I remember quite vividly the night it happened. We had planned for Youth Ministry to proceed as usual that Sunday evening. Even though it was a holiday and we expected our numbers to be low, we did our best to ensure there would be something for our students to do.
But nobody showed up.
It can definitely feel like the most defeating thing to experience in a new ministry. You make plans all week long, prepare a lesson, organize games, buy snacks, but what do you do when no students show up?
Check Your Communication: Did everyone know there was supposed to be a youth group? Did you ensure that both parents and students were informed? If there are any official communication channels in your church, such as the website or the bulletin, did all that information go out? We should communicate a lot. I know the most frustrated I’ve ever been as a parent is receiving a half sheet of paper from the school about an event in three days that I had no prior knowledge of.
Let’s be better about that in our communication!
Look at Church Patterns Outside of Youth Group: In my church, there are men’s and women’s Bible studies that meet at the same time as our youth group. We all coordinate when we are going to meet and when we are going to take a break. Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we don’t have any midweek Bible study. The main reason for this is because so many people weren’t coming. It was almost a wasteland at church. So instead of making a lot of people feel guilty about not coming to Wednesday night Bible study, we decided it would be better as a church if we didn’t meet.
If you don’t have any students showing up, is it because there are also no adults or kids who would naturally be coming during this time as well?
Pray: Either spend some time praying right then and there with your volunteers or try to get a few parents together to pray for your students sometime in the near future. It’s also a good moment to check your own heart and pray, asking God to show you what you need to learn from this.
Meet with Your Leadership: Definitely not a fun meeting to request, but it’s better to be proactive about letting your leadership or senior pastor know that you didn’t have any students show up. Maybe they know something going on that you aren’t aware of. Maybe they can offer you some tips or ideas. They might even be able to recommend whom to meet with to figure out what to do next. Be open during this meeting. It probably won’t be enjoyable, but it might be a productive time where you try to solve some real problems.
Watch for Opportunities: He walked in about 10 minutes late. The other adult volunteer who had shown up that night and I looked at each other and shrugged. He was new, but he was there. So we went on with the lesson and had youth group. Josh accepted Christ that night. He became a leader in our youth group, led worship, and became someone I could depend on for the next several years.
Sometimes God throws you a curveball. He takes what you thought might be a loss and turns it into a God story. Be faithful. Keep reaching out to students. Watch for what God is doing. You’ve got this. More importantly, God’s got you.