Awesome Back Pocket Plans for When Not Many… | UMC YoungPeople
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April 2018

Awesome Back Pocket Plans for When Not Many Students Show Up

By Chris Wilterdink

We’ve all been there. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Moments when we’ve got an awesome youth activity all figured out, and less people than we had counted on actually show up.

So, there you are – with a fraction of your planned participants. Maybe you feel deflated, discouraged, even surprised. Take heart! The best thing you can do when that happens is to still do something. Do something meaningful to honor the presence of those youth and volunteers who made time to come and be with you. It may take some modifications and thinking on your feet, and just maybe these tips to keep in your back pocket will help you navigate those circumstances when they arise.

Fellowship Activities:
Keep a stash of board games around the church. (Don’t have any? Put an ask out to the congregation for old ones they’d like to donate!) Instead of playing that huge athletic game, introduce the youth to some classic board games. These provide a great chance for conversation too.

Have enough adults to safely drive and a little bit of budget? Go out for ice cream or some other kind of sweet treat. Tell everyone thanks for coming, then while eating, talk about what is sweet about life right now. Take time to appreciate the things that are going great. Bonus, this is a chance to teach about prayers of thanksgiving. Pray when things are joyful, not just when help is wanted!

Play some free trivia games. Both “Break Free Youth Ministry” and “Download Youth Ministry” have some free and easy to play trivia games.

Devotional Activities:
Provide grown up coloring pages (like these), along with markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc. Invite youth to color a picture that represents something or someone they would like to pray for. Share in a group prayer at the end of coloring time.

Do a brown bag devotional. Have one person at the gathering grab a bunch of small random items from the youth room, office, etc. and put them into a brown paper bag. Each person then draws an item out, and has 10 minutes to come up with a devotional (or sermonette) that has to do with the item that was drawn. If needed, use the line “The kingdom of God is like a (insert object drawn from the bag here)” and then have people try and come up with reasons that make (some) sense!

Service Opportunities:
Keep a collection of safe and easy-to-use cleaning supplies on hand. There are always places around your church that could use a little cleaning and love. Have a nursery or younger kids’ area? Take some disinfecting wipes to the toys and furniture used by Children’s Ministry. You’ll make friends with kids’ ministry folks, and that will be big as time goes on!!!

Likewise, get a list of tasks from your church’s trustees. Tasks they would allow and equip youth to do. Make sure the tasks are low-skill, low or no-cost, and can be completed in a brief amount of time. Doing this can help youth feel like they are becoming load-bearing members of the church and providing support! Take pictures of the before and after, and share those moments with the community.

Reaching Out
If youth didn’t show up to where you are, consider going where they would be. Was there a game or concert competing with the youth gathering? If you have the adults and vehicles, go to the game in support of youth who had to make a choice. Them seeing you on their turf will build relational capital.

Remember, Matthew 18:20! “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Don’t take a smaller than expected group personally. Things happen, and not every youth gathering will go exactly as planned. If you get a smaller number of participants than expected, do something to honor those who came. You will be amazed at the depth of conversation and relationship that can form when you keep your chin up, have some back up plans, and connect with those who show up expecting to see God!

Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.