by Steph Dodge
We had just welcomed a new class of seventh graders into our youth ministry when a mother contacted me to let me know that her son, Kevin, would not be attending our youth group but was instead going to be attending the youth group across town. My first reaction was to wonder what I had done wrong. Kevin had grown up in the church and I had just assumed that he would move on to the youth ministry like the other seventh graders. Instead he moved to the big, bad church down the road.
So I did what any youth minister would do and I drove over to that church, confronted Kevin, used scripture to convict him of the error in his ways, and brought him back to our church.
OK, I’m just kidding. I didn’t do any of that. And since I already knew many of his youth ministers I knew that he would be in good hands at his new church. So I continued to invite him to upcoming events and I made a point of connecting with him when he did occasionally show up at our church, but ultimately I let him go where he felt he belonged.
If you have youth attending other churches, here is a list of dos and don’ts:
Do ask in an appropriate way what led the teen to this decision. It turned out that all of Kevin’s school mates attended this youth group, so he just wanted to be with his friends.
Don’t take it personally. There are lots of reasons that people switch churches. If it is legitimately because of you, then you probably need to refocus your group away from you and back on God.
Do continue to invite the person to activities unless she asks to be removed from the contact list.
Don’t spend all your time trying to win a teen back. Remember that you’ve still got other youth who do show up and need your attention. If you don’t have other youth, then you should probably spend that time looking for a new job.
Do ask the youth about his new church. Find out what he likes about it. Celebrate that the youth feels connected to a church.
Don’t talk bad about the other church, even if it truly not a situation in which you would want to minister. This will only make you look jealous and you can forget about the kid ever returning to your church.
Do get to know the other youth pastors in your area. This is a MUST if you live in a small town. You can work together with other youth ministers to meet the needs of the youth in your town no matter which church they are currently attending.
Don’t use your relationships with other youth ministers as an opportunity to compete for kids. You may end up winning the competition, but it is the youth who will lose.
Do continue to love and celebrate each of your youth no matter how many years they have been attending or not attending your church. Each year we celebrate the graduating seniors at our church. Occasionally, we have celebrated seniors that I have never seen set foot in our church, but their membership remains with our congregation or they are connected by a relative at the church. My hope is that each kid would know that he or she is loved and that the church would be known for loving too much.
Don’t shame a kid or make her feel guilty about missing youth or not attending church. No one wants to return to a place that makes him or her feel bad.
Do you have teens in your church who go to another youth group, or are you the youth group that welcomes teens from other churches? Share your experience and your dos and don’ts.

Rev. Stephanie Dodge is a 2012 graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training and Memphis Theological Seminary, and she serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Crievewood UMC in Nashville, Tenn. She was commissioned as a deacon in the United Methodist Church in 2013.