More than ever, pressure is being put on ministry leaders to “bring people back” to church. As I’ve spent time with youth ministry leaders over the past year, I’ve noticed that the idea of large-scale youth ministry events being the fix-all solution has seen a resurgence amongst churches of various denominational backgrounds and sizes.
The encouragement to organize something big and far-reaching is often rooted in the belief that such events will be a momentum-building way to revitalize a youth ministry, post-pandemic. However, many peers in ministry (and you might be one of them) have been asked to put together a [hope-filled] silver bullet event without being told what, exactly, that means or what the expectations are, beyond the event.
Sound familiar? Check out this recent article by Rob Dyer:
“They’re Not Coming Back”
Because youth ministry is so much more than simply hosting a couple of pizza parties during the year for your congregation to see on social media, it’s important to ask yourself these 3 questions before planning the next youth ministry event at your church.
1. Would a parent move their calendar around to get their child to this event?
I begin with this question as someone who has written and spoken at great length about reaching out to modern families and understanding that not all youth have parents in their life who are working together to plan a cohesive calendar. Also, not every family’s priorities are the same – one family may be chasing year-round sports in hope of a one-day scholarship, while another may be so busy working multiple jobs to make ends-meet that planning ahead feels next to impossible. It will take some time for your team to think about families in your context and what kind of an event would feel worth moving their calendar around in order for their child to attend. With that said, your most effective youth ministry events will be the ones where youth and their parents guard that day on their calendar because they see the value in it.Your most effective youth ministry events will be the ones where youth and their parents guard that day on their calendar because they see the value in it. Click To Tweet
When marketing a youth ministry event, keep in mind that you’re often marketing to the students in the family and their parents. Until they’re in their last years of high school, most teens aren’t driving themselves anywhere. Parents need to be a primary audience when it comes to some of your messaging, as do their kids. Churches tend to struggle at creating events that youth want to go to and parents understand the value of. If you’re planning an event that you want a student to show up at and you cannot name why a parent would move their calendar around for their child to attend, you should start your planning over.
2. Why would a student bring a friend to this event?
Our churches should never be just for those who are already in attendance and our youth ministry events should keep that idea in mind, as well. Aside from thinking through how you’re going to equip students to invite their friends to your events, you should also be asking yourself why a student would want to invite their friends to attend with them. If your events are announced in front of the congregation during your weekend services, consider naming this during that time – “This is a great event to bring your friends to because…”
If you’re unable to name why a student would want to invite a friend to your event, ask them. Ask your youth what kinds of events they’d definitely want to invite their friends to. We know one of the answers could be that large events provide a chance for visitors to take a first step into church life, outside of the intimidation of a worship setting. But that might not be compelling enough for your middle school gamer or high school athlete. So, as you consider the event’s purpose(s), ask your students what they think, too.
Whatever your answer is – make sure that you can name why a student would want to invite a friend to your next event. Because if they don’t know why they’d invite a friend, chances are they won’t.
3. What’s the next step for a student who attends?
It’s easy for those of us in church work to feel as though we’re becoming cruise directors at times; we run so many events that it’s easy to forget that we’re actually in the business of seeing lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus. So, before you plan your next event, consider what the next steps are for a student who attends. Are you creating a clear path from this event into your next weekend worship gathering? Do you have specific invitations available for camps, retreats, or small groups that you want to direct youth toward?We run so many events that it’s easy to forget that we’re actually in the business of seeing lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus. Click To Tweet
Students won’t know what your objective is unless you’re intentional about making it known. Every event that you host at your church should lead a student toward the next step in their journey of faith – even if that next step is simply to go home and send a text to someone that night about where they’ve seen God at work in their lives during the week. As you plan your next event, make sure you’re putting just as much time (if not more!) into what you’re inviting them to next as you are investing into the planning of this event. What comes next matters just as much as what comes first.
Identifying what motivates parents to prioritize events, compels students to invite friends, and intrigues guests to return will narrow down a list of options that fits your specific community well. Even though youth ministry is SO MUCH MORE than running events, you can also do SO MUCH MORE than simply host a party. You can answer these three questions and plan an event with purpose.
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