3 Creative Strategies for Discipleship as School Seasons Change

This year, most of my student leaders are juniors and seniors. They jump in to serve wherever they are needed—from serving on our tech team, with our kids, on our worship team, and beyond. I’m honored to have so many amazing older youth giving back to a youth group that has poured into them. I have taken every opportunity this year to brag on how much their willingness to serve one another makes our youth group a better place. But, as students age, their calendars start to fill up with activities outside of youth group. There are certain times of the year when I see the same students every week and other times when I hope students will return after their sports season. As a youth pastor, it can be difficult to remain faithful to students when we feel like they have forgotten us and possibly their faith altogether.

Youth leader, please don’t forget your busy students as school seasons change. A student’s absence from youth group probably isn’t as personal as it might feel to you, and we can’t always equate perfect attendance with a growing spiritual life. Here are some creative strategies I use as school seasons affect how students interact with my local youth ministry.

1. Show up where your students are.

If you have students who constantly miss youth group because they are leading on their sports team or in a school production, go see them. Take every person in your youth group and cheer them on. Take the opportunity to remind them that they are a part of the family of God, which extends outside of the walls of the church. Use the opportunity to encourage your students that they play a bigger role than simply attending church, that they carry the message of Christ wherever they are. Don’t miss the opportunity to see your students put their faith into action in real time as you cheer them on from the sidelines. God can be honored on the soccer field just the same as at a Wednesday night Bible study.

Take the opportunity to remind them that they are a part of the family of God, which extends outside of the walls of the church. Use the opportunity to encourage your students that they play a bigger role than simply attending church, that they carry the message of Christ wherever they are.

2. Check in with students who are expressing changing seasons.

It isn’t rocket science for me to tell you to talk to your students about their lives, but I do want to take some time to remind you that you should reach out to a student or two this week that you imagine is juggling it all well. The likelihood that your most adjusted students are able to perfectly keep all their plates spinning as the seasons change is low, so take some time to ask a student who seems to be doing well to lunch. You just might find that your strongest student needs a space to talk through the seasons and express questions as well. Don’t miss the opportunity as the seasons change to ask every student how they are adjusting to new schedules, upcoming testing, or what they have learned about themselves this year. God is at work in the lives of your students in every season. Are you personally asking your students what they are learning and hearing from God?

3. Send out some snail mail.

I always encourage my team of volunteers to write to students with me. I even provide branded postcards to our team so they can easily write a few sentences and send it to a student. I know not every person loves to write mail, but when students receive a handwritten card, I usually hear about how it mattered to them even months later. You have an opportunity to show up in a student’s life in a small way that they probably don’t see very often. Sometimes, just encouraging a student and reminding them that you prayed for them today can be a catalytic moment in their spiritual life. At times in ministry, I’ve tried to make sure every student received a handwritten card from someone on my volunteer team in the mail once a quarter.

You have an opportunity to show up in a student’s life in a small way that they probably don’t see very often. Sometimes, just encouraging a student and reminding them that you prayed for them today can be a catalytic moment in their spiritual life.

I want to leave you with a final encouragement that, in every season, God’s prevenient grace is at work in the lives of your students. As you care for students with changing schedules, pray for wisdom and love to prevail in your conversations.

Jen Willard