No Time for Youth Group by Doug Franklin
“My students don’t have time for youth group.” I hear this everywhere I go. Students are so busy these days with athletics or music or student office or some other extracurricular, they feel like they don’t have time to go to church and connect with other students who love Christ.
A high school student’s calendar isn’t like a menu at a fine restaurant, with a limited selection of appetizers, entrées, and desserts: “Okay, I have three blocks of time during my week. How will I fill each slot of time?” It’s more like a food court, with venders fighting for exclusive ownership of each student’s commitment. When students enter high school as freshmen, they choose a single extracurricular that will drain the bulk of their free time. At that point, all other activities are thrown out the window. A few overachievers will pick multiple extracurriculars, but as they get older and each commitment demands more, they will drop their secondary activities one by one.
Where does youth group fit in? For many, youth group just can’t keep up with the competition. It doesn’t offer the camaraderie or popularity of sports. It doesn’t look as good on a resume as student government. And it doesn’t lead to college scholarships like theater, band, orchestra, or choir. So youth group ends up on the cutting room floor. How can youth group compete in this food court battleground? How can you convince students to cram youth group into overstuffed schedules? At the most basic level, this is an issue of prioritization—for parents, for students, and for you. Here are a few practical ways to make youth group a priority.
1. From the parent perspective
Create a one-hour parent-training workshop on prioritizing for their students. Remember, parents have their students over-involved because they think it’s good for them. Help them understand that it isn’t. Explain the foundational importance of being in a community of believers. Demonstrate how it’s not just a time drain; it can actually fuel other extracurriculars by training students to see God working in all aspects of their lives, to see each activity as an opportunity for worship. Invite older students to share how youth group gives them energy and motivates them to excel in other areas of their lives.
But note that one workshop won’t make a difference. You will have to follow it up with articles and resources. Don’t give up. You probably know that students need to hear something seven times before they remember something. It’s no different for parents.
2. From the student perspective
Parents may have the last say on what students do with their time, but many parents listen to the passions of their kids to determine where to invest. So if a student watches football at night, practices throwing during their free time, and talks about football with their friends, parents will support that passion and schedule accordingly. You can’t stop by educating parents. How do your students see youth ministry? Is it a time sink—just one more busy night during an already crowded week? Or is it a more foundational part of their lives?
You can start changing their perspective by expanding into students’ lives outside of your one or two-hour program. Don’t let busy schedules be an excuse. Show up at their games or concerts, and bring the rest of the youth group along to cheer. Take students out for lunch, or invite them to a breakfast Bible study. Flip their expectations. Stop convincing them to fit youth group into their busy schedules, and start finding ways to bring youth group to them. Youth group isn’t one activity during the week. It’s a community that influences all parts of life.
3. From your perspective
As the youth worker, your job is to bow out of the food court competition. No matter how flashy and fun your youth group is, there are simply too many other options to compete with. Church community isn’t just another pretzel stand; it’s a grocery store, providing for essential needs. If you compete for students’ time as if your program is one extra activity out of many, that’s just how students will start to view church as they get older. Eventually something—college or a job or a family—will edge it out.
Where does youth group fit in amongst those other activities? Is it a fast food luxury of fun and entertainment, or is it a basic necessity students can’t do without, like family time or school or eating? As long as you program your youth group as a luxury, it will be expendable. Make the content necessary for a fulfilling life and supportive of the other extracurricular activities in students’ lives. If you change the way you see your ministry, you’ll stop focusing so much on the bells and whistles and start concentrating on making your youth group content essential to each student’s family life, school work, friendships, and extracurricular activities.