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How Do I Make My Youth Group Grow?
Do Numbers Actually Matter?

One of the most frequent questions I am e-mailed is "How can my youth group grow and reach more people?"

1.  P R A Y I N G:  Start by praying. . . and pray hard. 

Ask God to increase your group size.  Sure we all say we pray . . . but do we really pray?  Take a time out each day to specifically pray for individual students and the friends they'll reach.  Pray for God's direction in your programming and teaching.  Pray for the students that drive you nuts.  Pray that God will lay compassion on your heart, a compassion for lost students that you wouldn't normally reach out to.  Be careful . . . God will answer those prayers.

2.  K E E P I N G the kids you got!

Give the students you have something to bring their friends to.  This means coming up with creative programming that students enjoy.  Meet the needs of the students attending.

A lot of people take this one for granted.  Why? Because it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot more work to arrange a bunch of vehicles for a video scavenger hunt.  It takes a lot more work to find a video clip and set up all the media stuff to kick off a video discussion.  It takes a lot of work to arrange an all nighter with laser tag, skating, a gym, etc.  It takes a lot of work to prepare dynamic talks or put together a budget that brings in dynamic speakers.  BUT IT'S WORTH IT!

That's what I've dedicated my web site to: providing you cutting edge games, video clips, activities, discussions and programming ideas for free.  Can't beat that with a stick!

3.  C O N T A C T I N G:  Find students that need Christ

Definition: meeting kids "where they are at" & getting to know them (discovering their physical, emotional, social & spiritual needs)

Guess what- your students aren't the only ones who should be bringing students to youth group- you can meet students where they are at and build relationships with them.  This doesn't mean walk up to a kid for the first time with a flyer in your hand, this means hanging out with students because you love students.  If you like basketball, find where students play basketball and play with them.  If you know students like to skateboard, provide a place for them to skateboard.  If your ministry reaches a certain campus, go to those sports games and meet students.

Once you contact students and get to know them, then you'll find opportunities to invite them to youth group or church.  A few ideas of where to contact:

  • On Campus- during lunch
  • School sports games
  • The local teen hang-out
  • Taco Bell across the street from the school

Contacting doesn't stop outside of youth group.  When students come to your weekly program, studies or events, use this as an opportunity to get to know them better.

  • being on their team during games
  • shooting hoops, ping pong, whatever you have in your facility
  • learning names, noticing their interests, asking them about their week
(Jonathan goes through this process step by step in his helpful book used by youth workers worldwide, CONNECT: Real Relationships In a World of Isolation)

4.  B U I L D I N G a relationship with them

Definition: Hanging out with them, now that we know them  (meeting their physical, emotional, social & spiritual needs)

Building relationships with students is one of the best time you and your staff can spend.  My weekly staff meeting always included my staff reporting about their time with students that week.  As we build relationships with them, we'll find opportunities to share the Gospel, disciple them, and equip them to reach out.

Here's some great "Building" activities:
  • Have them over to your house for movies, spa, games, etc.
  • Take them shopping.
  • Use small groups as part of your program to get to know students better and open doors to deeper conversation.
  • Take them to a "Kings" basketball game (I'm from Sacramento- give me a break!)
  • Laser Tag
  • Local mini-golf/video game places
  • Go to their house- meet parents/siblings

5.  C R E A T I N G a momentum of growth in your group.

Notice the definition: "Creating a momentum of growth in your group."  Many of us don't even talk about this- we talk about "advertising." We make the mistake of thinking that advertising is simply handing out flyers or putting up posters.  Cool fliers and posters and a big draw (food, activities, etc.) will not guarantee a good event. We need to strategically plan our year with programs or events that give opportunities for your group to build up.

For example: if you're going to do a big pizza event to bring out a bunch of kids to your Tuesday night program . . . don't just start the year off with THAT event.  Some of us start the year out cold turkey with our big event, putting everything we've got into that event like a baby rattlesnake injecting all his venom in one bite.  Build a momentum.  Start the year off bringing out as many students as you can, maybe that's only eight students.  Have them start bringing their friends. Build up the group's size using events like "Manhunts" (see my EVENTS page ) and let them know the "pizza bash" is coming.  Finally use the students, your most effective marketing tool, to bring back as many of their friends for that event.  You can always offer incentives, like prizes for the person that brings the most friends, etc.

Yes this really works. I've used this same process with a group of 7 students meeting in a home each week. This ministry built to over 200 students weekly.Your group has the potential to grow and reach your community for Christ. If you're ready to let God have the reigns, he can do incredible things in your ministry.

If you enjoyed this article from Jonathan McKee, you'll probably also enjoy any of his numerous youth ministry books helping you reach out to today's generation of young people. Take a peek at all of his books at a discounted price here.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   Alan Hankins         11/20/2017 6:27:54 PM

I'm just starting the youth ministry with my wife in our church. Mostly youth that is home schooled and not much access to regular weekly meetings. This is a great site. Thanks

   steve massingill         8/10/2017 1:30:47 PM

thanks for the time and effort you have out forth to help other youth groups grow to become the best they can.

   onyeka         6/13/2017 11:48:47 PM

nice one

   Felicia         4/16/2017 9:38:57 PM

I too m a Youth Teacher,and cannot get some of our kids to participate unless it is what they want,wether the majority would rather do something different any suggestions or ideas?

   Ruth Day         12/27/2016 11:39:43 PM

Awesome! Very informational.

   Frankie Leverette         9/21/2016 7:27:35 AM

I am one of the youth leaders at the church I attend, we are having a hard time getting the youth involve.

   Jennifer armour         7/23/2016 8:29:31 AM

Thanks so much for sharing it was very helpful. I was just appointed youth president at my church last Sunday and I have at the least about 23 youth from 1 years of age to 21

   Anna         7/12/2016 3:17:33 PM

Thank you so much! I have a group of about 7 right now that I am trying to grow.

   jc         3/29/2016 5:21:46 PM

hi, I am a youth leader of a small youth group. We're about 15. But I'm really struggling with the material that I am supposed to teach. Do you have any advice on how to know the right material to teach to the teens age group? Also, how do you find the time to hang out with the youth group and build relationships with them? thank you so much in advance! JC

   Annette          1/31/2016 6:31:53 PM

this article is extremely insightful. Youth ministries are challenging and I thank you for giving me the tools and insight. God bless

   nakia blackwood         1/28/2016 11:04:45 AM

i am interested

   jermaine tims         5/29/2015 8:06:05 AM

this is a great article and I am thankful for it god bless

   Randy         11/5/2014 11:31:46 AM

Im 57 years old but still a kid at heart how do i reach the youth in our church

   Nikki         10/20/2014 9:00:29 AM

My husband is a preacher at a local church here in our home town. Our numbers in our youth have been dwindling for quiet sometime, how can I help draw the local youth in to the church. P.S. The church is next to a community college.

   Kevin         10/18/2014 7:52:39 AM

What if my kids are the only youth left at our church? Within the last year or so, we've had various families leave the church...until my wife and I suddenly realized "We're the only ones with kids!" There isn't a youth program to try and grow! My family is surrounded by a bunch of elderly people in church. I don't need a church program to grow, I need it to exist! Or is it time to go find a new church?

   oluborode oyindamola         9/21/2014 6:33:45 AM

Am having a problem with the youth in myu church,and when seeking for answers I came acroos this site,I pray it work.

   daniel. adebayo         9/15/2014 7:36:15 AM

Infact,this is a blessing to me today.God bless U more in Jesus name

   Martin Botha         8/13/2014 10:44:32 AM

Help our church youth gather,engage,facilitate,educate and programming to grow

   Jimsmart         3/26/2014 6:43:19 AM

I have just been a leader among my youth in my ministry, the problem there is that most of the students are not a serious type, please what do i do to keep them focus

   Jim smart         3/26/2014 6:37:54 AM

Nice tips

   Ian         2/23/2014 11:13:08 AM

This really seems to be helpful.I am a youth leader in my church located in Kampala Uganda, EastAfrica.The team at the moments meets every saturday at my home 0430pm, and this has been happening for the last 3 month.Our biggest highlight for these meetings has been music but at the same time we are struggling with lack of equipment.The young men and women seem to be so much interested in music and we have found it had to do it because we have bee borrowing a guitar which at times is not available.Is there anyone that could know of some musical games that don't involve guitar?

   John Garcia         12/15/2013 10:17:58 PM

I was put in charge of the youth ministry at my Church about a year and 3 months ago. We were small.. about 6 (and 5 were leaders). We had youth, but they were hard to reach. Now we are at 19! During that time i had to ask two leaders to step down and i asked a different one to step up. The two most important things are prayer and a personal relationship with the students in your ministry. I work hard and made all of them (high school and college) my personal friends. My leaders and myself found common ground with each of them. Sure some were not receptive, but most were. Now we are pushing 15 committed students and 4 committed leaders. God is good! It's amazing to see the transformation! Be faithful friends

   santana bauford         12/9/2013 7:15:07 AM

Im a memeber at a small church that has alot of youth but not very participant. Trying to find away to get them involoved more.

   Esther         11/13/2013 2:18:22 PM

This looks really helpful. I'm a member of a small church in Vancouver BC (Canada) and there's a need for an active youth group in the church. This has led me to looking up ways to get the current group passionate and active. Thanks for sharing :)

   David R Smith         8/27/2013 9:26:17 PM

Rachel, First off, I’m glad you care about your youth ministry to the point of reaching out to us. I’m sorry that your church fits the description you give. That’s a bummer, for sure. Let me give you a few pieces of practical wisdom that can help you in your situation. For starters, pray. Yep, pray. It’s what the article above says. Pray that your pastor and youth pastor (or youth leaders) get excited about their jobs and their calling and their potential. Ask God to renew a fire within them for reaching the lost and teaching the found. Then, make sure you MODEL that lifestyle yourself! That means YOU show up if nobody else does! YOU give even if no one else is! YOU lead if no one else will! In other words, don’t stop going to church. A Bible study in your bedroom is no replacement for Church. Finally, about the money, I’d bet that there’s somebody (or somebodies) in your church that would gladly pony up a few bucks for chairs or beanbags or at least some rugs if you asked them. Adults LOVE to be approached by teenagers who are driven to make a change. Trust me; I’m an adult! Beyond that, I will pray for you. Let us know how it goes.

   Rachel         8/7/2013 10:49:46 AM

So im 16 and currently involved in a youth group. Though I hate to say this but, the youth group and church is.. point blank.. failing. I want to change it, so very badly. Its gotten so boring to the point that i just stopped going. I know church is supposed to be all about God, but theres nothing inviting and exciting that makes me want to wake up every sunday and go. Id much rather do my own bible study in my room every sunday. The leaders of the church think its fine the way it is, but our numbers are diminishing, no ones interested, kids and leaders are quitting. Im trying to find some advice, somehow that me a 16 year old, with no car, no money and maybe only one person to support me in fixing this problem. I need to figure out how to raise money to fix up our YG room so that when new kids do come, they dont have to sit on the floor. please help. -Thank you, God Bless

   Augustine Lahai         6/24/2013 10:17:50 AM

Hi, We have started a youth group that have a branch in west Africa liberia, we that live in the U.S.A want to continue what we have learned. I do appreciate this method that you have and we will try putting them into used.

   Jordan A Charles         6/17/2013 7:42:58 AM

This has really helped my youth group very much than its even beyond my imagination.Thanks to the source.

   Roger Ward         6/5/2013 1:26:00 PM

Thank you for some sound advice. To think this is not rocket science, but we need to be reminded about very basic stuff from time to time.

   winfred Achieng'         2/12/2013 4:13:07 AM

Very inspiring information,keep up the good work.

   David R Smith         11/5/2012 5:50:36 PM

Kayla, First, let me say I’m really glad that you’re trying to share your faith with those around you. It’s never going to be easy to do that, so even though it’s hard, I hope you continue. Let me make a couple of recommendations to you. Number one, read the book of 1 Peter (and pay close attention to chapter 3). Number two, be very careful that you do not begin to “look down” on those around you. Trust me, it’s easy to begin to think we’re better than them, but we’re not. We are forgiven. We need to do all we can to help them receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus. For a little help, check out the “Real Conversations” resource available on our site. It’s a great tool for teens who want to do what you’re doing. David

   Kayla          10/29/2012 8:08:12 AM

at our school and community, its all about drugs and that crap, i am a christian, and i am one of the few who does not like that stuff, i get made fun of at school because i am a christian, and whenever i/we try to spread the word, they just walk away.???

   Jonathan McKee         8/28/2012 2:52:27 PM

Edward... great question, and so common that I actually wrote a book about that very thing. It's called CONNECT and I talk specifically about how to do that (See the RECOMMENDED BOOKS tab at the top of the page).

   Edward         8/23/2012 4:01:02 PM

Go where the student are. Make sense. if you go to school's basketball game how do you make the transition from going and watch the game to meeting and getting to know student without looking like an old creepy guy?

   David R Smith         5/21/2012 2:58:40 PM

I’m going to assume that the FT position is in the same church that you’ve been volunteering in. Even if it’s not, these thoughts should work nicely for you. Here is what I suggest. 1. Celebrate the successes of the past. You don’t have to go overboard here and “like” everything that’s been done. But acknowledging the strengths of the past will never hurt you. Plus, it will endear you to many of the leaders already in place. Something like, “Hey guys, I know that you’re known for doing student leadership really well.” Or “It’s been my understanding that you really know how to rock evangelism.” This communicates that you will also want to emphasize this part of the ministry. 2. Cast a vision. This is the “what could be” portion of your plan. You can talk about almost anything at this point. “If I were to lead your youth ministry, I would ensure a presence on the school campuses, start a student-led prayer ministry, build a student worship team, baptize freshmen in the fountain out front….” Again, it won’t hurt at all to know what the church is expecting of the new youth leader. If they want an emphasis placed on discipleship, then you BETTER talk about a plan for small groups, Bible studies, etc. If the church is situated across the street from a school, talk about how you would capitalize on that reality. Try your best to be specific. But also remember to model balance. Don’t go overboard in any direction. But casting a vision simply allows you to show where improvements could be made. No youth ministry is perfect, the one you’re going to lead, or those that Doug Fields has led! Humbly offer them a glimpse of WHAT you would do…and HOW you would do it. 3. Don’t overpromise. There is the desire to promise the world. Don’t do it; the church will probably put you on the hook for it! Just be real, humble, and strategic. Wise leadership already in place at the church will recognize a doable plan (and an impossible one). I hope this helps. David

   John         5/14/2012 8:37:43 AM

How are you? I have a quick question for you. I have been a volunteer youth director at my church for 3 years. I very well may be getting offered a full time paid postiion soon. I would like to prepare a plan to offer along with my resume', any ideas of where to start?

   roger         3/20/2012 11:52:10 PM


   Jonathan McKee         3/20/2012 10:10:45 AM

Catherine... good question, and BROAD question. Wow. "How can we help young people be active and productive in the church?" In other words, how can we develop them, helping them grow in their faith so they want to serve inside and outside the church walls. If you allowed me to answer a one word answer, I'd say: DISCIPLESHIP. Don't underestimate the power of helping kids get to know Christ better. Now, how do we do this HUGE task of DISCIPLESHIP, helping kids grow and serve? That's the big question. I've written two books that might help you. One is MINISTRY BY TEENAGERS. In that book we talk specifically about how to disciple young people to grow and serve. My book CONNECT also provides a good big picture of how the power of one-on-one discipleship makes a huge impact. Click at the top of this page where it says RECOMMENDED BOOKS for both of those titles.

   Justin Pack         3/16/2012 9:32:34 AM

I completely failed at realizing the simple truth of keeping the kids we have. I work so hard on bringing in new kids that I completely overlook the obvious. Also the "creating momentum of growth" is something I never thought about. I always seem to be the one you mentioned kicking things off with a huge event with no build up. Thank You!

   CATHERINE         2/20/2012 12:16:00 AM

I have liked the ideas you ere giving out. What can you do to make your youth active and productive in church and also in the society?

   Crystal Wyatt         5/15/2011 5:57:47 AM

I am always looking for ways to make our youth group a place the kids cant wait to get to.