As summer is beginning, and I reflect on our ministry and the students that have come through the doors this school year, I have realized that there are quite a large number of students who have come and gone and no longer part of our youth ministry community. I get that sports, school, schedules, etc are the cause for a lot of this drop off. But most of the reasons that initially caused students to drop off or fade away are no longer part of their reality. They are now simply out of the habit. So, the real question is, how do we get these students back in the habit of being part of our community? Here is what I do:
Put all my students into boxes:
I know, I know, it is awful to put anyone into a box and make a complex being into a two dimensional box filler. But for this exercise, you have to die to this sensitivity. Once you get over that, take a sheet of paper and list out all of your students. I list them out by grade. I start with every student I can think of and write away. It doesn't matter if they are committed or I have met them once, or even if they have actually never made it to youth group. It simply matters if I am connected to them. (If you are part of a large student ministry, this exercise can be done with your small group leaders for the same effect)
Once I have every student I know listed on a sheet of paper, I then place them into boxes. These boxes have nothing to do with spiritual maturity or how much I like them. These boxes have 100% to do with how committed they are to our youth group community. For those who are invested, I just look at their names and smile. Then I circle the names of students who are very loosely connected. I like to call them fringe, you call them whatever you want. Some of these "fringe" students come pretty regularly, but they are not committed. Then I put an asterisk next to students who have dropped off completely, those who I have not seen for at least a month.
Leave the 99:
When I look at my calendar, I realize that almost all of my time is invested into relationships and students who are already 100% committed to our student ministry. They love me, our church, and most even love Jesus. And while I should make space for these students, and I do, doesn't it make sense to carve out some time for those students who have or are about to walk away?
Even Jesus left the 99 in search for the 1. So, I think there is some merit to do the same. The invested kids will be invested, it is the lost kids who need our time and effort. Step one is simple, carve out some time.
For me, I spend an hour on Mondays reaching out to and connecting with the the fringe kids and the lost kids. I remind them that I see them and hope that they are ok. I invite them to come back to youth group and how their presence is missed. I send funny post cards or facebook notes. Whatever it takes to get a "touch."
Then I will make sure I have several slots throughout the week to connect meet up. With fringe students and those who have dropped off, I almost never meet up alone. A) Because it is horribly awkward, and B) If I can connect with them and their friends, then their is a much better chance that we have a good time and feel comfortable.
Over the next few months, I am looking forward to re-connecting with the students who have gone out the back door. And when I have done this before, I am always surprised how effective, old skool, intentional contact work can be.
New kids will come, worry more about those who don't come back:
Most youth workers, including myself are always scheming on finding ways to get new students to come to youth group. But the reality is that most youth groups will attract new kids all the time. The reality is that most new kids don't stick around. Think about what would happen if you relaxed and worried less about what new kids will show up, and simply leverage your relational chops to reach out to those who have already come and simply faded away?
This is what my plan is to track down students who have gone out the back door. What is yours?