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Youth Ministry Games - Kindred Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry Games: Play As Ministry

Some of us youth workers have found ourselves in the habit of compartmentalizing the games we play from the theology we teach. And that’s not all unhealthy. It’s good that youth ministry is shifting away from some of its more frivolous entertainment strategies to something more meaningful.

Youth Ministry Games - Kindred Youth Ministry

But in our search for meaning and spiritual depth in youth ministry, games have become, for some of us, just a pesky means to an end. We’ve got to play the games because kids like them (and we like them!) but, beyond that, they’re fairly superficial. The real ministry is the worship time and theological discussions…especially when they get emotional and people start crying.

But what if I told you that play is not just a pesky means to an end, but a vital element of our ministry and of our theology itself? What if I told you that, from a theological standpoint, play might be central to ministry, not superficial?

The games we play in youth ministry, when they are truly playful, will offer a space that anticipates young people’s liberation from the need to be useful, the need to constantly worry about status, the constant pressure to improve and mature… Our play can be our ministry.

To think theologically about how we play, we’ve got to think about play’s conceptual counterparts: joy and happiness.

Augustine and Joy

Joy and happiness have been important to Christian thought throughout church history (and they aren’t peripheral to Scripture either!). As early as the fifth century, people have been trying to figure out joy. What is joy? How do we get it?

You could say that these questions were important to Augustine, one of the church’s first and greatest theologians. Augustine determined that “happiness is knowing, loving, and enjoying God securely.” But throughout history, human beings have tended to look in all the wrong places for joy.

Luther and Joy

By the time Martin Luther started writing, about a thousand years after Augustine, this tendency found a home in people’s fear and anxiety about their status with God. People were afraid of God’s wrath and were longing to relieve that fear by finding their joy and happiness through whatever means the church offered them. But Luther, a faithful reader of Scripture (and of Augustine), insisted that the gospel proclaimed freedom from this kind of anxiety, from this preoccupation with “the law.”

Luther taught that justification through Christ and freedom from the fear of wrath is our real joy. Happiness comes from the assurance that “divine mercy will overwhelm divine justice on judgement day.”

Calvin and Joy

John Calvin thought this tendency to look elsewhere than God for joy was located in human arrogance. People have a tendency to search for joy by elevating themselves, by putting themselves first, and seeking their own temporal interests. As Calvin saw it, the search for joy could not end in such prideful self-seeking, but only in total humility before God.

For people to authentically find their joy in God, they must know their place before God and perceive the great chasm between God’s goodness and human sinfulness. This means, instead of coercing our circumstances to serve ourselves, we are to search for God’s goodness even in the worst circumstances. Even when bad things are happening to us, we can, according to Calvin, humbly look away from our own powers and rest instead in the assurance of God’s love and sovereignty.

Joy as… Worthlessness?

Later, a genius by the name of Blaise Pascal would come on the scene and double-down on Calvin’s call to humility. For Pascal, real joy came not only through humility before God but through utter self denial and even downright self-hatred. To put God, the true source of joy, at the very center, meant to put yourself completely on the outside. For Pascal, our joy comes through being “worthless” before God.

It’s a little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? The search for joy in Christian history, at least the strand of it we’re talking about here, has lead further and further away from the concern for the self. It’s especially strange to the ears of this generation, perhaps, that has been told over and over again, in myriad and subtle ways, that happiness comes through what we can own and what we can achieve. We, and the young people with whom we do ministry, are told to search for happiness in ourselves. This is, again, the wrong place to look.

But while Luther, Calvin, and Pascal can help us think through these things, perhaps we should reframe how we think about the search for joy. Self-denial is hardly helpful to a generation that’s already plagued by the brokenness of the world. And humility can be easily manipulated into a weapon for people with power to use against people suffering under their oppression.

And what on earth does this have to do with games at youth group? The joy Pascal described is hardly compatible with our current understandings of dodgeball and four-on-a-couch. Who can help us reframe our understanding of joy?

Moltmann and Joy

Perhaps no living theologian has had as much to say about joy and play as Jürgen Moltmann. Moltmann shifted the conversation about joy away from “self-denial” and toward playfulness. In the face of the horrors of this world, the horrors to which the young people in our youth groups have almost immediate digital access through one screen or another, Moltmann asked the question, how can we play in the midst of suffering? He suggested that, through play, “we can anticipate our liberation and with laughing rid ourselves of the bonds which alienate us from real life.” Playfulness is the mark of human beings finding the true source of their joy in God. And thus, the recovery of faith itself depends on the recovery of joy.

In a world stricken by the need to achieve and produce, a world so anxious about purposes and improvements, a world where human beings are so often reduced to their function and usefulness to society, Moltmann offers joy as a gracious interruption of our compulsion.

Essentially revisiting Luther’s perspective on joy as freedom from the law, Moltmann argued that “Where everything must be useful and used, faith tends to regard its own freedom as good for nothing. It tries to make itself useful and in so doing often gambles away its freedom.” In joy, a person comes before God not because they’re useful to God, nor out of necessity or obligation, but out of delight. Joy “abolishes the intent of such questions as: …for what purpose am I here? For the answer does not indicate ethical goals and ideal purposes but justifies created existence as such.” The question of a person’s worth, a person’s value to God, is not a joyful question. In God’s joy, “our existence is justified and made beautiful before we are able to do or fail to do anything.”

We Need To Play

So Pascal was right! Real joy does come from being “worthless” before God… but probably not in the way Pascal thought about it. Embracing Luther’s doctrine of joy as freedom from fear of the wrath of God and Calvin’s doctrine of happiness as humility before God, we can say that real joy comes from being “worthless”… that is, being in such a relationship with God that “worth” has nothing to do with it. We call this relationship friendship.

The games we play in youth ministry, when they are truly playful, will offer a space that anticipates young people’s liberation from the need to be useful, the need to constantly worry about status, the constant pressure to improve and mature. When we have fun, and discover that God is there in the playfulness of joy, we are inviting young people into the experience of true spirituality, a coming before God in the “worthlessness” of free joy and friendship with the God who is joyful in God’s very being. Our play can be our ministry.


About the Author: Wes Ellis

Wes Ellis is the Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Toms River in New Jersey. He earned an M.Div. and an M.A. in Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary. He’s a husband, a father, and a youth worker.

Youth Ministry Games: Do We Need Them?

Keep the games. Youth in Hong Kong need to play.

This was the first advice I received from Dale, one of my parents-volunteers, as we were chatting over a plate of sushi about my arrival as the new Youth Director. It was a few weeks ago in Lai Kwan Fung, one the busiest neighborhoods in Hong Kong. “Gotcha,” I replied.Do we need games?

But inwardly, I was not convinced. As I went back home that day, I recalled all my experiences being a youth leader in churches and scout troops. “I have always played with youth,” I realized. Games are not only needed for the youth in Hong Kong. All youth need to play. We all need to play. But why?

We all know that games are great tools to be used when working with youth. Games are the best icebreakers, they create a good atmosphere within a group, they help to tire out our super-energized teens, and—let’s be honest—games are also an easy way to fill empty time.

All these arguments are legit. But they are also superficial. Could we try to go a little bit deeper into our theological understanding of games?

In order to offer a theological frame to the action of playing, we must look for our underlying motivations beyond just the utilitarian use of games.

To Be in the Present Time

A recurring theme that I have observed in many parts of the world is our human nature to worry about the future. In Western Europe, where the economic situation is depressing, I have seen young people starting to think of their retirement as soon as they got their first job. In Asia, I have seen parents worrying way too much about the future of their kids.

Games do not answer questions… Games are a proclamation that our actions should not always be utilitarian, useful, and relevant.

Games do not answer questions… Games are a proclamation that our actions should not always be utilitarian, useful, and relevant.

Therefore the first theological theme that I see about games is time. When playing games, we don’t usually worry about the future. Games represent a “time-out,” when no one needs to answer the dreaded question: “What’s next?

When they play games, kids are allowed to forget for a few minutes what they want to do in the future or who they want to be. Games are about enjoying the present moment. And I believe that the enjoyment of the present time is a value we need to rediscover.

Jesus talked about it long before me, and more beautifully, in the famous parable of Matthew 6:25-34, when he asks us to consider “the birds of the air.” The conclusion of the parable turned out to be not advice, but a command: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

We play because games help us to be in the present time, and not to worry about the future.

To Feel Joy

Close your eyes for a few seconds and try to recall the best games you ever experienced. What do these games have in common? For me, the best criterion to differentiate a good game from an “okay” game is the level of joy that is felt during the game. The more laughs there are, the better.

Maybe we ought to play games with youth simply because it makes us laugh a lot and have fun. Games are important for everybody because they inherently provide joy. If we believe that joy is at the heart of the Gospel, then games become a way to share Christ’s love and joy authentically with others.

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Joy is a spiritual practice. The more we play, the more we are transformed into the joyful people we are, in part because we train ourselves to see real life as a wonderful game.  Slowly, repetitively, the joy that is developed in the games starts to spread to other parts of our life. Maybe that is what Mother Teresa had in mind when she told us: “Life is a game, play it.”

To Affirm Irrelevance

I am a newbie in Hong Kong, but it did not take me long to realize how this society is heavily driven by material success. It is a place where kids have very few opportunities to play because worried parents who aim for their kids to triple-major in an Ivy League University a few years from now see games as unproductive and useless.

I have been told many times that the calendar of a 12-year old kid in Hong Kong is just as jam-packed as a senior executive. Therefore I fully understand Dale’s visceral attachment to games.

But sadly, this situation is not just the case here in Hong Kong. Most of us are doing youth ministry in content-oriented cultures and performance-driven environments. In all these places, irrelevance is not welcome.

The theologian Paul Tillich, in his great lecture The Irrelevance And Relevance of The Christian Message, defined irrelevance as not answering “the existential questions of the humanity of today.” Games do not answer questions. They do not provide any measurable content and knowledge to the kids. Unlike competitive sports, music or volunteering activities, games cannot be added on a résumé. Games are irrelevant by nature.

Henri J.M. Nouwen based his book on Christian leadership, In The Name of Jesus, on the encounter between Jesus and Satan in the desert. For Nouwen, the first temptation that Jesus had to face—to change rocks into bread—was the temptation to be relevant.

By turning down Satan’s invitation, Jesus refused to be useful to the world. Of course,  Jesus was ultimately relevant to the world! But he also knows that one cannot always be relevant.

Games are more than time-killers.

Relevance and irrelevance are both needed, but each in its own time. What we need is a healthy blend of relevance (trying to answer the questions of the world) and irrelevance (not answering these questions).

Games are a proclamation that our actions should not always be utilitarian, useful, and relevant. Games help us to overcome a temptation that Jesus himself went through: to always make things relevant. Irrelevance becomes a virtue to develop, and games a great way to develop this virtue.

Keep the Games!

Games are today usually limited to a very narrow segment of our church population: children and youth. After a certain age, we stop playing games, falsely believing that older teenagers and adult would find them childish. But that should not be the case.

Games are more than time-killers. They help us to be anchored in the present moment, they are amazing tools to develop joy, and even more importantly; games can be used to reclaim the spiritual virtue of irrelevance.

So please—fellow youth workers, parents, volunteers, youth—follow Dale’s advice: “Keep the games. And not only in Hong Kong. Everywhere.


About the Author: Antonin Ficatier

Antonin Ficatier - Kindred Youth Ministry

Antonin Ficatier studied in three different continents and holds two Master Degrees in Business and Education. Born in France, Antonin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he works as Youth Director for an international and interdenominational church.

YM & Kids with Disabilities

VIDEO: Youth Ministry & Kids With Disabilities
Interview with Zach Grant

In this video of the “Zachs”, our own Zach Gurick talks to regular Kindred author, Zach Grant, about how we practice youth ministry with kids with special needs.

This interview took place after Zach’s presentation at the Flagler Forum on Youth Ministry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. We’ll be releasing the video of some full presentations from the forum here on Kindred Youth Ministry in the coming weeks.

TRANSCRIPT:

Zach Gurick: We just wrapped up the Flagler Youth Ministry Forum and we are sitting with Zach Grant, who is one of the Princeton grads, writer for Kindred, practicing youth ministry here with kids with special needs and also with neuro-typical students as well. What is something that stood out to you that you would love — you might be able to share this with 2 or 3,000 youth workers out there — I would love for them to hear this, that you learned from the last 24hrs?Youth Ministry & Kids with Disabilities - Zach Grant
Zach Grant:
Yeah, there were a lot of really valuable things that came out of this time and I feel like it was wonderful to learn as much from the wonderful speakers that we had, as well as just being here with the bunch of other youth ministers who are going to these things, working through them. We were in a wonderful kind of a breakout session about the mental health. I think that was probably where I was throwing around the word ‘neuro-typical’. And just talking with folks, it was, I sometimes feel like disability ministry seems like a niche ministry. It seems like something that, maybe churches might do out of their excess or if there is a particular, you know, special ministry opportunity to reach out to folks who has disabilities in the area.

But it was interesting because we are in these conference about mental health and that’s what we are discussing with other youth ministers. It was very interesting to hear how the tenor of the conversation in my church because of doing this ministry with kids with disabilities. The tenor of it was changed because people were kind of thinking about mental health or people that didn’t feel in the main stream cognitively, and so had generated these sensitivities and also for them to hear and get good feedback from the mental health side because that I have a lot of experience working with kids with disabilities but I think there is a lot of overlap. There is a lot of places where these things are clearly distinct, but I think they can speak to one another.

Zach Gurick: Yeah, you pointed out before how having kids with disabilities involved with typical neuro-typical students as well allows this space were the typical kids are more okay and more comfortable to be open or to reveal those things that might otherwise kept hidden? Tell us more a little more about that.

Zach Grant: Yeah one of the best things that I think it does is, that it really kind of undermines this idea of a normal kid or that I have to fit within this kind of paradigm on what is normal. And so kids can be very honest about, here is this thing that I am dealing with or I take medication for this particular mental… that you will never notice about me but I feel comfortable to reveal it to you because I understand that this is a place that can accept differences and we do that in a very visible way through this outreach to kids that would be in a special education class at the High School or might be in a self contained classroom where everybody is in a wheel chair. And so it helps kids understand – Boy! These are people that going to love me no matter what the world kind of puts on me in terms of a stigma or label. 

I understand that this is a place that can accept differences and we do that in a very visible way through this outreach to kids that would be in a special education class.

Zach Gurick: That’s fantastic. Well, you’re doing an amazing ministry here. Beautiful ministry that is touching lives far beyond, just this community so thank you for what you are doing and we really appreciate it.

Zach Grant: Thanks for putting this on.  It’s great to talk to you.

Rethinking the Mission Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

VIDEO: Rethinking the Missions Trip – Interview

In this video, our own Zach Gurick talks to regular Kindred author, Tyler Fuller, about how we approach the missions trip as youth pastors.

This interview took place after Tyler’s presentation at the Flagler Forum on Youth Ministry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. We’ll be releasing the video of Tyler’s full presentation, also titled Rethinking the Mission Trip, here on Kindred Youth Ministry in the coming weeks.

Zach Gurick: Hey! We are sitting here with Tyler Fuller. You have been doing youth ministry for coming up on 20 years. We are at the Flagler Youth Ministry Conference and you just spoke about rethinking the missions trip, or how can we think about mission trips differently. Why don’t you, you’re a missions pastor, you have done this for 20-25 years and  you have been going to mission trip since you were 15 years old-

Tyler Fuller: That’s right.

Zach: Why don’t you tell us what comes to your mind when you’re trying to plan out a missions trip and your thinking about a mission trip, what are the things that you look for and think about?

Rethinking the Mission Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

Tyler: Some of the principles that guide us when we’re thinking about how we should do missions are: thinking about what it is that our groups has to offer? What skills and gifts do we have? And then thinking on the same thing about the field we go. What is it that they do well? What is God gifted them with? And trying to find a fit where we are doing on what we’re good at a place where what we’re good at is needed. And so, instead of bringing kids to do construction work who don’t know how to do construction work, we are trying to bring kids who have good energy and good relationships in the places to build look term relationships.

So we try to start with what it is we have to offer? What the field needs? And we try to do it relationally – where we are building long term relationships, and taking the lead from the folks that are out in the field.

Zach: Yeah, cause we have all been in the trips before where, almost taking the work away from and devaluing and not honoring the people who are not in place there.

Tyler: Exactly, I think that when we do for folks that have abilities within themselves, what we are telling them is that, they are not capable and that is not the gospel message, that is not what we believe about how God built us. And so, we believe that when we honor the gifts of the folks in the field and we are realistic about the gifts we offer, that we are honoring who God built us both to be.Rethinking the Missions Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

Zach: You talked little bit about one-way giving, and you also talked about asset based community development. Tell us a little about how you think about those things.

Tyler: Yeah, when we think about it – if the goal of our mission projects is to build meaningful relationships, I think the best way to say it is that, we believe that one way giving complicates relationships. When we find the need and then we meet it within our resources with no buy-in and no sense of reciprocity then we are creating a power dynamic that plays against our relationship. Where we had friends who call us in need and we bailed them out, and I think we have all that experience where we know that, moving forward we’ve done damage to the relationship, even if we’ve met the need.

We believe that when we honor the gifts of the folks in the field and we are realistic about the gifts we offer, that we are honoring who God built us both to be.

So I think the best way to say this is we don’t want the people not to give, but we want to the people to think about how they give and how its gonna work long term in affecting relationships.

Zach: That’s fantastic, so if you’re talking to 2,000-3,000 youth workers right now on this video, what are some resources or something you would have them, “hey here’s some great ideas to get you started in this direction”?

Tyler: Yeah, so if you wanted to go deeper, I think you could google “asset based community development,” you could google “healthy or unhealthy giving.” There’s tons of research out there on this right now. And if you wanted to start thinking about foreign missions, I love Food for the Hungry – that’s FH.org. I also love the 410 Bridge, 410bridge.org. They’re doing this sort of thing in foreign fields. And I ultimately believe that you yourselves can do it locally by identifying partners in your community doing great work, finding out what they need, and coming alongside them. So I think that would be a good start.

Zach: Well thanks so much for sharing with us today! You’re doing amazing job and amazing work. And also, if you want to, you could probably just call Tyler and he’d probably help you!

Tyler: That’s right.

Zach: So look him up.

Rethinking the Missions Trip - Kindred Youth Ministry

 

 


About Tyler Fuller
The only job I have ever pursued is vocational ministry. I spent over a decade doingtyler fuller Young Life and church Youth Ministry. I am now the Missions Pastor at a mega church in the panhandle of Florida (who still gets to work with youth every day!)
Food Games & Fart Jokes

Food Games, Fart Jokes, & Youth Ministry

Food games are the “Fart Jokes” of student ministry meetings. Actually, fart jokes are the “Fart Jokes” of student ministry meetings. Food games are the Adam Sandler of student ministry meetings. They appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Food Games & Fart Jokes

Somehow, instinctively, we know that they will work—they’ll be a hit. But just like every Adam Sandler movie after Big Daddy, we also sense that they are truly terrible. This seems like a good time to say, I’m about to get on a soap box. I’d apologize, but I’m already kind of worked up.

The Temptation to Be Relevant

Henri Nouwen warns Christian leaders of our need to put on a show, because we are terrified of ministering from a place of vulnerability. Appealing to the lowest common denominator is one tool we have for proving our relevance. We demonstrate our power by soliciting a predictable response from students; we know we are good because we can get a laugh, or a teardrop.

This temptation rears its head in the bowels of every Hell house scaring kids towards repentance and in the perfectly timed slick production of our laser-light worship bands. We need to know we can do it, and pandering affirms that we can.

Either our group has kids in it whose homes don’t have all of the food they need or our group has no kids who have ever wanted for food. In the first case, playing food games is callous to their needs. In the second case, we are teaching them to be callous and unaware of the suffering of others.

This is a matter of our insecurity, it’s about us needing to know we are capable. When we follow our insecurity down the rabbit hole, we end up compromising our integrity. Our issues get projected towards our group, and everyone suffers. This is sin—we need to deal with it.

Now, onto the food games.

On The Scarcity of Provisions

I once stopped eating meat for two years because of a John Wesley sermon. He laid out some air-tight logic in a 250 year old argument about the price of bread-corn. It goes like this:

IF:  People (in England) are starving
AND:  The amount of corn being distilled into alcohol contributes to food scarcity
AND:  Scarcity is driving up food prices
AND:  The high price of food is a major factor in people’s suffering
THEN:  For God’s sake let’s stop drinking alcohol, and give the people their corn!

He goes on to make the same argument for a number of staple crops:

Oats are fed to horses, let’s raise fewer horses and replace them with pigs and chickens. Then we can eat oats, pigs, and chickens at lower prices!

I said I was getting on to food games. I am.

Don’t Be Evil

No lie, I was once leading a game where we covered a student’s face in whip cream and threw cheese balls at him. A kid in the back interrupted the game and said “I could have eaten those cheese balls” and he was not kidding. I had no idea our stupid game would affect that kid, I just wanted a laugh. In trying to break down walls, I was building them.

Either our group has kids in it whose homes don’t have all of the food they need or our group has no kids who have ever wanted for food. In the first case, playing food games is callous to their needs. In the second case, we are teaching them to be callous and unaware of the suffering of others.

We play food games because they work, and kids laugh, and memories are created. I get it. I played food games, for years. But the bottom line is wasting food is irresponsible. Find a better way, revel in your vulnerability as a leader.  Shoot higher even if you miss more often. Create memories, make kids laugh, break down walls; but for God’s sake quit wasting food.


About the Author: Tyler Fuller
The only job I have ever pursued is vocational ministry. I spent over a decade doingtyler fuller Young Life and church Youth Ministry. I am now the Missions Pastor at a mega church in the panhandle of Florida (who still gets to work with youth every day!)
The Kid Who Never Came Back

The Kid Who Never Came Back

What happens when an active teen suddenly drops out of youth group?

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;”
Proverbs 3:5-7a (NRSV)

Kid Who Never Came Back

When Young People Go Missing

“I just don’t understand why they never came back.”

This is a statement many in a congregation made after a family with five teenagers suddenly stopped showing up.

For months, they were active. Their presence was energizing. Their absence was confusing, then painful, then frustrating.

As fast as they jumped into our ministries, they were gone.

Five kids who never came back.

I had little to offer the congregation, until I remembered…

I was the kid who never came back.

Catching the Fire

FLASHBACK: Middle school was a big time for me.

I started playing the saxophone.

I had my first big crush.

And I began to ask some big questions about Jesus.

Here’s the point: a kid might show up to your youth group ONCE. They might come for YEARS. And just like that, they’re gone… You’re called to do the ministry anyway.

After a transformative summer that included a commitment to follow Jesus, a baptism in a river, and my first ministry leadership opportunity as a teacher for a large Vacation Bible School program, I returned to school in September “on fire for God.”

Equipped with my WWJD bracelet, a Bible in my backpack, and an AIM screen name that included the words “Jesus Freak,” I found a large non-denominational church that welcomed me warmly. A middle school youth minister became my hero. She really cared about what I had to say—especially questions about faith. She and the other youth leaders poured into me and quickly gave me additional roles, service opportunities, and responsibilities. Before I knew it, I was on the Leadership Team, the Welcome Team, the Worship Team… name a team that would involve me being at the church, I was on it.

After almost three years of intense involvement, I dropped off the face of youth ministry.

And I never said goodbye.

Transitions and Loss

Over-scheduled achievement-seeking and a difficult transition into the high school youth group turned me into an excuse-making machine. Theologically and spiritually shallow small group experiences left me hungry for something different—something more.

They tried to reach out.

First, there were phone calls. I ignored them.

Then, emails. I sometimes responded.

Eventually, I cut my ties. After a few months, the youth team gave me space.

I would see them occasionally at musicals, games, and other events.

I felt embarrassed for leaving, and I avoided them at all costs.

When I received a “candy gram” from my old middle school youth minister during intermission of one of our high school musicals, I felt seen, remembered, and loved—but I still wouldn’t go back.

I still prayed, sought spiritual conversation partners, and asked big questions.

I went to college, and tried some campus ministry groups, many of which involved thirty-year-olds talking to me in Christian-bro-speak. It felt too familiar.

My faith still shaped me—informing my worldview, vocational discernment, and relationship decisions.

Coming Back

Then it happened.

A summer children’s ministry summer internship led to a youth ministry position.

I reached out to my middle school youth minister for advice. We got coffee. We reminisced. She gave me books that shaped her early on in her ministry career. And yet again, she changed my life.

Though she hadn’t seen me for years, and I certainly couldn’t have been included in her attendance count, she was one of the most influential people in my faith formation, my journey with God, and my call to ministry.

Here’s the point: a kid might show up to your youth group ONCE. They might come for YEARS. And just like that, they’re gone.

Caring for One-and-Dones

Here’s what you can do about it:

  1. Reach out to them in a low pressure way. It might bring them back.
  2. If it doesn’t, they may want to avoid you. Say hi, but don’t guilt them.
  3. Pray for them.
  4. Remind yourself, even though you’re emotionally invested in your ministry—it probably wasn’t about you.
  5. Trust the LORD. Remember—you

Every now and then you’ll re-connect and learn that those conversations, silly games, and tears were worth it after all. Hang onto those moments.

Most of the time, you’ll probably never know the impact that you’ve had on the life of a teenager.

You’re called to do the ministry anyway.

So care for them, even when they’re the kids who never come back.


About the Author: Zach Wooten

Zach Wooten

Zach Wooten is a third year M. Div student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a co-pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Mount Holly, New Jersey. He has served as a minister to children, youth, and adults in American Baptist, United Methodist, and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations.