It seems that no area of life has been left untouched by the coronavirus pandemic. We don’t have to look far in order to see the way the pandemic has affected our ministries. We’ve had to cancel retreats, all-nighters (thank-you!), and camps. Even once we’ve come to terms with these realities, some of us are still faced with the hard truth that our ministries have shrunk. We set up fewer chairs, print off fewer handouts, and buy fewer snacks each week because fewer kids are showing up.
The reasons for not coming back are different from family to family. Some are being cautious, some are taking a break, some have developed new habits, some have completely new schedules. No matter what the reason is, it doesn’t make it any easier when you look around a room that was once full and now has quite a few more holes where students used to sit. It can take the wind out of your sails, making you wonder, “Why am I doing this anyway? ” I would like to answer that question…
The pandemic has hit each of us differently and to varying degrees, but the most common one for youth ministers is the shrinking of our ministries. I would like to encourage you while in the midst of this “shrinking” to remember the purpose and calling Jesus has placed on our lives. I would hope none of us got into gospel ministry for the crowds and the numbers and the accolades. No, we accepted and entered into the calling for the people – the students and their families. While it breaks my heart that some of these students haven’t returned, let’s not allow it to distract me from serving and ministering to the students who have. Please don’t misunderstand me: We must continue to pursue the families who have not returned. But at the same time, we should plan, study, and execute our gatherings with the same gusto as if the room were full.
Let Us Not Grow Weary of Doing Good
In the closing of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he encourages the church to bear one another’s burdens. The entire final chapter culminates in verse 9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” It is imperative that we do not grow weary of doing good. We must continue to sow, even when numbers are low and attendance is spotty. God has called us to do something of eternal importance – to preach the word to students and to encourage families in discipleship.
There is no caveat, “only if you have a large crowd” or “you must have X-number of students for it to be worthwhile.” No, God has called us to do good and to sow into the lives of students that they might grow in the knowledge of Him.
Low numbers can be discouraging, especially if you are used to a crowd and rely on the energy of the students to propel your program. But low numbers are not just a youth ministry problem; churches across the country are facing the same thing, even to the point of financial implications for local churches. This can make for a very discouraging and confusing time, but God works wonders with just a few.
Consider Gideon’s three hundred. God approached a poor peasant who was threshing wheat in a winepress and used him to lead an army to liberate His people. As we read the story it’s not Gideon’s battle knowledge, nor his recruiting skills that win the day. In fact, Gideon recruited too many men for God’s purposes. In the end it was God who worked through Gideon and it was God who gave the victory. God was pleased to use Gideon, despite the numbers he had to work with.
Now we might not be preparing for battle, but we are facing a similarly perplexing drop in numbers. Gideon had recruited nearly thirty-two thousand men to fight with him. Talk about a nice crowd, but over the course of a few tests, God whittled down the number to three hundred. Not great odds, but God was going to work wonders through this small band of men. God was going to make sure He received all of the honor and praise from the ensuing victory. I believe God is doing the same at a time such as now. God is thinning the crowd. Why? I can’t be certain, but it could be to help us to refocus on Him. The mission is the same whether there are three thousand kids or three kids – preach the gospel and make disciples. God is doing a work as we minister faithfully to our students and families. He will receive the honor and glory He is due as lives are transformed.
Let Us Not Be Discouraged
There are many things that can discourage us in ministry, and low attendance is high on that list. As a western society we love our statistics and can idolize numbers. When it comes to students and God, it’s best to leave the numbers up to Him. It’s our job to be faithful and consistent in preaching and teaching the gospel, pointing students and their families to the Good News that God saves sinners through Christ. It’s best not to be caught up worrying about things we can’t control, otherwise we will become distracted and neglect our primary objective.
So take heart and be encouraged by who is coming to youth group, the desire and passion God has placed in the hearts who are there. Preach the gospel to those kids, encourage those families. Pray earnestly for the families who are not coming, but don’t be discouraged. God has called you to minister to the teens who are before you at this very moment in time. The pandemic did not catch God off guard as it did us. He is continuing to work His plan of salvation and sanctification amidst all of life’s struggles and circumstances.