Getting kids to commit to youth group events

Youth group commitmentHere’s a question I was recently asked by a youth worker:

“Will I have a better attendance if I have kids commit to an event months ahead of time or is it better to have them just show up the day of the event?”

Somehow I think the issue of getting kids to commit to youth events is the surface issue, a symptom of something else because most kids really don’t have a problem committing to something. You know exactly what those things are because often it’s what they’re doing instead of the youth group event.

Getting kids to commit to youth group events isn’t based on the timing of when you get them to commit, bribes, or price break incentives (although that may motivate the parents). It’s based on something else: what they believe about you and the ministry.

What you believe determines how you act. It is a basic principle of life that applies to every single one of us. For example:

  • If you believe flying is unsafe, you will not fly.
  • If you believe eating poop is bad for you, you will hopefully not eat poop!
  • If you believe God’s command to Adam to “go forth an multiply” is for all mankind, you will try to have children.

As most of us know, a lot of people say they believe something, but often their actions indicate that they truly believe something else.

So when kids commit to their athletics, their music lessons, their friends, or their ideas, the question to ask is, “Why? What do they believe about those things that makes it easy for them to commit?”

The follow-up questions relating to their commitment to youth events are, “What do they believe about you?” and, “What do they believe about the youth ministry?”

The first question is important to because what they believe about the leader permeates everything else they believe about the ministry, including the ministry’s events. The second question is just as important because sometimes teens can believe one thing about the leader, but believe something else about the ministry due to influences the leader may not be able to fully control (i.e. a previous bad experience, misinformation from someone else, etc.).

But here’s some good news: on some level you get to choose what they believe about you and the ministry. It’s just that most of us have never really thought about what we’re unintentionally teaching them about those two things.

The main elements that influence what people believe about both you and the ministry are:

  • A strong vision that has forward momentum
  • The execution of that vision
  • Their active involvement in that vision
  • The life-change they witness taking place in themselves and/or others as a result

So instead of addressing whatever is competing for teenagers’ commitment, instead ask the question, “What is it that they believe about this competing thing in their life? And what is it they believe about me and this event?” Until you address those questions, you’ll be left addressing superficial issues that won’t be fully resolved with price breaks, bribes, and begging.

P.S. If you’d like to explore a 30-step process I wrote that helps you ask good questions that will enable you and your team to discover God’s vision for your ministry, Focused Youth Ministry is currently 80% off for only $1.99!

Posted on June 11, 2012

  • Good stuff Tim. Thanks!!

  • If the event cost money, I think signing up in their small groups are the way to go. I have burned by allowing them to sign up on the day of the event, and no one hardly shows. Now, getting them to sign up ahead of time is difficult, but if your small group leaders are involved, and pushing your events in their small groups, it can work effectively.

    Also, I allow some students to help me plan my calendar which really helps. They show and bring their friends, because they had a part in the event planning.

    • Yeah, totally, because the small group leaders and the teens’ involvement in planning both change something about what they believe about the event. Understanding what that is allows you to focus in on it and even make that belief stronger in other ways.

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  • Great post Tim. I think you hit the nail on the head. It is more about vision and what the student ministry is all about than a simple event plan, etc. I sometimes forget that!

  • Tim, Great post!
    While I agree with you 100% about asking the tough questions as to why students may not be coming—you must admit that some of the alternatives that you have mentioned (sports, music, education) have a much higher priority in the lives of some families than youth group.

    So it’s not simply the truth to say that our students are voting with there feet in all cases. In many instances our students are influenced by the culture (and sometimes parents) to be the best at __________. And the unfortunate cost of this “drive” is having little or no depth of discipleship.

    Now, I live in the suburbs of DC where the pressure on students is, maybe, a little bit more profound than other areas in the country—but I think more youth workers would agree with me than disagree?!

    Anyway, great post as usual and keep up the good work! I hope the new job is going well.


    • I think we’re saying the same thing here. They are definitely influenced by culture to be the best at something. We all are. The question I’m asking is what motivates that “drive” you mentioned. They believe something about that sport/music/education/etc that causes them to vote with their feet. What is that belief that’s resulting in “little or no depth of discipleship?”

  • JWPicker

    Solid post Tim! I also agree with Josh. Getting kids to sign up early is necessary for a successful event. Taking a step back, it would be good to get event calendars from the schools represented in your group so you can try to plan events between or around the majority of event as to not make the kids choose 1 or the other.

    With that said, there are benefits to getting kids to sign up early. Giving them or their parents incentives is good business because knowing how many have signed up will help you prepare for resources, food, volunteers, seats, etc. Willow Creek incentivizes the kids with a cool t-shirt for signing up early. The shirt is usually a cool one, so the kids expect it and sign up. I don’t see this as bribing our coercing them to sign up, but a great build up to the event. The more the kids wear the shirt, the more excited they get for the event. It creates a community so it is “not cool” to miss the event.

    I think if you are doing a good job of planning, promoting, and praying, then the commitment and attendance will take care of itself.

  • Students typically prioritize sports and music because those things carry more obvious and immediate consequences. You don’t make the team, you don’t get the part you want in the play.

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