Q&A: What to do when less than 5 kids show up at youth group

Topic / Leadership

In the comments of my recent blog survey, David Thorne asks a great question:

“What should we do when less than 5 kids show up at youth group?”

Probably the #1 rookie youth worker mistake I see is when 3 kids are sitting in a Sunday school class or youth room and the leader asks with a tone of disappointment, “Where is everyone?” I completely understand what the leader is thinking: “I just spent hours of my weekend putting together a great Bible lesson that I want everyone to hear, but no one thinks our youth group is important enough for their time. Why should I spend my time on it then?” Completely understandable.

But think about it from the perspective of the kids instead. You come in and act disappointed in low attendance, how does that make the other teens who are there feel? Especially if you proceed to talk about the missing students and why they’re absent. The other teens are sitting there thinking, “I guess to get attention in this group I have to stay home. What about me? I’m here!” I know that’s how kids secretly feel because, as a boy growing up in church, I was one of them.

Here’s a better response: Look at the 3 teens who are there and be genuinely excited each one of them! With only three 3 kids, you can talk at length about their weeks, what’s been going on in their lives, and then use their stories as examples in your Bible study together. In fact, call the parents and tell them you’re taking their kids to to Dairy Queen. Teach your Bible study there over ice cream. Grab a board game or two to play there, also. Imagine Iff is a great relationship-building board game and is a lot of fun! (Available at any Wal-Mart or Target.)

As those 3 kids sense your genuine love for each of them and start growing in the Word through your teaching, I guarantee they’ll become excited about youth group and before long they’ll be inviting friends.

A couple tips:
1. Make sure you call the absent kids during the week, not to make them feel guilty for not being at youth group, but to let them know that you missed them and that you still want to hear about they’re week. Ask how you can pray for them.

2. If only 1 student shows up and you’re all alone, head to a public area to hang out and talk. If it’s someone of the opposite gender and there’s no adult to join you immediately, there is no meeting that night.

I actually wrote about this issue last year, too: “Focus on the kids who ARE there.” That post is from my personal experience with Sunday school teachers as a kid.


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 August 12, 2008

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  • Great stuff! Thanks for sharing, and helping us to focus our attention on the right thing (those that are there).

  • Right on, Tim. Solid word.

  • russ

    Definitely read the blog on focusing on the kids who are there. I think too often we take it personally when this sort of thing happens, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to grow closer to those few as Tim suggests.

  • Tim,
    I totally agree with you. It is much better and beneficial to focus on the kids that are there… and then call the rest of the kids during the week, but to not make them feel guilty :)))

  • I was so inspired last week at the Student Life Mission Camp that I was at with our middle school group. There was a youth pastor there who had promoted the trip to his group a great deal with the hopes of bringing a a bunch of them. Instead he had one boy sign up. what did he do? He brought that one student to camp! So cool. That was a week that kid will never forget. An occasion in which his youth pastor invested a whole week in him. Incredible!

  • Another great thing to do with smaller groups is to get them involved in some sort of service project. Sometimes with even 10 people it is hard to organize spur of the moment projects that can really help in your church and your community, but with less than 5 you can all pile into the same car. Go and visit in a nursing home, or simply go to a restaurant and pray for people as they walk by. Smaller groups are perfect for getting out in the community. As someone who now has a much larger group, I miss the freedom that just a few people gives.

    Give your few people ways to impact their world and they will bring others to the group.

  • Chris

    We usually average 25 – 30 but I don’t know what happened this summer – there were Sunday nights that there were only 4 or 5 that showed up. I started to get really down about the whole thing, wondering where everyone was, but the last few times we loaded up the church van and went to Dairy Queen and then cruised the main drag, turned the music up loud and had a blast. Funny how the numbers picked up after that…

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