With Halloween on a Wednesday, many youth workers have wrestled with whether or not to hold youth group. Of course, this isn’t the only time we face this dilemma. We also wrestle with this in instances of bad weather, over winter break, and during other community events. While there certainly is no right or wrong way to handle this, here are seven questions you can use to help you decide when to cancel youth group.
1. What’s typical in your community? As much as I might not want to admit it, Halloween is pretty sacred in my community. In fact, I had someone skip a meeting the day before Halloween in order to prepare for it. That hasn't always been the case. In some communities I’ve been a part of, Trick or Treat has ended BEFORE youth group even began, making it an obvious choice to still hold it.
2. What’s the critical mass you need to make an event worth your (and your fellow adult leaders’) time? How many students do you need for your event? Will whatever the conflict is prevent a critical mass from showing up? At what point will you lack the energy, people, or resources you need to hold an event or gathering?
3. Do your leaders need a week off? Adult leaders are the backbone of your ministry. Are they tired? Do they need a week off or a week to be with their families? Is there a chance you won’t have enough leaders at your event? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then it might be worth canceling an event. In my ministry, we intentionally take time off between Christmas and New Years in order to allow leaders to be with their families and, in the process, return to our ministries rested and refreshed.
4. What’s your pattern? Routine is important. A ministry that meets weekly gives teens the freedom to show up whenever they’re able, even if it isn’t every week, without fear of showing up on an off-week. If, however, your ministry meets more sporadically, then it’s often easier to schedule your off weeks to coincide with holidays or other community conflicts that will draw your teens away from your ministry.
5. What are you (inadvertently) communicating to teens and their families by canceling an event or gathering? I distinctly remember another time when Halloween fell on a Wednesday. I debated canceling it with my student leaders. That’s when Emma chimed in: “Since when are we afraid to have low numbers? Don’t you care about us too?” I couldn’t argue with her. So, we invited teens to come in costume and explored demon possession. We had a great conversation with the teens who were present, who left feeling as though this was their ministry too; That they were a valued part of it.
6. Has a schedule already been published? Once you’ve published your ministry’s calendar, it’s important for you to do everything in your power to hold to that schedule. When you do that, families learn they can count on your events being held. This gives them the confidence to actually plan their own family calendars around your events.
7. Is there school? Whether there’s school isn’t the only question to ask when deciding whether or not to cancel youth group, but it can be a helpful one – especially in the winter when you’re trying to deem whether or not it’s safe for teens to get to youth group. When schools make their decision, they evaluate safety. Can walkers safely get to school? Can buses? If a school has decided “no” and therefore canceled classes, it’s pretty safe to assume we also don’t want walkers or teen drivers on the road trying to get to youth group.
Once you decide whether or not to hold an event, make sure you communicate your decision (whatever it is) to families. Don’t assume they’ll think you’re holding (or not holding) an event until you communicate it.
If you decide to hold your event, focus on who’s in the room, not on who’s absent. Trust that God can and will show up in the students who are there. Then watch what God does.