Q&A: Following-up with absent youth group students

Sorry guys, still playing catch-up on Q&A topics you’ve submitted, but I love the questions, so keep ’em coming!

Shelby Craig asked me this question on Twitter.

How do you follow up with students that haven’t been to youth group in a while?

First of all, how we know when a student has been missing for a while is very important. The typical strategy is to take attendance or have everyone sign in when they show up at youth group. After a couple weeks, if Quiet Jonny’s name hasn’t been checked off for a while, then we know to give him a call.

The problem with that approach is that it’s very impersonal. The only way we know if Quiet Jonny is missing or not is because of boxes that are not checked on a sheet of paper, not because we were looking for him specifically and missed his presence at youth group. Maybe we notice when the outgoing kids are gone, but rarely the quiet kids.

In my ministry, we don’t take attendance. When I get the question, “How many kids are in your youth ministry?” the honest answer is, “I don’t know.” Frankly, it doesn’t matter much to me if we have 1 kid show up or 100. We’re excited about whoever is there and will invest into them personally.

And I think that’s the key — investing into every student personally. If every student has a personal connection to an adult leader who is looking for them and can’t wait to talk with them once they show up at youth group, not only does that kid want to be there, but that adult leader notices when he or she is missing. It is then that leader’s responsibility to contact the student during the week.

So here’s the plan, especially for large-group meetings:

1. Have enough adult leaders to meet a 1 to 5 ratio of leaders to kids. As the youth group grows, add more leaders to maintain that balance.

2. Every leader is responsible for 5 specific kids. These leaders are intentionally looking for those students so they can catch up with them about their week.

3. If an adult is responsible for a kid who brings a friend, that friend becomes one more person that the adult leader will get to know and look for in following weeks. If one leader’s group of kids grows too large, then another adult joins and slowly they divide into two groups.

4. When one student is missing, the leader who was looking for them at youth group contacts them during the week just to say HI, hear about their week, and let them know they were missed. (NO guilt trips!!!)

5. Be sure to have designated greeters who look for visitors that come by themselves. Usually they’re pretty easy to spot because they’re sitting alone, looking uncomfortable.

This isn’t a branded process in our ministry. Most of the kids have no idea this is even intentionally happening. They just know that one adult in particular enjoys them, loves their presence, and notices when they’re absent. That feels a lot nicer than being known by a checkmark on an attendance sheet.


Have a youth ministry question you’d like me and other readers to answer? E-mail it to me! Please keep your question brief and to-the-point. Thanks!

Posted on October 1, 2008

  • Great answer Tim. We have a very similar system set up in our ministry. I call my adult leaders “dedicated fans.” I want every student to know that they have at least one dedicated fan, a person that can’t wait to see them, talk with them, and get to know them.

  • Great post Tim. Similar set-up in our ministry. Only you phrased it in a clearer way than I ever have. So I’m totally gonna steal this man. But I promise I’ll give you credit…hehehe

  • Absolutely agree with you on this one about making a set of adults intentional about the kids in your ministry.

    However and it is a small however… to your qoute:

    “In my ministry, we don’t take attendance. When I get the question, “How many kids are in your youth ministry?” the honest answer is, “I don’t know.” Frankly, it doesn’t matter much to me if we have 1 kid show up or 100. We’re excited about whoever is there and will invest into them personally.”

    There is value in taking attendance or knowing your numbers…

    1. It allows true feedback to those in your church who are all about the numbers… true I care more about spiritual growth then numerical growth, but doesn’t mean the higher ups don’t.

    2. Also with numbers growing in 100+ attendance it allows me as the youth pastor to take a look a signs of weakness. For example if there is a particular age group missing consistently, I can find out what is the root of the problem.

    3. I want to be able to rely on the relationships of my volunteers but if I take attendance I know who is missing personally and can follow up with them if I see what is going on in the lives of my students.

    Don’t get me wrong I hate the thought that our job is to get butts in seats… but for greater job security I have come to learn that this is valuable to our higher ups.

  • @ Chuck Church: Good response. Fortunately, the “higher ups” in my church don’t care much either. Throughout all the time I’ve been here, not once have I been asked about attendance or numbers. I’ve been asked, “Did you have a good turnout?” but that’s a different question with different intentions. Our denomination asks that we report attendance, though, so every December (before it’s due in January) we take guesstimated attendance for a couple weeks for their sake, but that’s it.

    As a disclaimer, I DO believe that numbers matter. A lot of ministries use the unbiblical excuse that “numbers don’t matter” as a cop-out for a lack of growth or to inwardly hide their disappointment of it. In the words of Perry Noble, though, “Numbers matter because every number represents a soul.” Even Jesus said that it is His desire that ALL would come to know Him and that none should be lost. God wants our ministries to grow even more than we do! The problem, though, is that we start to focus on numbers as a whole rather than numbers as individuals. It’s the individuals that God cares about, not the size of a group.

    My ministry is past the 100s, so I understand your idea here and I think it’s a good one. Personally, I get a ballpark idea about that when we split up by grade into teams for games. In our high school large-group meetings, for example, I may need 4 teams. So I’ll send each grade to a different corner of the gym. If it’s not balanced, the adult leaders shuffle some kids around or we combine 2 grades together. (Like, if there’s 40 freshmen but only 5 seniors.)

    And having a backup plan is fine. There’s certainly nothing wrong with taking attendance the traditional way as the only source of record keeping. I personally just don’t feel a need for it in our ministry.

    Good thoughts. Thanks, Chuck!

  • Great post Tim. Every kid needs to know that there is someone excited about seeing them each week but even more so to have someone call you to see how you are doing even when you don’t show up means so much. Relationships are huge for young and old and when it goes beyond the “meeting” it means even more.

  • Wesley Perkins

    Love the post man! In my travels, I often see a lot of youth ministries that are struggling because they are more concerned with building the number of teens rather than building the relationships with them. It is the relationship with the teen that keeps them coming back. If the Church is not concerned enough to show that they are truly interested in their life, then they will find it in the world.

  • @ Wesley Perkins: Yeah, like I said in my last videoblog, when you have a relationship with someone, their opinion matters. That’s why it’s important to teach God’s Word in the context of relationships.

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  • Good points. I like the 5 to 1 ratio, although you can’t always count on perfection from leaders (they’re people too!) so I’d say having a VERY simple sign-in system is good to. It’s especially hard to keep track when students are coming & going (especially when they get older and start “youth group shopping”), and having the sign-in is a great way to catch & meet every single visitor.

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