Carey Nieuwhof is a name many of you might recognize. If you don’t recognize his name, check out his new leadership podcast, it’s great! In his first episode, Andy Stanley makes a statement that kind of shook my existing paradigm as it relates to student ministry.
“A regular church attender is someone who goes to church about 12 times a year, not every week…as we looked at our children’s attendance patterns, the truth is that people, a regular attender, somebody that says, ‘Oh that’s my church, I love Andy or I love Carey or I love my church,” they’re going to go 12-15 times a year and consider themselves ‘churched.’ …they haven’t left.”
TWELVE TIMES? Growing up, my mom was on staff at a major church. From my perspective as a kid, the thought that we would even miss 12 Sundays a year was foreign, much less only attend 12 Sundays a year. So whether or not that statistic plays out to be true in your context, from a general point of view, there is a notable culture shift among church attendance. I would argue that there is a new normal. (Keep in mind, “new” is relative. For some contexts, this normal may have existed for years and years, and in other contexts, it may not be there at all).
Let’s assume, for a second, that this is the case and that it plays out to be true for students, as well. How does that impact how we cast vision for our students? How does that impact processes for pastoral care? How does that impact how we might view different circles of “core” vs. fringe? How does that impact how we script our series and our small group/Sunday school curriculum? We could talk for decades about how to increase involvement to an “acceptable level”, whatever that is…but let’s resist that temptation.
Instead of trying to FIX the problem, how can we do better at working within the framework we’re given? How can we be better leaders, pastors, and shepherds under the assumption that this statistic, to some degree, is true?
I don’t have all the answers…but I can think of plenty of questions.
PASTORAL CARE. When a tragedy happens in my town, my tendency is to use our D Group ministry structure as a conduit for pastoral care: visiting groups, checking in with group leaders, and meeting with students that were directly effected. If a student only attends 12x a year but considers you their pastor, seeing no reason why you would consider them a “regular visitor,” how are we shepherding students we only see once a month?
FOLLOW UP. When a core student, who may miss one meeting a month, misses for a couple weeks, there is cause to follow up. But if Jim only comes once a month to his home youth group, what’s the best way to follow up? The same way you’d approach a student there every week, or more like a student who has come with a friend a couple times?
SERIES DEVELOPMENT. I’m writing this 3 and a half hours before preaching the first message in a series on times when God feels silent. I feel like this series will hit home with many of our students who struggle with connecting with God. But if Jim comes 1 time every 4 weeks, he may not know the series is happening until it’s over. Do we have ways our students can stay plugged in and fed if they’re not there? Do we drag out series? Do we need to over-communicate when a series approaches that we think is particularly honed into where our students are?
Those are my first thoughts as I process the incredible implications should this statement be true, but I would love to hear how this perception or knowledge impacts the way you do student ministry, and if you think it plays out in your context.