are coming and most of the existing ones are staying…Haha it’s crazy to me… I am not 100% sure why, I am really just thanking God for it! However, there are a few things you can do.
Here are 5 ways to retain juniors and seniors….
1. Take “relational” to the next level
When students get older they began to be less and less impressed with the flashy games, fun, and programming. They have seen it before and it isn’t as attractive to them. So, we need to reach a new level of connecting relationally. Get your leaders to be more intentional with them relationally. Life for them WILL get busy but relationships are what will keep them coming back.
2. Give them responsibility
Even if it’s something small and really not too important, if they feel responsible they will own it and desire to be a part of it. When they get older and it’s not “fun” anymore if you can change their mind set from consumer to seller (aka the person putting it on) they will feel ownership and when they feel ownership they are more likely to stay. Give them something to do while at youth group instead of just being at youth group.
3. Understand that things change
Your role in older students lives may look different. They may need you to pour into them in a different way, other than just youth group.
“But this is what we do. This is how youth group works” I have said that many times. But one of the things I had to learn and realize is that students will grow up, get jobs, get busy and move on which means we may need to switch the way we view them, and try to pour into them. Yes, there are those students who will disengage and it is a problem, but there are others that still want to be there but they can’t and we need to learn how to pour into them differently.
We are here to pour into students and point them to Jesus, not to run a youth group. One of the things I needed to learn was to care about students personally more than my Wednesday attendance numbers.
4. Give them age specific opportunities
One of the main reasons juniors and seniors may lose interest is because they feel they are more mature than the other attenders and don’t want to be forced to hang out with people who are “lame”. This is more of an issue with groups who go from 6th-12th and 17 and 18 year olds are being forced to hang out with 12 and 13 year olds. But even in the 9th-12th context we need to give our juniors and seniors an opportunity to hang out with people their age.
Do small groups that are age specific, an event here and there, or just split them up by age for activities. But make sure you are giving opportunities to hang out with people their age.
5. Connect them to God, not the program
The number one thing you need to do, is connect students to God! This should be your overall goal. Yes, 1-4 is important, and they are things you can do to get juniors and seniors to stick but the real thing that needs to happen is that students need to be more connected to God than they are to the program. Programs will get old, they will get boring, they will not meet their “needs” but a connection to The Lord will keep them coming back.
A part of that connection may turn into a desire to lead and teach younger students but again, this will flow out of a relationship with Jesus and a desire to serve Him. Connect students to Him, not to a program.