In the past month two students have left our youth ministry.
One moved with his family to Texas. The other was a foreign exchange student who went back home to South Africa. We’ve known both were leaving for quite a while, but that didn’t make it any easier. In the final weeks for both guys we paid special attention to them. We wanted to make sure they knew they were loved and that we had communicated the most important truths about Jesus to them. We went out of our way to make them feel special, which was great and really made an impact with them.
But the thing is, was it really that unique that they were not coming back to youth group? The truth is, every student is leaving the group. Whether its after their first visit or when they graduate, no one stays in youth group forever. Those that try to end up getting kicked out! The goal for us as leaders should be to make every student feel just as loved as the guys we knew were leaving. There’s no way to know if a student will ever return, so why not try to make every encounter with them special?
A very wise man once taught me that the goal of a youth pastor is “reaching, not keeping.” We have to make sure that every student that we encounter feels loved, knows they’re special and is exposed to the Gospel. We have to focus on reaching them, not making sure they come back next week. Of course we would love for them return and we have a plan in place if they do, but we can’t control that. All we can control is how we interact with them while they’re there.
If you’re a pastor, leader, or just attend a church, please remember to make every encounter a special one. Communicate love and genuine care for the person. You don’t know if they’re coming back, so be sure you know you shared Jesus with them when they were there.
Stuart Owens is the youth director at his childhood church, Tallahassee Heights UMC. He is married to the love of his life, Taylor. He is also an unashamed Seminole fanatic.