As numbers dwindle within the church, youth workers are faced with emptier youth lounges, smaller events, and even event cancellations as we see the youth drift away from the church. As a bishop said recently, it is a church wide epidemic, we aren’t special in our loss. That doesn’t make the lack of numbers any less disheartening. We are used to numbers, and for many in the field, those numbers define success, if we are in the presence of many youth, than our work must have some value. So as numbers decline, we can’t help but feel maybe we are failing.
The most recent Northeast Regional Youth Gathering was faced with this crisis as poor economic times along with lack of interest shrunk the size of the gathering by more than half. The lack of numbers was so frightening that there was serious discussion about canceling the gathering all together. Less than 200 youth?!? At a Regional Gathering?!? It was unfathomable, but the show went on, and thank God it did. Yes the group was smaller, the represented churches fewer, some groups had only 2 or 3 youth with them, but the experience was phenomenal. Different, but phenomenal none the less.
Those in attendance were able to receive something unattainable in the large super-dome of New Orleans, they were able to achieve intimacy, commraderie, and true friendship. As I watched my youth slowly move away from the safety of one another and sit with other groups in the lunch room, as I watched them exchange Facebook info and even my shyest youth jump on the small stage to dance, I suddenly realized that maybe numbers really don’t matter all that much. In that smaller setting, my youth were finally understanding what it meant to be part of a larger community of faith, and they were able to make connections that cannot be made when they are just one in a sea of many.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suddenly hoping to have a tiny youth group, I love seeing new faces and reaching out to new youth. However, when basketball season starts and I only have six youth attending a meeting, I won’t feel failure, instead I will feel the glimmer of opportunity, one that I won’t want to waste.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you feel that sting of failure when you watch the number of youth dwindle in your church, or are you one of the few lucky who have yet to face this crisis?