I Want Busy Kids in Our Student Ministry – By Tim Ahlgrim
Youth workers need to stop whining!
Students are busy, active, and stressed. The result of this activity is that they do not have enough time to attend our meetings and church. Many youth workers are discouraged – and often feel rejected. Soon many express discouragement by complaining about the kids’ lack of commitment to God or interest in the church.
I have heard youth workers who make busyness of students a spiritual issue. Activity becomes sinful because we have tossed the gauntlet of proof to the kids. If they are committed to Christ, they must prove it by attending church more and attending other activities less. If students do not respond as prescribed, they must not be committed to the Lord.
Today many churches and student ministries have given up on the idea and action of reaching busy students. Reaching these kids is not even on their radar. Not long ago, on a weeknight, I attended a wrestling match at our local high school. Going on at the same time – a swim meet, winter color guard, and a basketball game. Busy kids and their parents were scattered throughout the athletic wing of the high school. To my knowledge, I was the only local church representative in the school that evening. I believe we should change our attitudes and actions toward busy kids and begin to devise ways to reach and minister to them.
We need to stop whining!
Students are busy – and if our culture remains unchanged, there will be no turning back to the good old days when kids spent time at home and our church youth group was the “only show in town”. Kids spend more time away from home than ever before. Our high school students can be found training for sports at 5:45 in the morning. “Zero hour” class begins at 7 AM. School ends at 3:15 when bands, choirs, sports, and jobs all demand the time and attention of students. Our Fellowship of Christian Athletes Huddle even meets one day every week at 7 AM. During the week, high-involvement students from our school may never see the sun from October through February! Kids are busy.
Instead of becoming discouraged because our church or programs are not the first choice of students, we must be proactive in reaching these kids. We need to change the way we think about busy kids, and then we
must change our ministry in order to reach these students more effectively. Here are some vital truths about busy kids that will help guide us as we make these personal changes.
Busy Students Are Achieving Students
I have a theory about busy kids. Generally, the kids who are the busiest are also the kids who are and will accomplish the most in school and in their lives after high school. These are the kids who are the athletes, scientists, money-makers, and movers-and-shakers in their school. They are also likely to become the movers-and-shakers in the future. Busy students are stretching for and achieving great things. These students may be the editors of the yearbook or school newspaper. They may be in the top academic 10% of their class. They are leaders in the gym, in academics, and music wing. Busy students are achieving students. I want achieving students in our church student ministry.
Busy Students Are Motivated Students
There is definitely something or someone that draws our students. They motivate them. This is almost always a good thing. A teacher, coach, or employer has given these students what someone has called a “vision of destiny”. These kids have taken the challenge of becoming better than when they started. They have taken the challenge of becoming “The Best”. At some point during the time we are able to come into contact with these kids, they have made the decision to do whatever it takes to be the best. They study longer and harder. They get up earlier and go to bed later. Their friends are other kids who are like them. For some reason these students are highly motivated. I want motivated kids to be a part of our student ministry.
Busy Students Are Responsible Students
The busy student has a high threshold of responsibility. They meet deadlines. They make appointments and keep them. They map out their day and they plan their week. These kids revel in the challenge of turning in a tough assignment on time and done accurately. They are precise in almost everything they do. Because of this characteristic, they easily see when the church and student ministry are sloppy, unprepared, or disorganized. Their calendar has meaning to them. It tells them when the game is, when the assignment is due, when church meets, what days they work, and how much spare time they have. They are also responsible in the sense that they take on great tasks. They are the class officers, editor, or shift manager. They are members of the campus
groups who tutor children, raise money for good causes, commit to service, and plan and pull off big events. Busy students are responsible students. I want responsible students as part of our student ministry.
Busy Students Are Demanding Students
Because there is such a premium and demand for the busy students’ time and energy, they often demand the same from others. That is why they usually have a circle of friends who are just as busy as them. They expect a similar commitment from their friends as they expect from themselves. These kids usually keep their commitments. They behave in a way that demonstrates their time is valuable and their relationships are valuable. The busy student responds to activities and people who understand their demanding outlook. The person who knows the way to develop and reach goals and accomplishments will influence these kids. I want demanding students as part of our student ministry.
Busy Students Are Our Students
The busy student desires to be part of something big. They also desire to be a part of our student ministry. They want to know what the church is doing even when they cannot make the meetings. They want to be part of our student ministry even though there will have to be exceptions. They will not be able to attend all of the youth meetings or church services. They still desire to be part of our ministry. These kids have similar desires as the rest of our students. They need to know that they belong, and they want to know where they belong. Busy students are our students. We should want them to be part of our student ministry.
Making Personal Changes
Understanding these truths about busy kids should lead us to the place of personal and ministry changes that we should make in order to reach these students in a more effective way. These changes may be dramatic. They may require imagination and creativity before they become an integral part of our ministries. Reaching these students will certainly require more time and energy from those of us who desire to reach them for Christ. The fact remains that we need to make some changes if we will influence this dynamic group of students.
1. Change Our Vision
In order to change our vision, we need to see these students as part of a bigger picture. Until now, we have seen them as kids who fit or don’t fit into our program. The students are busy in various activities and I want the church ministry to become one of those activities. The change takes place because I no longer demand
that the activities of a student should revolve around mine, or those of the student ministry. There is no Scriptural command that I am aware of that demands that our church schedule moves into the realm of convictions.
At every level, there are adults who have the students’ ear. There are adults who motivate and inspire them to strive to accomplish great things. I want to be one of those adults. I want all student ministry workers to be those adults who inspire kids to do great things for God. Our view of worship can help to guide us. All of life is worship, 24/7; and not merely the couple of times our group meets every week. We need to teach and live that all our gifts and abilities are from the Lord. The talent that leads kids to be busy and drives them toward accomplishment is God given and the student is a steward of that talent.
Youth workers should emphasize teaching about what a Christian is and does within culture because that is where these kids spend most of their time. They have hope, joy, love, and humility because they are followers of Christ and they should demonstrate it in all they do. They are salt and light as they move throughout their schedule. Because of this fact, they will influence every person and every situation in which they are involved for Christ. These students will respond to big picture ideas and actions. We need to change our vision from a small picture, my church schedule, to a bigger picture that combines their schedule with ours.
2. Change Our Direction
I believe that we struggle with busy students because we are sometimes moving in the wrong direction. Jesus commands us to “Go” (Matthew 28:19). He also told the disciples to be witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). These and other Scriptures strongly imply the direction we take as we minister. That direction is out! Go, out there, over here, or beyond. When we whine that busy kids do not attend our meetings, we are saying “come” – and then we express frustration when they do not attend. Expecting kids to come is not going. Change direction and go. Going will by its nature make us busier. When working with busy kids, we must be busy just to keep up with them. This is the point where many youth workers become resistant. We are already busy and resist the call for more.
While having coffee with a senior high youth leader, she expressed the desire that one of her students would attend and participate in meetings. I know the girl she was speaking about so after a moment I suggested
she immediately get her phone and text our friend asking to get together over coffee. If my friend was going to influence her student she had to go to her.
We need to find out how we can support our kids. We need to include them by giving information that tells them not only what they miss, but also what is in the future of your student ministry. We need to become an appointment on their calendar. Use creativity and make a point of contact with busy students.
A young man I know finished his high school academic career as the salutatorian in his class of over 500 students. As I listened to his speech at graduation, I was amazed at his clear challenge for his fellow graduates to forsake the wide path that leads to death and go with him on the “narrow way that leads to life”. His mother told me that because he was busy, his youth pastor met him for breakfast every Thursday morning at 7 o’clock. The youth pastor would share the events of the church, share a key verse of Scripture, and send him to school with prayer. The youth pastor developed a specific way to be an influence on this young man. He was not demanding that his friend come and conform to the church schedule, so he changed his direction. To reach the student, he went to the student at a time when the student could meet. We need to change our direction.
3. Change Our View of Parents
When busy students miss youth group or church because of their activities, our first or second reaction is to express disappointment with the student’s parents. We also must raise our game in relating to parents of our student ministry. Gone are the days when mom and dad say to their child, “you will go to church because the doors are open.” Parents want their student to excel in whatever they do. On the positive side, they will want their child to excel in church. They want them to meet Christ, be baptized – and attend when they are able. However, parents want the same for every activity in which their kids participate. There is not a lot of differentiation between church, youth group, school work, marching band, athletic teams, or music programs. We need to come alongside parents in all those situations and circumstances and not only our church activity.
We must become an expert at something, so we become a resource for parents and kids. God has gifted all of us with skills and abilities. Use it as a resource. We must “sell” ourselves to parents. Becoming an expert at something will help to do this. We must also sell our vision to parents. How do we view their child, their family, and what can we do through Christ and the church to walk alongside their family? We must sell our program to
the parents. Why should their kids hold our church ministry as a priority? Sell it! We must seek information about the student and their family. When we do this, we can minister insightfully and effectively.
I was able to advise my youth worker friend about meeting her student for coffee because I knew her student and how she responds when adults show an interest in her. We must change our view of parents. We are not the only show in town and we must win them over by our interest, our excellence, and our love for their kids. We must win the parents.
4. Change Our Action
In order to change our action, we must be creative and courageous as we devise ways to influence busy kids. We need to honor the students’ time as much as they do. Many youth workers complain about being busy when the kids they work with are at least as busy. Busy kids are organized. We need to get organized. Plan ahead. Be prepared. When we speak, we should know what we are going to say. Our student ministry should be an oasis for students. A busy student will not come to a student ministry where the leaders are poorly prepared and unmotivated.
We need to be one of the people in their lives that will motivate them to big accomplishments. This will start with Scripture and end with program. When students give us an hour of their time, we must take better advantage of that hour! I know of a youth ministry that played gym games for the first 35 minutes of almost every meeting. A group of high achieving kids began to show up 35 minutes late. In their mind, they were on time. The program always started late, so they showed up late. Changing our action may require us to look at our meeting schedule in a different way. For a couple of years we had several kids in our group playing soccer at different schools. Since the soccer games were on our usual meeting nights, I invented the “Breakaway”. When our kids played each other, the youth group met at the soccer stadium and our student ministry supported our kids. When we really change, our presence at the games may be more meaningful in the student’s life than a month of meetings at the church. Change our action.
5. Change Our Expectations
Instead of expecting busy kids to be present in church every time the door is open, I expect kids to represent Jesus and our student ministry in every activity in which they are involved. I want them to attend when they are able. My expectation of the meeting changes from just something we do every week to an event
to be presented as an encouragement to the student’s life. We must become unpredictable in our group meetings, creatively use resources, and wisely use our time.
One girl told me that when she knows the youth group has a “throw away” meeting (games, etc.) she doesn’t attend. When it is a serious meeting she makes an effort to be there. A serious meeting was a planned Bible Study, presented in a creative way that speaks to the heart of her busy life. Put more time and energy into the student ministry meeting. Pray and expect the Lord to do big things in and through these kids.
My expectation for myself changes. Strive to build points of contact with these students. Expect these kids to be world changers for God. I want to be one of the motivators in these kids’ lives. They expect to do great things and I want to point them in the direction of doing those great things – for the Lord!
Additional Thoughts on Reaching Busy Kids
I think there is one other situation to look at when thinking about busy kids – their school and community. Kids are often busier when the high school and/or the church is small and located in smaller communities. I have not addressed this before, but it may even be more of an acute situation than with big churches in larger communities. By small, I mean the school would have less than 500 students. For small schools to have and perpetuate programs in music, choir, band, and athletics almost every student must participate in some extracurricular activities. These are the schools where the football lineman marches at halftime playing the trumpet in his football uniform. The cheerleader runs to the band during a basketball timeout and plays the trombone. The student’s parents must chaperone and plan the “after-the-prom-party” or the school will not be able to have one. I think for the church to reach the smaller community and school they will need to adjust to these exceptional circumstances.
They will also need to adjust to have an influential ministry to their own attenders. The student ministry will need to become an actual part of the community. At times, church and school events can be the very same event. Perhaps schedule post-school events like “5th Quarters”, Bible studies that begin at 10:00 PM on a Friday, movie nights that begin later in the evening. The point is to become united with community and school events.
The student ministry can come along side of parents in this situation too. Help parents plan on behalf of the church and school. Help them with laundering the band uniforms, chaperoning dances, or cheering the kids are just a couple of ideas. The student ministry needs to imagine how they might interact with the school and
families. The adults in the student ministry might go to the administration of the school and offer prayer and support. Ask how you and the church might be of help to the school during the semester or school year. You might be surprised that they will have a list of things for which they can use the help of the student ministry!
Smaller schools need a higher percentage of kids to participate to carry out effective activities. This will affect the churches in those communities. The church kids will, of necessity, be busy. Imagine the many ways your church and student ministry can come alongside the school. As we do this we will also be ministering and assisting our church kids and their parents.
Reaching busy students is difficult, but I believe it can be done. When we begin to see and learn truths about busy kids, we are then guided to make personal changes in our lives. Change is not easy. To change something means something else must stop. Creativity and courage must be our attitude as we change vision, direction, action, and expectation.
I want busy kids in our student ministry!
NOTE: Tim Ahlgrim is a veteran youth worker, coach, speaker and writer, and is the Executive Director of Vision For Youth, Inc. Readers can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is used here with permission of the author.