If you’re in Youth Ministry—either as a Director, Coordinator, CORE, Volunteer, Parent, Pastor, you name it—maybe you’ve logged onto Facebook and have seen a status like, “loved having bible study with 356 of our High School Freshman Tonight!” or “can’t wait to bring our 476 high schoolers to camp this week!” and you may think, “ay yi yi yi yi… What are they doing, iPad giveaways to get that many kids in the door? Sheesh…” (I mean mean, maybe. I don’t know.) However, keep this in mind when you’re reading “stats” from fellow laborers in the vineyard.
1. How big is your parish? This is a reality check I’m constantly taking right now, having recently transitioned from a parish of 2500 to a parish of about 450 families. While I definitely hope to reach out to those not in our parish, it’s just not realistic to expect hundreds—or even dozens—of kids to attend at first. So, when I get 12 kids to a youth night, I’m doing a jig, because that is realistic for where I am. While it is important to keep numbers, be sure that you’re evaluating them in a realistic framework.
2. Kids are not numbers—they’re souls. We say it so often, but do we really take it to heart? “Even if one person is reached, this is all worth it” but when it’s the awkward kid walks through the door with his friend—and you realize that might be your only attendees that night—do you take that message to heart and adapt your plans, or phone it in, running through the list of excuses for why the kiddos you expected are no-shows? Be fully present to the kids who are present.
3. Be sure your pastor shares your vision. This goes without saying, but especially in a smaller parish. If your pastor thinks you’re going to form a group of 50 from a parish with 200 registered families, you need to have a serious heart to heart about numbers… However, don’t be afraid to discuss reasonable, concrete goals such as, “this summer, we are going to get seven kids to camp and this is how we’ll do it!
4. Know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em. Sometimes, there’s just not enough folks. A lock-in with two kids would be awkward. Reschedule. A service project with two kids could provide some great time for relational ministry. My favorite example of this was the feisty Dominican Sister at my previous parish who was undaunted at the thought of bringing almost as many adults as teens to the March for Life (I think we had something like six kids and five adults…) The next year, we had a bus of 50. Thank goodness she wasn’t afraid to just do something, rather than wait ‘til the next year “when there was more interest”.
Thankfully, kids encounter Christ when He reaches out to them—not when enough of their peers show up. Pray hard, dig in and stop stressing over your friend’s updates. They live in like, New York City, and there’s 300 kids within walking distance of their Church.