Scrimmage Saturday and What It Means for Attendance

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What we as youth workers can learn from an unusual day in college football.

If you’re a college football fan at all (even if you are not stay with me) then you have probably experienced a time where you flicked on ESPN to find that the #1 team was playing what really seemed like a high school junior varsity team. In the second week of this current season, out of the then top ten teams, only two of them played a top 25 team and that was because they were playing each other. This had lot of fans, including many of the ESPN commentators, very frazzled. Paul Finebaum, one of these commentators, said that week two was “Cupcake Saturday–one of the worst days I’ve ever seen and I’ve been covering the Southeastern Conference for 35 years.” What did all of these rants boil down to? Disappointment.

If you are like me, then sometimes on our Sunday or Wednesday night ministries, if the attendance is lower than expected, it can be truly disappointing. I have caught myself more than once saying (to my students) something to the extent of “well, looks like it’s a lower crowd tonight” or the worst of all “where is everyone tonight?”

The reality though, is that when we talk about attendance not living up to our expectations, it’s as if we are saying to the students who are present, “there are certain students I was wanting to see, and you are not those students.”

After a lot of reflection (and a good bit of football) here are three things I think we can do:

1. Celebrate – Whether you are at a large youth ministry or a small youth ministry, there are always going to be times when students are slammed with homework, out of town or at their grandmother’s birthday party. Regardless of whether there is one or one hundred students on a given night, celebrate every student that walks in the door and treat them like they are the student you have been waiting to see.

2. Commend – Thank every student for being there. If your student ministry is anything like ours, there are some students who you can’t keep out of the church and there are also students whose parents are dragging them into the building. Thank every student for being there. Allow them to realize that you appreciate their commitment to the church, youth group and most importantly to their relationship with God.

3. Challenge – Push yourself to trust more in God; to more faithfully believe that God has a vision cast for your youth ministry that is greater than a number you write down for the church secretary the next day. I’m no fool to the numbers pressure–whether that be from the senior pastor, parents or yourself–to constantly be growing the ministry. The truth is that during the actual time of your youth ministry worship service, in that moment when you realize the room isn’t very full or you (like me) think to yourself “seriously, where is everyone…” realize there is nothing you can do about it. Pray to God for the students who are here, for the students who are not and for yourself, asking God will remind you of why it is you are in the business of youth ministry.

We have hitched our wagons to this crazy field of youth ministry where sometimes things simply do not go as we expected. When that happens we must remind ourselves that youth ministry is not always about the measurable number of students who walk in our doors every week. It is about the transforming of students’ hearts for Christ.

After it’s over, evaluate and reframe your worship service until your heart’s desire, but for tonight worship God with your students.

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Robert is the High School Youth Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL. Robert has been working with students for over seven years; four of which at Trinity UMC. Robert grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2012 with a degree in religious studies. Currently, he is working on his masters in Youth Ministry at the Center for Youth Ministry Training. He and his wife Brittany love great coffee, hiking, bon-fires, tacos, CrossFit and N*Sync. You can follow him on Twitter at @robertsturdi.

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