Focus on the kids who ARE there

Growing up in Sunday school where attendance was sketchy at best, it was not uncommon to hear the teacher say, “Where is everybody?” with a half-hidden tone of disappointment. He or she would then proceed to ask more questions about why certain people were absent than they would about us who were present. If you wanted the teacher to talk about you, it was almost better to skip Sunday school than to be present.

I learned a valuable lesson from those experiences: Always be excited about the students who are present rather than focus on those who are absent.

Always be excited about the students who are present rather than focus on those who are absent.

Don’t enter a room and ask, “Where is everyone?” The kids present are thinking, “What about me? I’m here!” Rather, enter a room and focus on every student who is there and is interested in the Word you have to bring. Even if you put 30 hours into your Bible study lesson for the week, don’t skip it or slim it down because only a handful of students showed up. Feed those who came and make them feel as welcomed as you possibly can.

Don’t worry about those who are absent. After word spreads around about how accepted and welcomed the minority feels, everyone else will be back.

Posted on March 15, 2007

  • there are some great insights there.

    good stuff.

  • Very well put! How critical it is that we be present with those students that are with us.

  • Good thought today. I admit it is hard studying so long and preparing a big night and only a few show up. I needed that encouragment today. Those that come to church are the ones that will be blessed. Why keep it from them!

  • Tim

    Yeah. In my mind, even if only one students shows up, I have his/her undivided attention to make an impact for Christ. I probably won’t sit the one student in the audience and preach through all my PowerPoint slides, but I will still invest just as much into that one kid as I would into a whole group if they were there. And rather than being upset that attendance is low, I’m excited for the one that decided to come. Believe me, I’ve been there and the leader’s attitude makes a huge difference.

    And then you have the leaders who constantly push the kids every week to bring their friends and invite others to youth group. After a couple times, this communicates, “I’m interested in having a big group and what makes me happy is having lots of kids here.” The students who do invite their friends end up doing so to earn the leader’s approval. I’ve seen that story played out before, too. Encouraging students to invite their friends is fine only if it’s genuinely from a burden for lost souls, not recruitment for your youth group, and the students who are present already feel your unconditional acceptance for them personally.

  • Thanks for the reminder…it’s needed just now.

  • Tim

    Sure thing, Laura! :)

  • Prepare like it’s your last and preach your guts out…whether its three or three hundred. The one’s that are there deserve it and your word is for them.

    Making Difference Makers

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  • Nice thoughts. Some that I think I needed to hear and apply.

  • I completely agree. This is one of the first things I have tried to share with adult volunteers! Care for the ones that are there and follow-up later on the ones that aren’t.

  • Tim

    Exactly, Jason. And when we follow-up, it’s should never be like, “Dude, where were you? Why weren’t you there?” with a tone that places guilt or demands to know what could’ve possibly been more important. Rather, we should follow-up in a way that communicates they were missed, we noticed they were gone and we’d like to have them back because we enjoy their presence.

    What speaks to a kid even more than this, though, is actually taking time outside of church to connect with them instead. “Hey Billy, missed ya at youth group last night. I was wondering if maybe we could hang out tonight for a little bit instead, like grab a shake or something.” Even if the meeting can’t happen, at least it shows them that you care about the individual, not just having a large group.

  • I never really thought about this as an adult, but looking back at youth group/sunday school experiences in my past I did feel a lot of the feelings you described when youth leaders want more quantity than quality of students. I was there every sunday rain or shine because I had to, but it made a huge difference with holding my attention when the leader was excited and took a second to focus on me being there, and show that he was excited to be there too rather than save the lesson for a time when more poeple could be there.

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  • Eric

    Tim –

    Appreciate this article. Yesterday in S.S. I had one of those moments where I left asking “where was everyone”? Core kids were AWOL, and enthusiasm and excitement were at a low among those who were there. Thanks for the reminder that those who ARE there are important and need to hear the message just as much. Discouraging that others couldn’t be there to hear it, but I guess I’ll have to take my message “on the road” (reference to your comment above about meeting with kids outside of church time). Thanks again.

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  • Lee

    I still remember the day I learned this powerful lesson. Changed the way I did some of my ministry actually. Great stuff.

  • Wow, this is a great point to make! I recently started the youth ministry at my church in December of ’08 and on top of that I myself am new to ministry. I am a volunteer Youth Director and our group averages about 10 teens a week and on top of that I work a 40 hour a week job. Although I have never verbalized disappointment when only a few kids show up, I do feel defeat within myself after the time I took to prepare for that week! Thanks for the reminder to stay encouraged even when less show up to youth group!

  • Ouch….that really hit home. Thanks for sharing the word.

  • Tony

    Wow. This really hit home. I find myself too often reflecting more on those who aren’t there, than those who are. I have been in youth ministry for almost 10 years, and I cannot tell you enough how encouraging this is. I will start implementing these principles into my minstry right away. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned here is not to ask “where were you last night?” but to let those who weren’t there know they were missed. I also liked the little bitty about spending time outside of church with those who weren’t there! Thanks alot!

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  • Tim,

    Great insights. This may already have been mentioned in the many comments above, but I also hear this type of pessimistic language coming from the students when attendance is down. Someone will ask, "Where is everybody?" My typical response, "Your here, thats all that matters." We need to not only reinforce this in our own brains, but in our students brains as well. Blessings.

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  • Shawn Johnson

    I needed this today. Thanks.

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