Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Attrition in High School Ministry?

Yesterday afternoon I stepped into my executive pastor's office to say hi. Now, you need to understand that Steve is unlike any executive pastor I've ever met, heck, Steve is unlike any person I've met. He's passionate, aggressive, gentle (most the time), a servant and values out of the box thinking. All of this wrapped up with a shaved head and a huge heart.

As we were pontificating about ministry (good word, hugh) he asked a question that has me thinking. "Does anyone know how to do ministry to juniors and seniors"? Of course in my mind I'm thinking, well yes, I'm standing right here.

In reality our ministry has gone through major transition over the last 3 years. This transition has really hurt our ability to serve upper classmen. We're rebuilding.

Most student ministries struggle to influence students after they get their drivers license. We've heard a lot of statistics about young adults leaving the church, I believe they're leaving the church much earlier than college, they leave church when they're still in high school.

So why don't they hang around? Why do we typically have great attrition when students get older. Here's some thoughts.

They have greater freedom...

When they get car keys they all of a sudden have more options of how to spend their time. Also parents may stop making their kids come to church as they get older. In reality, when kids have keys they can vote about how they value the student ministry. Many of them vote "no".

They have greater responsibility...

You know the drill, jobs, sports, band, drama, college prep. All these opportunities get loyalty from upper classmen, and they should. The question is, why doesn't the church receive the same loyalty from students?

They have greater interests...

As students begin to see the world differently their interests sometimes mature. The church typically doesn't give context for them to develop and serve in a way that impacts the world around them. Students at some point think the church is irrelevant and they go elsewhere to have impact.

Some seem to have the view that if the church can get students through the high school years without getting pregnant smoking pot or getting drunk, the church has done a good job. If parents don't have to twist the arm of their kids to come to church that's a huge plus.

Shouldn't high school ministry be more than that? In the next couple of days I want to share some thoughts on how to keep high school students in the game.

BUT before, what are other reasons we loose high school students as they get older?


  1. I think one of the reasons we lose students is that they aren't integrated into the life of the whole church and after two years in youth group they've been there and done that and now there are annoying younger kids around. . . it seems to me that youth ministry should be at it's most VIBRANT as we prepare young people to take responsibility for their own spiritual health. The most important junior/senior year programming should be helping students look at the various ways to find a place to connect after high school, whether that's at a campus ministry setting, within the home congregation or in another congregation and/or another town.

    Trips to the water park and lock-ins have run their course by this point. Whether they are capable of articulating it or not, these kids are in a transitional and sometimes scary part of life and will welcome suggestions and opportunities to explore.

  2. Yes! It's kind of like that old saying, "give a man a fish you feed him for a day..."

    And, I know that for sure lock in's have run their course in my life. I made a vow with God 8 years ago that I wouldn't attend a lock in for the whole night. My old body can't take it.

  3. well we can't provide them with sex or beer, so......

  4. the dilemma is part theirs and part ours.
    competition for a students time and attention grows exponentially as their high school career progresses. we blame them for not showing up.

    i guess the balancing act requires us to create an attractive ministry (not simply showy,but it does have to be relevent) ; to be intentional about developing a sense of community that makes them feel close, even when they are not physically present; and to provide discipling opportunities (study and service) for those who are looking for that deeper relationship.

    the challenge for all that is making it available, and not tring to "press fit" all students into one schedule (our schedule)

    one last thought... no youth pastor/director can do this alone.
    adult volunteers are necessary to expand the availability, but their real value comes from establishing relationships with the students that can continue beyond highschool graduation.

  5. Hey Doug,

    Thanks so much for the comments. You make some great points especially the one about adult volunteers.

    As always relationship is the key.