Reach More Students By Doing Fewer Things

Case Study: Reach More Students By Doing Fewer Things

Posted on Posted in Programs, Strategy

A few years ago, I was working at a traditional church. The structure I inherited included an activity every Sunday night after the evening service.

Participation was limited to pretty much the same 15 students every week. That was okay. After all, having those students involved was better than losing them.

But the program lacked vitality and energy. No one looked forward to it. They just did it because, well, that’s what they were accustomed to doing.

For me, it was a time-hog. It required lots of planning and promotion to put together and communicate all the details required to bring those off-site activities together every week.

It was a lot of work with very little return on investment.

“You have to do less if you want to grow more. And if you do more, chances are you will grow less.” -Andy Stanley

I decided to slash it. We moved from doing an activity every Sunday night to doing an activity only on the last Sunday night of the month. Instead of doing 52 random activities throughout the year, we would do 12 attractive events.

There were several advantages to this change:

1. It coincided with our Student-Led Worship night, which was also on the last Sunday night of the month.

2. One of the factors that limited our attendance was the time slot. It was dinner time and students were hungry. By hosting only 12 events, we had the money available to provide pizza and drinks for everyone who attended. When we were doing 52 activities, the budget wasn’t big enough to do that.

3. By getting together less frequently, we actually increased the value of the times we did get together. This is a basic principle of supply and demand.

4. There were fewer details to communicate so I was able to spend several weeks getting the word out before the events. That led to increased participation simply because people were more aware of what was going on.

The change immediately yielded positive results.
Participation went up.
Enthusiasm went up.

“Devoting a little of yourself to everything means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing.” -Andy Stanley

It wasn’t long before a dad showed up to pick his son up after one of our Sunday night events. The place was packed and everyone was having a good time.

He said something that seemed to make sense:
“It’s a shame you guys don’t do this every week. That would really be great.”

It would be easy to get sucked into his line of thinking. It seemed to be working. Why not do it more often? Why not do it every week?

The fact is that we had been doing it every week. And the only reason that guy was there to see the good things that were going on and make his comment was because his son had come out to this one.

And his son only came because it had become more than a take-it-or-leave-it activity. It had become an event that he didn’t want to miss.

If we did what we were doing every week, then we couldn’t have created the experience we had created. We couldn’t have spent as much money. We would’ve had fewer students in attendance. It would’ve generated less interest.

The experience was so positive because we had extra money to spend, drew more people to attend, and communicated the details in ways that made them stick.

“Narrowing your focus means you choose what potentially works best over what is presently working.” -Andy Stanley

Technically, there wasn’t anything wrong with what we were doing every Sunday night. Parents were happy with it. Students attended it. But I wasn’t satisfied with it. I knew we could do better.

I believed we could reach more students and have a better time together if we scaled back.

Fortunately, I was right.

Your Move

Which of your regular activities can you strengthen by doing less?
Where can your ministry experience addition by subtraction?

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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