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3 Strategies: Get Youth Ministry Students to Bring Friends

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Youth pastors want for nothing more than to have students develop community with each other, build genuine loving relationships with God, and grow in their faith with one another. And I’d argue that you would be hard pressed to find any youth pastor where “growing the youth ministry” isn’t one of their top 5 priorities.

But growing a youth ministry is tough. Usually, a youth ministry is the size it is because the students’ parents attend the church. Every youth pastor understands that the way to grow a youth ministry is by getting students to bring their friends, but how do you get other students involved who genuinely want to be a part of the ministry moving forward?

3 Strategies to Get Youth Group Students to Bring Friends

It’s not that hard to get youth group students to bring a friend on a Sunday, to a retreat, or to a youth group event, but what good does that do if they don’t have an impactful experience and choose not to stick around?

If you want to grow your youth ministry by getting your students to bring their friends and have them stick around, here are a few strategies that you can put into action:

Students Need Substance

Gimmicks don’t keep teenagers around. You might get people in the door because you’re giving away an iPad or Amazon gift cards, but that’s not creating anything of value for newcomers that will make them want to stick around. When the gift cards are gone, so are they. What’s their motivation to show up next week when you’re giving a sermon on encountering God if an interest for that subject is nowhere on their radar?

Sure – have fun with giveaways, game nights, and fun events that are attractive to teenagers who aren’t currently a part of the church. But if you want students to stick around your youth ministry, you need to give them something of substance.

Students are dealing with heavy questions throughout middle school and high school. They have identity questions, they’re seeking love, they’re seeking community, and they’re trying to find a place where they belong. Create that culture in your ministry! Make sure everyone feels at home, feels welcomed, feels loved, and feels heard. Students shouldn’t need to put up their guard to give off a good appearance in youth group – let them come as they are and inspire them with a message of love, community, and make them feel welcomed.

Make Youth Group Different Than Other Social Activities

Youth pastors are frequently tempted to make youth group similar to every other activity that students have the option of going to, but that’s actually not very effective. Students have a ton on their mind and they’re not just looking for entertainment – they can hang with friends, play video games, go to sporting events, etc. – texting them that you’re playing dodgeball at youth group doesn’t really get them excited about showing up.

Youth group needs to be different. It needs to be unique. It needs to be a place where students can feel comfortable coming and being honest with peers and leaders about their week – however great or rough it was.

Don’t shoot a text to a student saying “Hope you’ll be at youth group! We’re playing some fun games today!” Chances are, they have a lot on their plate, tons of homework, stress of making college decisions, issues going on with friends, and plenty of other factors that are weighing on them.

Instead, text them something along the lines of, “Hey! I know you’re probably super busy and have a ton going on, but if you’re free tonight, I’d love to see you at youth group and hear about how your week is going.”

Think about the impact that has. A student may not want to drop all their responsibilities to play a “fun game”, but they absolutely will for the invitation to feel accepted and share what’s on their mind – their concerns, excitements, or even just asking for help regarding college decisions or issues at home.

You can make youth group different by making it inviting and allowing students a space to drop their guard and be honest with each other. Don’t promote how fun youth group is – promote how important it is and how much it matters for bringing actual value to your students’ lives.

Youth Ministry is About Your Reach, not Their Attendance

“Growing a youth ministry” doesn’t mean growing the number of people who fill the seats on a Wednesday night or Sunday morning. It means growing the number of students who are being actively impacted and changed by your involvement in their life and their connectedness to the youth ministry.

Youth ministry should bring about change in as many students’ lives as possible, and you should not be relying on attendance numbers to gauge that. Send a text to students and set up a time to go grab food with them; either 1 on 1 or with small groups of students who are good friends.

Meet them where they are at, show that you care, and don’t be pushy about “attending” youth group. Just show them that you want to be a part of their life, you’re interested in what they have to say, and are actively praying for them all. When students feel like you are pursuing them because you care, they will pursue you and the youth group because they will reciprocate that care.

Chris Fleming, Author

About the Author

Chris Fleming is a professional musician from Minneapolis, MN who has played with artists such as TAYA, Big Daddy Weave, and Jason Gray. He is actively involved with the worship music scene and has contributed as a drummer, music director, song writer, and producer for various worship artists and churches locally and nationally. Chris is the Motion Designer at Motion Worship, helping to create motion background collections and countdowns for our subscribers.

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