At the start of my first assignment as a youth minister in a parish, I asked the teens what they wanted to do. They gave me a list of 42 events. So I took out a calendar and scheduled each one throughout our summer. We went from 15 teens to 85 teens active by the end of summer – here is what I did to boost attendance and what you can do to get more teens attending your events.
1.) Focus on the New Teens - Sometimes our amazing events are the best kept secret because we assume people know about them. We can spend 90% of our communication regarding an event to the smaller group who are already excited. Posters, flyers, sticky notes or printed tickets can help raise the awareness of your next event. Make sure your communication is geared to those who are not regularly attending (the New Teens) and that you avoid acronyms or names for events that the meaning is only known to the active participants in your group.
2.) Free Food! - Teens (and adults) love to come to places where there is free food. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, just good comfort food. Make sure you let people know ahead of time that you will be serving free food at the event. If your budget is small, ask some parents to organize other parents to make this happen. As a parent, I am asked all the time to help provide food for our kids, we are used to being asked and most of the time we are glad to help.
3.) Hang Out Where the Teens Are and Invite - Spend two days a week visiting your mall, coffee house or local High School campus, either at lunch time or at after school activities like plays, concerts, plays or sporting events. Talk to teens and invite them to the event personally. Remember most teens need to be invited at least 4 times before they will attend. The sad part is that most youth leaders give up after only asking twice.
4.) Old School Social Networking – It is not just your responsibility as youth minister to invite teens to attend something. I once asked our core team after hearing concerns about attendance at Life Nights to raise their hand if they had invited a teen to attend the Life Night that night. Only a few had done that. I replied by saying that in the next week that I would ask the question again and that it would be great if they all could raise their hand. People sometimes need a reminder. Make sure you communicate with your pastor, parish staff and parents as they are in contact with a lot of people who are either teens or parents of teens and can help spread the word.
If you are excited about the event, it will get other people excited as well. So it is key that you plan things that you are enthused about. Good luck and know that sometimes the hardest to reach teens are the one’s who turn out to be the youth ministers, priests and nuns of the future!