Back in the fall I started meeting with senior high youth at a local bagel place on their monthly “late arrival” days. I told them I’d buy them breakfast and we’d hang out before they had to be at school. I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up. I’ve had anywhere from one to eight show up (we have ten senior high on our roster).
Our church has been hosting a Pride group for middle schoolers, and we hadn’t had any show up yet. The Pride Director and I have met during the scheduled time pretty much every week since October. We’ve had a high school student come hang out with us, but no middle school youth. Until today. We had one.
During my interview for my previous youth ministry position, the committee asked me to tell them about a person who has helped shaped my call to ministry. Not a question I had really planned for, I answered (to my surprise): Brian, my Sunday school teacher when I was in high school (an unpaid, non-parent church member).
For some reason, I ended up being the only high school student to regularly attend Sunday school. And Brian was always there. He showed up when no one else showed up. He checked in on us even when he wasn’t scheduled to teach; and if the teacher wasn’t there, he would sit with us. And when I say “us” I mostly mean “me.” I didn’t realize at the time how much that meant to me, that he showed up, that he sat with me, when no one else was there. He could’ve easily passed me off to a children’s class or adult class or to wander aimlessly through the hallways. But he didn’t.
Working in small churches is hard. Sometimes you don’t know if anyone is going to show up or not. And sometimes, you may just have one show up.
I enjoyed breakfast today with one senior high youth. We had no trouble coming up with things to chat about, and were able to connect in ways we wouldn’t have had others came. Of course we both wished that others would’ve been there, but instead of awkwardly being on our phones or wishing time away or rushing off to school/work, we sat, enjoyed our breakfast, and spent time together. It was nice.
After months of wondering whether this middle school PRIDE group was going to work out, one youth showed up. And shared his story with us, trusting us, communicating his desire and need to connect with others beyond his own family. He shared that he had been wanting to come for awhile but just hadn’t been able to come. And other things that I can’t share, but that made the waiting all worth it. We didn’t give up. We trusted, we waited, we showed up. And what we got in return was this beautiful connection and opportunity to facilitate hope and belonging.
Last year I took four senior high youth on a mission trip…then a few months later took three junior high youth on a mission trip. For some people, it would’ve made perfect sense to NOT go; to cancel because of low numbers. But we went. We served, we enjoyed worship and fellowship and experiencing and sharing God’s love together and with others. It WAS worth it.
It’s easy to get discouraged when there is low attendance at events, but I urge you to pay attention to those who show up. Celebrate the One who is always with you, with the one (or more) who show up.
Thank you, Brian, for being there when others weren’t. Thank you for showing up.