By Laura Provence
My first holiday season at my new church felt like a Christmas miracle. After struggling to maintain our large numbers from the Summer and early Fall, our Sunday night attendance quadrupled for our Christmas Party. These numbers brought a lot of excitement and left the student ministry team expectant for it to remain after the holidays. However, much to our surprise and sadness, the numbers decreased yet again in the early spring. We knew we had to do something different, so we talked with our ministry coach and established some practices to help address some of our retention issues. After implementing these processes, we not only witnessed our regular surge in attendance but were able to maintain our ministry with those students long past the initial growth. So much of this maintained and sustained growth was because of our new Missing In Action Process and our Guest Assimilation Process.
The Missing In Action process involves four steps of communication with the student and family. First, mail a handwritten letter to the MIA student. If they remain MIA, send their family an email, a phone call, and finally another mailed letter. Keep the communication lighthearted and pastoral in nature. One student that was active before the pandemic expressed how thankful they were to have received an MIA letter. The letter made this student feel so loved and wanted, they quickly became reintegrated within our student ministry. That student is now on our Student Leadership Team, and will speak at our Discovery retreat in February. This process not only has allowed us to maintain contact with our students, it also has helped us better understand what is going on in their lives outside of the church. In some cases, this has allowed insight into divorces, issues at school, and even given us the ability to address issues that kids have had at youth group.
The second process that we attribute to our success is the Guest Assimilation Process. The goal with this process is to make sure that we provide a clear line of welcoming communication and information to the student and their family. Once you meet a new student, get all of their important contact information. Send their parent(s)/guardian an email welcoming them into your student ministry. Include ways their teenager can get plugged in, and your team’s contact information. This will help new students feel loved, known, and wanted especially within large youth ministry contexts that tend to be overwhelming for new teenagers. Get organized and create calendars for the Fall, Spring, and Summer. Print and mail those calendars before the new season begins with a handwritten personalized sticky note for every student. While the task is tedious, the payoff is not only meaningful for the students, but also exponential for your attendance.
For 2023, incorporate these processes to help grow and maintain your student ministry attendance. Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster in their book, The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry emphasized the importance of this kind of building meaningful relationships with teenagers. Youth will commit to people who believe in their ability to be Godbearers as they navigate their identity. When youth ministers and trusted adults step into God’s call in their lives to become Godbearers, this will leave exponential impacts in the lives of teenagers. The MIA and Guest Assimilation processes help youth ministers meet teenagers where they are. When you show up to support teenagers at their events, reach out to them when they are MIA, or get to know them personally as a guest, the meaningful relationships become “incarnational,” ultimately growing and maintaining your attendance.
Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry, Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1998.
Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life, 50.