How to Recover When Your Youth Night is a Flop

So, you’ve flopped.

We’ve all been there. Some of us are still there. So, what do you do when you only have two or three teens coming to events? It can be super discouraging to a new youth minister when he or she can’t use the planned night. This is especially true when you didn’t realize that there are times when your plan won’t work!

Last week, I had a night planned that would have worked if 5 teens showed up or if 20 teens showed up. But, we only had two show up. I was dumbfounded. I just kept thinking, ‘what do I do?’ My volunteer didn’t seem to know what to do either. And so, we end up chatting about life, having snacks, and closing in a prayer. While it wasn’t awful, our brief conversations were painfully awkward and I kept thinking that we could have had a better meeting. So, how do we keep from getting discouraged, and how can we make the most of those small, intimate nights?

Ground your work in prayer

Discouragement seems to be a reoccurring theme in my short, ministry career. Based on advice from my Spiritual Director, the best thing we as Youth Ministers can do is ground our work in prayer. Make it a habit to sneak away from the office to the Church or Chapel to pray for your night, volunteers, and teens. Placing your trust in God is the best thing we can do.

Have a back up plan (or two)

I’m a planner. I have binders of lesson plans, service ideas, prayer services, and reflections. I thrive when I have a good plan to work with. If I don’t have a plan, I fall and I fall hard. That night that I mentioned earlier could have been more fruitful if I had thought of some activities to do with a very small group of teens. So, if you’re like me, come up with a handful of discussions and games that you can have as a back up plan. Using board games, silly icebreaker questions, or having a movie on hand will help everyone to feel less awkward. Having some discussion topics and starters will also help. Ask youth ministers in your area what some of their best discussions have been on. Use those topics, come up with some leading questions, and let your hand full of teens run with it.

Relational Ministry is a real thing, people.

Grounding yourself and your ministry in prayer, and having some solid ice breakers and discussion starters will help you to really get to know your teens. Relational ministry is one of youth ministry’s most important roles. Never forget that. If you have a super small group of teens come to a night, use it as an opportunity to really get to know them and find out what brings them joy and what keeps them up at night. Those discussion starters are meant to be just that. A start. Use them as a path to get to know your teens, to help them reflect on the world, their life, and how their faith fits into it.

Knowing that your night wasn’t the best and that it could have been better is a chance to get creative and figure out how to work with the group that you do have. Turning your flop into a great night is difficult, but with some resources on hand and the confidence of knowing the great privilege that it is to serve God in serving the youth of our Church, you’re sure to succeed.

Mary Mullan

Mary is a youth minister on Long Island, a former missionary with the Capuchin Franciscans, a graduate student at Fordham, and a soon to be wife to her college sweetheart. Mary's love for youth ministry began way back when at her confirmation, and has journeyed as a participant, weekly volunteer, missionary, and now as a now parish youth minister. Follow along with her @marybridget_

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