It looked like a total bust.
We planned an indoor beach party in February and hardly anyone showed up. I was thinking, ‘this is a total disaster.’ The student leaders had worked hard at making a beach volleyball game, a beach themed photo booth, and special slushies with fancy umbrellas. Sadly, only the student leaders showed up. I wish I knew then what I know now about what to do when nobody shows. Here are 5 things you can do:
1. Have Tons of Fun!
The last thing you want to do is punish the ones who showed up! They were faithful and came out despite the bad weather, midterms, or the alternate party that ran at the same time as your event. Bless them for coming out! Make them so glad that they came. Make the others feel that they missed out by being somewhere else.
It would have been more fun with more students but make sure that these students have the best snacks ever, all the prizes the other students would have had, and the ‘funnest’ photo shoot ever! Post it on Istagram!
2. Change Things Up
Another night we were hit by the perfect storm; an ice storm to be exact. 6 students made their way to the church out of the 60 who normally attended. Inside I felt “this sucks.” I had prepared an excellent message (at least I thought so!) The music would have been really good (if the students in the band had come.) We were even going to order pizza from their favourite place.
I had to hide my disappointment and recognize the heroic effort each of the 6 had made to be there! I let myself get thrilled with their loyalty and perseverance and determined to do something special for them… but what?! Preaching the message and doing a Capella worship wasn’t a good fit for that size of group.
We packed the students into the church van, cranked worship music and drove very safely to the pizza place that we were going to order from. I spent the whole budget for the evening on the 6 of them. At the table I shared a quick devotional based on the message I had prepared. When we left I put on worship music in the van and each of us prayed for our needs and the needs of other students in the group.
Many times after, students talked about that night in the van as the best youth night they every experienced!
3. Capitalize on the Closeness
If no one is there you can’t grab the microphone and do a lot of hype. You’ll just look dumb. Instead, scale things back. Maybe do a quiet acoustic worship or change your games for a very small group. Do what you can to make it close and intimate even if the students present are not the best of friends.
Make your teaching interactive instead of one way communication. Maybe have them write down their responses or have them text them to you, if they aren’t good at sharing in a group. Be sure to make the most out of a small group. –You should probably move to a smaller room than you normally meet in as well!
4. Be Honest and Refocus the Vision
On an outreach night the leaders and I looked around to see that none of the students had brought their friends. The purpose was to share the gospel but everyone there was born again and baptized! Everything was set to go but all of the students present knew that it was our monthly evangelistic outreach. They were going to be sharing their faith stories at tables at the end of the evening.
None of us wanted to just go through the motions, pretending their was someone who needed to “get saved again.” In a leaders’ huddle Donny said, “We should pray and practice for a real outreach.” It made sense to me!
After a time of a few worship songs Donny went to the the white board and said, “Since none of us brought any friends, we are going to make a list of friends and we are going to pray that they will come out when do our outreach next month.”
Students offered up about 40 names of friends they could invite. We took turns all over the room praying that they would attend the next outreach.
After that, all of the students who prepared to share their faith story sat at different tables while the snack was given out. They shared with their Christian friends what they were going to share at the upcoming outreach. Others around the table also decided to share their faith story. Some had never done that before.
The next month the outreach had fantastic attendance and the students had been praying for a month about that night. All around the room students prayed to receive Christ at different tables. As it turned out, the outreach with bad attendance wasn’t a bust after all!
5. Use Your Bomb Equipment
This blog may end up on CIA radar just because it has the word bomb in it! What I mean by bomb equipment is some stuff that your students really love to do. Some groups love board games and hot chocolate. Always have it on hand when hardly anyone attends. Other groups like improv. A few props and outfits can spark creativity and a lot of laughs. Film it and make students who didn’t attend wish that they had (make FOMO work for you!)
Our group loved the fireside room for some reason. They also loved to make smores indoors. One time we were supposed to play soft ball out doors but there were thunderstorms outside. Instead of playing chicken with the lightening, I invented a game called 2 Ping that involved playing softball indoors with ping pong ball and table tennis paddle. Many times after, the student begged me to play that game. (Here’s a bunch more of my free games and ideas)
Don’t just stick to your plan if no one shows up. Change things up and do what students love. Make the ones who didn’t come feel that they missed out. Admit that things didn’t work out as planned but make the students who made the effort to attend so glad that they did.