Why do kids come to youth group?

Do they come to learn? To have a good time? To worship? To avoid homework?

Craig Groeschel, pastor of, posted some reasons why people come to church. It made me ask the same question about youth group. We’d like to think it’s to hear our powerful lesson series, to experience God in dynamic worship, or even just a general desire to grow spiritually. Although those reasons may be true for some students, they’re probably in the minority.

I think kids come to youth group because of the relationships. The opposite is true, as well. Students who aren’t connected in meaningful relationships don’t really care to be there.

So why do we spend so much time every week planning events and programs when really the greatest impact we can have is just showing kids that we love them and that God does, too? It seems like our priorities might be backwards.

The old cliche really is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Posted on April 11, 2007

  • Completely agree. People crave community more than anything. We should be putting as much work, or perhaps more, into creating a God centered community, as we do in preparing lessons, events, worship, etc. We should in fact be looking for ways for students to experience community in all those things.

  • When I was in college I did a tour doing youth events several summers. In my training for those events, we had a guy come and help us with our presentations. Basically, he said you have to prepare each event for three kinds of people who would be there. At every event there would be: the person who really wants to be there to learn and grow, the person who really wants to be there, but not to learn (maybe because someone else was cute), and the person who really doesn’t want to be there. That has remained true in my experience in youth ministry since then.

    I would agree, though, that most kids crave community and try to find it in church. Unfortunately, most churches don’t provide that.

  • OK, I have had enough! I always hear about how important relationships are, relationships should be the priority in ministry. Well, how come everyone talks about and I don’t see very many people actually living it?
    I am not saying that this is you, I don’t know you, but I don have relationships with many youth workers in my town and from around my state and this seems to be the case.

  • Tim

    I would agree, Chris — this is unfortunately not how it’s done in a lot of youth groups and churches. Most youth groups and churches focus on programming, events and various tasks that provide a service of some kind to the congregation. I think many churches do this because it helps us task-oriented driven Americans feel like we’re accomplishing something, as if we’re part of corporate America or something. But when it comes down to it, these things, although necessary, will never leave the lasting impact that a Godly relationship will. I know this from personal experience in my life (I’m in youth ministry today because a youth worker invested personally into me back in high school) and have seen it played out many times before in other students’ lives.

    If it’s not that way around your state, then maybe you can be the first one to set the trend? Try it for a bit and see what happens.

  • Joy

    Just to add an “amen,” i’ve seen the same thing in my youth ministry. I’ve got teens that attend a huge ministry on another night of the week but still come to our small one because they know everyone there.

  • Shawn

    I agree with you totally about relationships. But my question is how do we do a better job at this. Sometimes I get frustrated when I go to youth minister training events and they tell us new things we should be doing but don’t really give us ideas how to do it with our group. The same is true with building community with the youth group. I heard this before, and I think our group is pretty good at it, but I haven’t been given any practical ideas of how to do it in my ministry.

  • This is so true…and so hard to break yourself if you’re in the habit of program-driven youth ministry.
    What I’ve done this year is to write “PRAY” at the beginning of every day in my Day Planner. I know this sounds terrible, but it’s a reminder to me of what’s important. At about 3:30 PM, I’ve written “CALL KIDS” and I schedule nothing past this point.
    I also printed up one page per student with one column “Date” and the other “topics discussed.” This is so that I can check records to keep myself somewhat accountable. I want to make sure I’m trying to call all the kids and not playing favorites. I also want to keep track of what’s going on in their lives so that next time I call, I can ask about our previous discussion.
    It’s worked pretty well so far, but I’m still struggling.
    We’ve really messed up when it comes to “being a friend” I think. Simple things like calling people and showing up for a visit go a long way.
    Great post!

  • Joy

    a while back my Sr. Pastor asked me to start taking my teens out for lunch or something on a one-on-one or small group basis. At first i thought it would be weird and would turn me into some kind of santa claus always buying stuff, but it’s turned out to be a really good thing. I try to do this once a week, but it’s not always that often. Of course, my group is just barely into the double digits, so i can actually get around to all of my teens in a reasonable amount of time. If i had a larger group i think i would divide them up among the adult leaders and have them do this with their teens. It can be kind of expensive but i think it’s really been a good thing for us. and if you just take them out for coffe its a lot cheaper
    Another thing i do is divide the teens into small groups during prayer time. the teens are in the same group week after week so its the same people in their group, and they have the same adult leader each week too. It’s not really a big deal in our small youth ministry, but when we get bigger i think this will help teens from getting lost in the crowd and help grow the relationships between the teens.
    And of course the teens have my e-mail, instant messenger names, myspace, home phone, etc, and they know they can get in touch with me. And i try to send e-mails or postcards to the ones i feel like i’m not in touch with as much. After a while they get the idea that i really am acessible to them, so they’ll call or email me about random stuff.
    Plus anything you do with the teens is building a relationship with them, and anything the teens work on together builds relationships between them. so our fun activities and minsitry teams are huge in this too. And whenever they invite me to something i try to go.
    I hope this helps.

  • Shawn

    Thanks for the ideas. Do any of you do anything in the high schools? I have heard of going and eating lunch with the kids but is there anything else anybody does in the schools?

  • Tim

    A lot of great ideas here. Thanks guys!

    Shawn, sounds like a good recommendation for a follow-up blog post, huh? “Practical ideas for building community in youth group.” Thanks for the idea! I’ll start working on it.

  • I think if you have 5 students in your class, you will have 5 different reasons for being there. Some come b/c parents make them, some to see that cute girl/boy, some to see friends, some to learn and others just because that’s what you do. (now there are more reasons, I know that, but lets just stop at these). I’ve tried to incorporate some time to just hang out with the students at the beginning or end of class. I believe strongly in the value of relationships in ministry and think we can spend too much time getting ready for class, and not enough with the students we are trying to minister to. As Franklin and Joy both said, it is important to make sure we aren’t only paying attention to part of the group. I posted yesterday, on my blog, about not forgetting those students in the back.

    I would love for the number one reason students come to youth group to be that they want to learn more about God. Once this happens, don’t they start bringing their friends – who come for different reasons? If we are discipling students, I think we’ll always be faced with this question. And I think that is good. If every student in class was there to grow closer to God, then they aren’t reaching their friends. And we can have deeper classes just for those who want to grow. (hope that makes sense)

  • Shawn, I try to go to the school every Wed. morning. Haven’t gone to lunches as much as I want to, though. One good thing about living in a small town, like I do, is that it is super easy to get involved with school stuff. They are very open to me helping out and hanging around. This is the exact opposite from when I was in Augusta, GA. Some schools I had to pull teeth to just go to lunch.

    Being in the schools has been a great way to meet other students in the community and see the students in my group outside of “church stuff”

  • Shawn

    Thanks Mike! What is it that you do at the school on Wednesday mornings? I am also in a small town and don’t think it would be a problem getting into the school. The school does have a Bible club but they don’t allow outside groups to participate because they had a youth leader that was involved with it that used it just as a recruiting thing for his youth group. Almost trying to take kids from their churches to come to his. Unfortuntely it has ruined it for us other youth ministers who just want to minister to kids and not steal them away.

  • Most weeks I go to the FCA (HS) and/or Christian Club (MS) meetings before school. It sounds like that is not an option for you – silly past minister. I make sure not to steal students from other churches. Most know which church I work at because it is a small town. My main focus is to just be there and show them I care about them and help out when needed. I’ve led devotions pretty often for the MS group – the student leaders ask me. Have you tried asking the school to be able to just sit in on the Bible club – making sure they know you just want to be able to listen and won’t talk to any students who don’t go to your church? (that was something I had to do in GA in order to visit during lunch)

    I’ve also just hung out in the parking lot before school. For no other reason than to just be there if a student wants/needs to talk. One of the teachers asked me a few weeks ago about coming in before school while the students are waiting in the lunch room and being available to talk if needed. I wouldn’t do anything but just be there.

    I’ve helped during a blood drive. There is also a possibilty (since you are in a small town) of helping out during the lunch periods. Just being an adult to help monitor the lunchroom.

    Since this is my first year at this church and my first schoolyear, my main goal has been to be around and get to know the staff and students. Let them know I’m here and am interested in helping out when I can.

    Sorry that’s long. Hope that helps. (I know its not on “why kids come to youth group” specifically)

  • Nice post and comments.

    I think most of us do not do “relational ministry” because of the following:

    – planning a event is measureable
    – getting tons of a kid at a set time ( #’s) make it look good
    – we operate out of an anti-biblical mandate
    – priorities in college/seminary training are SCREWED UP
    – relational ministry is scary
    – we have bought into the negative hype of “cliques”

    The list can go on for ever ..

  • Not only should we build relationships with students in our ministries, we should also be encouraging relationships with adults in our church (maybe even outside the youth ministry) and our students. Those relationships, built around common interest may last well beyond the high school years. Maybe when our students returned from college they would come back to church and visit those adults that built relationships with them. Maybe that would even stem the tide of them graduating church when they graduate the youth group. Most of those adults will be there long after the youth ministry is gone.

  • tom

    We just had acommunity d-now weekend in our town. I am the interim YP at our church. We had four different denominations and about 130 kids in12 host homes over the weekend. We put different youth leaders from different churches in the host homes to be group leaders at night. We had an amazing time the kids got know the leaders and each other better. We are going to begin community worship and fellowship in an empty buiding dowtown starting next month. At the end of this weekend several students testified how they had been made to come to church and hated it but after this weekend of meeting the adults and and spending tiem getting to know others students they now cant wait to come. God showed up inspite of us!

  • Tim

    That’s great, Tom! Thanks for sharing that! Relationships really do make a difference. :)

  • Shawn

    Thanks for all the help Mike with what you do in the schools. I will try some of these suggestions. I have been in youth ministry for 10 years but it has only been in the last year that it has been full time. I have never done much with the schools before because I was working another full time job.
    I think one of my gifts is the ability of relational ministry with the kids. I guess when I first read this post I was thinking about community in the youth group as relationships amongst the kids with each other. How do we help the group to become a better Christian community with each other and with the adults?

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  • Tammy

    “So why do we spend so much time every week planning events and programs when really the greatest impact we can have is just showing kids that we love them and that God does, too? It seems like our priorities might be backwards.”

    EXACTLY!! Just 10 minutes ago, I e-mailed my best friend about this very topic. It seems like a waste of time to plan these ‘church’ activities…that seem so meaning less much of the time. I just want to BE with them, listen to them, respond to them with God’s leading of my heart and soul. This summer, my other youth leader and I sat the kids down and told them we want them to have a ‘safe place to be real’…not a fake place to ‘play church’. At that very moment….our group shifted and they are currently in the midst of a transformation.

    Thanks for posting this!

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