Why Do Students Show Up?

I didn’t think it’d be this hard. When I watched my youth pastor do his thing growing up, I literally thought his job entailed: stocking the coke machine, shopping for the world’s ugliest couches, playing dodgeball with teenagers, with the occasional preach. Off the top of my head, a typical week for a youth pastor involves: event planning, cultivating an online community, preparing lessons, raising up musicians, implementing a communication strategy, partnering with parents, resourcing and training adult volunteers, meetings, developing a small group culture…and the list goes on.

I wonder if in the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type job that youth pastoring is, we forget that it’s so dang easy.

WE WANT STUDENTS TO SHOW UP TO OUR PROGRAM BECAUSE WE BELIEVE OUR PROGRAM ADDS VALUE TO THEIR LIFE BY HELPING THEM INVESTIGATE AND NURTURE A REAL, AUTHENTIC FAITH IN JESUS.

*if you hate the word ‘“program” what I meant to say is: the spaces we create for students that are at a certain time, on a certain day, and at a certain place. Also known as “program”.

So in an effort to get them to our program we deploy all sorts of tactics and strategies. We need to have funny YouTube videos, the right music, polished sermons/lessons, run a café, shirts, engaging physical environments, great give-a-ways..etc. These aren’t bad. They’re good. I do these things.

But.

No student has ever said to me “I go to youth because your sermons are off the charts”. No student has ever said to me “I go to youth because you purchased the new Lecrae album”. No student has ever said to me “I go to youth because of that video announcement you posted on Twitter last Tuesday”. No student has ever said to me “I go to youth because you were giving away an iPod shuffle”.

So why do students show up? Because their friends show up.

For some of us that’s hard to hear. We want to believe it’s because you knocked your sermon out of the park last week and they are coming back for more. They’re not.

In the book Make Believe by Ben Crawshaw & Kevin Ragsdale they write:

MOST STUDENTS DON’T GO TO PROM BECAUSE THEY LOVE TO DANCE. THEY DON’T GO TO STARBUCKS BECAUSE THEY LOVE COFFEE. THEY DON’T EVEN GO TO HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAMES BECAUSE THEY LOVE FOOTBALL. THEY GO BECAUSE THEIR FRIENDS ARE THERE.

Students crave belonging and friendship. It’s what makes them tick. So create that culture to satisfy that desire and students will show up in droves.

I’m not telling you to make your ministry a social club for teens. No. Jesus still needs to be the hero of your youth ministry. But you can’t help students nurture faith if they’re not there.