Chris Wilterdink


Nobody Signed Up…What Now?

If you’ve been in ministry for more than a season, it has probably happened to you…You picked the dates carefully (for a retreat, a trip, a lock-in, a special event), advertised it, sent reminders, and then the deadline came and nobody signed up. Well, maybe one or two people signed up, but a lot less than the 5 or 15 or 30 that you were counting on to break even. So what do you do now?

1. Don’t take it personally.

It can feel crummy when something that you were excited about doesn’t get traction or a response from your youth. Take a second to be bummed out, or maybe a minute if you really need it, but don’t worry too much. You’ve got things to do!

2. Determine your opportunity cost to cancel or reschedule the event.

Have you signed contracts? Put down deposits? If there is a financial commitment, you may need to double-down on getting participants so that you don’t waste valuable budget money.

If there is no financial or relationship cost to canceling the event, go ahead and cancel! If rescheduling the event saves money and saves face, look for new dates. If you have to take a financial loss because nobody signed up, make sure that your leadership team or volunteers know. If you end up being less of a risk-taker after getting burned by people not signing up, it is good for others to know why. If there is no cost to canceling, cancel the event, and take time to thank God for an opening in a busy calendar!

3. Determine a plan of action, and communicate with anyone who has signed up.

It is your choice to cancel or to continue with the plans as they are. If you cancel the whole thing but had one or two youth sign up to participate, find something to do during that time block to honor the commitment that these youth were willing to make.

Try and match the purpose of the event with what you replace it with (fellowship, service, discipleship, etc) If that just isn’t feasible you can cancel the whole thing, just make sure that everyone knows! Communicate clearly and quickly with anyone who would have been involved.

4. Reflect and Research why nobody signed up.

Once you’ve made your decision to cancel, postpone, or continue spend some time reflecting on why people didn’t sign up, you’re not finished. Look at school and community calendar, was there something interfering? Were members of your ministry not passionate about doing the event? Was it just one too many things? Was it a cost issue?

Sit down with youth and your volunteers to talk about why they think nobody signed up. This can be useful knowledge as you plan out future events. Any decision that people make is an informed decision, it just depends on where they are pulling their information from. Are they getting clear information from you?

5. Determine the value of the event to your ministry.

I am a firm believer that people make time for what they value. If you had an event planned that nobody signed up for, look at the event and decide if you believe it has value for your youth and your ministry. If it offers something of value or is something that you want to make a value in your ministry, figure out another time to provide the opportunity. If it is not valuable for your vision of ministry, don’t worry about dropping it from your calendar. Next time you communicate about your plans, use value language, so that even if people are busy, they know what to expect and can communicate about their informed choice to participate.

Remember, when nobody signs up for an event it is not a failure. It is simply something that will inevitably happen with enough time. Don’t take it personally, come up with a plan, communicate that plan, then reflect on the whole process.

This post provides reflections on ministry with LGBTQ youth in a general sense, and it also contains specific references for youth ministries in the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church gathers a legislative body in order to speak officially on behalf of the church, and many of the recent gatherings have hosted an ongoing debate about human sexuality, same-sex marriage, and the ability to ordain those who do not fit traditional definitions of gender or sexuality.

(If this opening paragraph hasn’t scared you, please read on! It really is good! Also, I realize that I am a white, married, cisgender male, father of two – and that I don’t know everything. In fact, I have family members who revel in reminding me of that regularly!)

This post is not designed to change your mind. I write this with no liberal, nor conservative, theological agenda. The only explicit or implicit agenda set forth in this post is as follows: To help the church become (or remain) a safe place for youth. Many youth workers identify safety as one of the top priorities of their ministry. Teenagers all struggle with sexuality, as hormones turn on and off, teens experience new world of power dynamics, pleasures, dangers, and identity questions that they did not know about in childhood. Teenagers also all experience bullying in different degrees.

Bullying, Suicide, and Self Harm

Teenagers struggling with their sexuality or gender experience a higher than average amount of bullying, which can lead to the increased reports of depression, self-harm, and suicide (both considered and completed). If you are in ministry with LGBTQ youth, please be familiar with these resources before you read on. For too many gay and trans teens, the church may not be a place where they feel safe.

Some of the most essential resources for helping LGBTQ teens who are struggling with bullying and/or depression:

Integrity is Key

There is more than one way to do this! Every person and situation is unique, therefore responses by you and the church will be unique as well.
Integrity ought to matter to Christians, if we say that we are all made in the image of God, that does mean everyone! If we say that we all fall short of Christian perfection and need grace, that means everyone! If we say we all sin, that means everyone! (You get the idea here) Integrity informs our ability to empathize and look for the face of Christ in another. As you come to know any youth, it is important to affirm them as also made in the image of God. This may be a new, or unexpected message that you can give to an LGBTQ youth.

Responding When a Teen Comes Out to You

If an LGBTQ youth comes to you to share about their sexual orientation, struggles to define gender, or even with simpler questions, recognize the courage it took that young person to approach you in the first place. Thank them for that trust and recognize that it means that the youth probably views you as someone with authority and power. They have come to you because they (or their parents) feel safe enough to do so! If they share a deeply personal truth with you, remember to thank them for their trust and honesty…especially before jumping in to try and “fix” anything! Be a champion for them by caring for them with integrity.
Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I appreciate that it takes a lot of courage to share something of yourself, and I am thrilled and honored you chose to share this with me. Know that God already is present to this information; he knows you and he loves you, and here we know you and we love you, and this information doesn’t change that. I’m not sure what everyone else thinks or what discussions around this have already happened, so I don’t have all the answers to all the specifics right now. But if you want, we can find out together.”

You Don’t Have to be the Expert

Don’t feel as though you need to be the expert or provide all the answers. Sometimes, conversations with lots of questions form a better relationship of support in the long term. You as a youth minister know people, you can connect yourself and this youth (and their family!) with others who have more knowledge, experience, or training than we do ourselves. You do not compromise anyone’s personal nor social holiness by seeking help or support outside of the church!
Study and share lessons on just how radical Jesus’ ministry was for its time, and how radical it would be today for that matter! These stories could include any interactions those whom his own religion sought to exclude. The physical touching (and being touched by) women, lepers, and children. Sharing meals with tax collectors and other outcasts. Jesus had ministry that happened at the margins of society.
Minister in solidarity. That means that even if there are larger structures that want to impose values or behaviors on a youth, trust that the trusting/safe relationship between you can lead to a transformation.
Share in all the regular wins and struggles like you would with any other teen in your ministry. Share theological resources, books, or even autobiographies to help that youth understand that there are Christians who share some of that youth’s unique experiences. 
Affirm student behavior for the good things, as opposed to always correcting them on things that your church doesn’t consider appropriate.

Your Language and Their Identity in Christ

Be careful with your language, and only say things that you really mean. When sitting down with a youth remember that these are not “issues” – this is a person. When a church or youth minister says something like “Homosexuality is a sin” or “Same sex relationships are wrong” often an LGBTQ youth will hear “I am wrong” or “I am bad” If you refer to things like Mark 9:42, a youth may hear that as a literal threat from a church to drown them because of their sin, as opposed to Jesus using hyperbole or an allegory. For many teens, separating behavior from identity is difficult, so a rejection of behavior feels like a rejection of the self. Speak with care about God, when using pronouns or other names. Our default is often to use male pronouns for God. Which is fine, but we can do better. Psalm 131:2; and Matthew 23:37 use mother imagery for God. God is bigger than any pronoun or name! 
Help young people recognize that their identity is rooted in Christ, and not their sexuality or gender. This may come from the ability of your ministry or church to state and offer radical hospitality, using specific language. Help them move beyond the idea that people have to meet certain conditions before they are welcomed by your church.
Finally, another direct quote from The Youth Cartel’s book 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers: Effective Ministry to Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, and Questioning Students Among Us “LGB and T are not the same issue. L (Lesbian), G (Gay), and B (Bisexual) are about sexual orientation (in other words, who is the person attracted to). T (Transgender) is about gender identity (in other words, what gender do they understand themselves to be). The term “transgender” (often shorthanded to “trans”) encompasses dozens of subcategories and terms; and those in the transgender community tend to be very intentional about which terms they use for themselves.”

 General Conference 2019 Discussion Guide

For specific resources, and ongoing awareness for developments in the United Methodist Church after General Conference 2019, please go to There you will find outlines of the 3 plans that were considered at GC2019, information about ongoing prayer efforts, as well as connectional opportunities to further engage in the conversation.
For discussions in your youth ministry, consider any of the following:
  • The legislative body at GC2019 passed the Traditional Plan 53% to 47% – while that simple majority was enough to pass the plan, it is clear that everyone is not of one mind. That would be fair to say for any of the 3 plans that were presented
  • Did you know that the United Methodist Church has a Constitution? It can be found in the Book of Discipline. Parts of the Traditional Plan that were passed have already been identified as “in conflict with the constitution.” So that means even though the Traditional Plan was passed, it cannot take effect until a review by a judicial committee. That will happen in April. All that is to say, officially the UMC is in status quo until at least April.
  • The Baptismal vows, Membership vows, and language used in Confirmation did not change in anything that was discussed at General Conference. Be in conversation with your youth about the language in those vows, and how each of you and your ministry can better live into them.
  • Read and discuss the 2019 Young People’s Statement from General Conference 2019. What parts of the statement resonate within your ministry setting? What parts are challenging for youth? What are pieces that you would add that are important in your church context?

Use the resources and videos available at , particularly the discussion questions in #3 of the “Invitations to Act” Many of these ask youth to reflect on the representative system used by the UMC (and many other democracies around the world)

  • Where do others make decisions that you have to live by?
  • Have you been in a situation where you had to rely on someone else representing you? How did that feel? How did that go?
  • When have you made decisions for others? What was their response? How did it feel to have the responsibility of representing others?
  • For you, what are essential Christian beliefs and practices?
  • When have you felt “of one mind” with someone else?  When have you felt “of one heart” with someone?  What did those experiences feel like?
  • Describe a moment when you’ve worked alongside someone who believed differently than you?  On what were you able to work together?
  • When have you witnessed a community making healthy and holy decisions through a healthy and holy process? 
  • With whom have you had tough conversations leading you past disagreement and toward reconciliation?
  • How can the church move beyond the disagreements that we have with one another?
In specific conversations with those concerned with the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth, consider the following guiding questions:
  • “How can you tell if someone is a Christian?”
  • What do you think our church thinks about the LGBTQ community? What do you think the worldwide United Methodist Church thinks about the LGBTQ community? What do you think other faith groups (Christian and non-Christian) think about the LGBTQ community?
  • Have you ever experienced bullying at church? In our youth ministry? Have you ever known someone that was connected to our church, but left? If so, do you know their reasons? (Follow these up with reassurances something like “We will fight to protect you here.” Be sensitive to give other youth a safe place to express concerns and ask questions, not for intimidation.)
  • How might we create safe spaces in our church for LGBTQ youth? (Learning preferred pronouns? Designating family or gender-neutral bathrooms?Behavior covenants?

Discuss, agree or disagree:

  •  “Nothing that happens changes who God is or how God responds to me. Everything that happens can change who I am and how I respond to God.”
  • “The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality.” Paul says so in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1.
  • Unity is more important than uniformity.
  • Welcoming people in the name of Christ more about me changing the way that I act than asking another person to change the way that they act.

Explore the United Methodist Social Principles and Social Creed  and the Book of Discipline, looking for passages that call us to action, or create tension because of a difference in the ideals stated versus the world that we live in.

Other resources to consider reviewing in preparation for conversation and lessons: 





You are an awesome youth worker and you are making your summer calendar for 2019. Ok, thinking about 2019 might be giving you a panic attack based on all that went down this summer.  Either way, we are going to help you impress your leadership because next summer you alredy have the main event planned:  Youth 2019. It’s July 10-14. Why in the world should a trip to Kansas City in July be on your radar?

When you’re a part of a United Methodist Congregation, you are part of a connectional system that can unite to do incredible things! One of those things that happens every four years is the National YOUTH event for every United Methodist Youth. If you lead a youth ministry, it is worth attending. YOUTH 2019 is crafted to be theologically Wesleyan, astoundingly relevant, and connectional to the core. What about your students who aren’t necessarily UMC? All are welcome at YOUTH 2019, connected to a UMC or not.

What are the wins and challenges that come with putting this on your ministry calendar for the summer of 2019?  Let’s start with the wins.  These will help you sell the idea to your church and get your youth excited.


  • Your youth get to discover their connection to a broader church, and to other youth with active faith lives in the UMC. The Young People’s Ministries unit of Discipleship Ministries is committed to creating the highest-quality event possible.
  • Celebrate the diversity of the UMC, with the presence of each ethnic caucus and intentional work from our design team, we rep the big tent of the UMC in person
  • National-level speakers and worship artists, on a big stage, in the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium. This 10,000 seat arena will rock with worship every night!
  • You get to participate as much as the kids. There are workshops and development opportunities for adults as well as youth. Prayer space from the Upper Room, workshops from General Agencies and other real-life youth and youth ministers will be of the highest quality.
  • Deepen connections within your group with travel time, intentional devotions, and fun in Kansas City.
  • Service opportunities are rolled in to the programming. We’re partnering with local service organizations to support their good work. Your youth can put their hands and hearts to good work.
  • Chances to create Holy Mischief while at the event using excellent guidance from our Design Team
  • Call opportunities abound! It is amazing how many stories from past youth events feature a reaffirmation or crystallization of a call into ministry.
  • It’s a time for togetherness after the General Conference in February of 2019. Some folks haven’t talked about the special Called General Conference with their youth, but it is happening in February. YOUTH 2019 is the first national-level event to take place after that gathering, and we are intentionally creating a space to celebrate the things that unite us. Youth have often valued being together, and know better than adults at times, that different does not have to mean divided!
  • Kansas City is a friendly, safe downtown environment with plenty to see, do, and eat! Hotels are all walking distance to the Kansas City Convention Center and Municipal Auditorium, so once you’re in town we’re just talking about walking, no cars needed!

Now to the challenges.  As with everything you do there are a couple of things you are going to have to think through in order to make this a reality.  Here they are:


  • Yeah, it’s a 4-day event in Kansas City, so it means travel and sure, some cost. You can build community by fundraising and making this a shared experience. Think of YOUTH 2019 as an investment in the spiritual growth of your youth. Maybe there are other churches from your area interested in going?
  • It only happens every four years, so it goes at the same time as normally scheduled summer stuff. Yes, sometimes there are choices to be made. Camps, service or mission trips, choir tours, VBS volunteering…any of the above might happen every summer in your ministry. Take time to assess the value of what your youth gain and what your church gains through what you offer in summer programming. Perhaps this national-level youth event is worth considering, especially since it only happens every four years!

And of course, there’s a video to help you spread the word:

Connect with the YOUTH event @YOUTH 2019 on all major social media platforms or our website


We’ve all been there. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Moments when we’ve got an awesome youth activity all figured out, and less people than we had counted on actually show up.

So, there you are – with a fraction of your planned participants. Maybe you feel deflated, discouraged, even surprised. Take heart! The best thing you can do when that happens is to still do something. Do something meaningful to honor the presence of those youth and volunteers who made time to come and be with you. It may take some modifications and thinking on your feet, and just maybe these tips to keep in your back pocket will help you navigate those circumstances when they arise.

Fellowship Activities:
Keep a stash of board games around the church. (Don’t have any? Put an ask out to the congregation for old ones they’d like to donate!) Instead of playing that huge athletic game, introduce the youth to some classic board games. These provide a great chance for conversation too.

Have enough adults to safely drive and a little bit of budget? Go out for ice cream or some other kind of sweet treat. Tell everyone thanks for coming, then while eating, talk about what is sweet about life right now. Take time to appreciate the things that are going great. Bonus, this is a chance to teach about prayers of thanksgiving. Pray when things are joyful, not just when help is wanted!

Play some free trivia games. Both “Break Free Youth Ministry” and “Download Youth Ministry” have some free and easy to play trivia games.

Devotional Activities:
Provide grown up coloring pages (like these), along with markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc. Invite youth to color a picture that represents something or someone they would like to pray for. Share in a group prayer at the end of coloring time.

Do a brown bag devotional. Have one person at the gathering grab a bunch of small random items from the youth room, office, etc. and put them into a brown paper bag. Each person then draws an item out, and has 10 minutes to come up with a devotional (or sermonette) that has to do with the item that was drawn. If needed, use the line “The kingdom of God is like a (insert object drawn from the bag here)” and then have people try and come up with reasons that make (some) sense!

Service Opportunities:
Keep a collection of safe and easy-to-use cleaning supplies on hand. There are always places around your church that could use a little cleaning and love. Have a nursery or younger kids’ area? Take some disinfecting wipes to the toys and furniture used by Children’s Ministry. You’ll make friends with kids’ ministry folks, and that will be big as time goes on!!!

Likewise, get a list of tasks from your church’s trustees. Tasks they would allow and equip youth to do. Make sure the tasks are low-skill, low or no-cost, and can be completed in a brief amount of time. Doing this can help youth feel like they are becoming load-bearing members of the church and providing support! Take pictures of the before and after, and share those moments with the community.

Reaching Out
If youth didn’t show up to where you are, consider going where they would be. Was there a game or concert competing with the youth gathering? If you have the adults and vehicles, go to the game in support of youth who had to make a choice. Them seeing you on their turf will build relational capital.

Remember, Matthew 18:20! “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Don’t take a smaller than expected group personally. Things happen, and not every youth gathering will go exactly as planned. If you get a smaller number of participants than expected, do something to honor those who came. You will be amazed at the depth of conversation and relationship that can form when you keep your chin up, have some back up plans, and connect with those who show up expecting to see God!