The Key to Keeping Your Teens Coming Back

One of the most challenging things during my time as a youth minister was to figure out how to get teens to come to our events and keep them coming back. Whether it was during the pulpit announcements at Mass or in one-on-one conversations I would say just about anything to make this happen.

Sometimes I would use vague generalities: “Tonight is going to be the best Life Night ever!”

Sometimes I would use more hype than the Super Bowl: “This retreat will be the greatest thing you’ve ever done. We’ve got some huge surprises that you’ll have to see to believe.”

Then there were the times when I was really desperate and would make grand promises: “We’ve got a mystery guest tonight. You won’t want to miss this.”

And how did the teens respond?

“That Life Night was good, but it wasn’t the best ever.”

“I thought you said there were going to be some surprises.”

“I don’t know if you dressed as Batman really qualifies as a mystery guest.”

Okay, so maybe not all of them said these words exactly (although some did), but they didn’t have to say anything. I could tell what they thought of the ministry by their decision NOT to come the following week. Had I followed through on my promises, they couldn’t help but come back. And yet, they didn’t? Why?

Because my ministry was overpromising and underperforming.

In youth ministry there are few things that are worse than all hype and no follow through. And I learned the hard way that one of the keys to keeping the teens coming back was simple: exceed their expectations.

Think about how you feel when you go to a restaurant, and they tell you it’ll be a 30-minute wait for your table only to call your name in 15 minutes: “Wow! That was fast! What great service!”

They exceeded your expectations.

Or what about when your favorite football team is predicted to win only 6 games but they go on to win 9? “That was a great season! We’re moving in the right direction!”

They exceeded your expectations.

Or when your flight arrives 30 minutes ahead of schedule? “I’m early! What a great airline!”

They exceeded your expectations.

The same principle can apply to your ministry, so I propose this. Instead of overpromising and overhyping your events, what if you over delivered?

Instead of promoting that you’re going to have a special guest, why not surprise the teens with a real special guest?

Instead of telling teens that the Life Night will be the best ever, why not go over-the-top with each activity?

Instead of promising a great snack at the beginning of the night, why not wow them with a homemade meal?

Not only will you keep teens coming back, but word will begin to spread, and those who don’t normally come will start to realize they’re missing out. Overtime you won’t need to promise that your events will be the best ever. The teens will come to expect it. And that’s when the real work begins.

Question: What are some ways you try to exceed your teens’ expectations? (Share below).

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