Recently this question showed up in my email Inbox from a Life in Student Ministry reader:
I need some ideas on a reward system to encourage my kids to come and to bring friends. Any ideas or help would be greatly appreciated.
This person gave me permission to post my response online to help others who might be looking for an answer to this question, too. Here’s my reply:
Thanks for writing! If I can, I’d like to help you not make a big mistake here by thinking you should reward kids for coming to youth group. A reward/bribe system will never work because there’s no way you can compete with their alternatives (video games, movies, TV shows, going to the mall, concerts, etc.). In fact, a reward system will only encourage kids to come for selfish reasons, which is nothing close to what the body of Christ is supposed to be all about. Plus, it’s only a matter of time until your reward is no longer a big deal to anyone and you’ll have to make something bigger and greater in order to keep their attention. You can’t keep that up for long.
Let me suggest a better tactic:
1. Build personal relationships with the kids you’re in touch with.
2. Facilitate an environment where those kids can build relationships with each other.
People don’t go to church because they want to hear the music, listen to a sermon, or because of cool church events. People go to church primarily because of the relationships they have there with other people. Students are the same way. They want to be where their friends are, whether that’s at school, the mall, online or at church. So use that to your advantage by getting to know the kids personally and facilitating relationships between them. If your youth group kids enjoy each other and you, they’ll come.
Some practical ways to do this:
1. Rather than expecting kids to come to you, go to them instead. Hang out on their campus, their homes and have them over to your house. Be sure not just talk about youth group unless they ask. You’re not there to market your program, you’re there to love students.
2. Every relationship revolves around trust. The thing about trust is that it is not a right someone automatically gives you just because you’re a youth pastor. Trust is something you earn over time. So be patient and earn their respect.
3. With the kids that do come to youth group, even if it’s just two kids, take both of them out for ice cream and just talk. Let them get to know each other. If you have only one kid, take him out and just get to know him personally. (If the student is a girl, take a female adult with you so you’re not alone with the student. Being alone with any female who isn’t your wife is a recipe for disaster, even if you stay in sight of the public.)
Posted on October 24, 2007