Here’s a situation: You have a group of 15 youth (both young men and young women). They attend their mutual activities every week (in this case, Thursdays). There is strong youth leadership at the ward level, which has equated in loyal attendance at said mutual activities. Many of the youth not only come, but have a good time and generally look forward to the next week.

The stake puts on activities. Attendance is minimal. The youth aren’t excited about the next activity. They begrudgingly attend (at the behest of their parents). Instead of talking the next day about the positive experience, the conversation overheard revolves around how “stupid” the activity was.

Sound familiar? If not, consider yourself lucky. If so, you’re not alone.

I’m going to give you the answer to a very important question.  As a matter of fact, this question could be as important as the answer to “life, the universe, and everything.” As evidenced below, the answer to that question is 42.

So what about the situation as evidenced above?  How do you get youth to go to activities?  I’m not sure.  All I have is my experiences for the ultimate successes we saw in our area, and the failures that occurred during the downfall.  I’m sure my sisters at Beginnings New have their own ideas about how to get the Young Women to attend the activities.  But I’m focusing on how to get the young men to your activity once, and get them to return.  Here are the commandments to follow to get young men to the activities.

#1. Thou shalt have refreshments

This should go without saying.  But there are a few caveats.  First, water isn’t a very good refreshment drink.  However, cheap knockoff Kool-Aid that you can get 20 for $1.00 works fine.  The food portion can be brownies, cookies, chips, dried cereal, anything, really.  The cheaper the better.  The young men aren’t food critics.  They’ll eat anything that gives them energy (anyone who has been to scout camp can attest to this).

#2. Thou shalt have passive authority

This is an odd rule, but one that needs to be followed.  What is passive authority?  In my mind, it’s letting the boys be boys, within reason.  I would say a good 90-99% of the young men are good kids, a little wild, but good kids.  They aren’t malicious.  They’re boys.  They know right from wrong.  They’re young adults.  Treat them as such, and they’ll appreciate it.  Micromanaging youth never go anyone anywhere.  Which goes along with #3…

#3. Thou shalt treat the young men as young men.

Don’t insult their intelligence.  Don’t demean them.  Don’t deny them the opportunity to grow.  This rule is from my own personal experience.

During the downfall of our youth program, I drove to the stake center with a group of 5-6 friends.  We were fashionably late (because we all knew that the dance never starts at the actual time), and as we walked into the gym of the stake center, we realized that our group of 5-6 people doubled the amount of youth presently there (and this was 30 minutes after the scheduled start of the dance).  Arrogantly, unwisely, and foolishly, I led my group of friends in one door of the gym, saw the amount of dancers, and without breaking stride, out the door on the other side of the gym.  As we were walking out (with plans to go to someone’s house to play cards and watch movies), one of the stake youth leaders stopped us.

Sister M: Where are you guys going?
Me: We’re leaving
Sister M: But the dance is just starting!
Me: There’s nobody here!
Sister M: But that’s why we need you here!

The rest of our group left the building while Sister M and I talked. We talked about why the youth aren’t there, and why us staying wasn’t going to make the dance any better. She told me “Brandt, if you think you can do better, then by all means, you plan a dance.” I thought it was an invitation! I told her “Sure!” She rolled her eyes, and said “OK.” When I got to the car (after most likely dissapointing Sister M in my arrogance in leaving), we excitedly started brainstorming. We had all been through the years when the youth program was at its highest. We had great ideas as to when it should be, how it should be, etc.

I waiting for the call from Sister M. It never came. I probably should have followed up. But we were willing to take the responsibility and put ourselves out there, and the opportunity never came.  Instead of feeling like young adults with a say in our program, we felt like little children who had been looked over and forgotten.

#4. Thou Shalt Include the Young Women

This can’t be used in all situations, but the young women have a certain effect on the young men.  You can equate it to the age they are at, the fact that they see each other multiple  times a week (whether at school or church/mutual), the fact that they’ve most times literally grown up together (through the primary program and now to the youth program), and the fact that they are most likely going through the same things.

I do want to make a disclaimer that I’m not saying the young women be treated as rewards or prizes.  They’re not.  Nobody wants to be treated like that.  But I look at the combining of both organizations as an incentive for the young men.

Like I said, it can’t be used in all situations.  The number of youth, the circumstance of the activity, the timing, the personalities can all have an effect.  I’m working with the Deacons right now.  Other than the few that are just about to move on to Teacher’s quorum, the incentive of Young Women doesn’t do a thing.

Another experience to illustrate…

Our stake used to have a springtime conference.  It was on a Saturday, starting at 10 or 11 in the morning.  The young men went to one of the larger ward buildings, the young women went to the stake center.  We were informed to bring a change of Sunday clothes.  During the day (for the young men), we went through different activities.  We sat in classes learning about missions.  We listened to devotionals.  We learned about the priesthood.  We had a lunch (basic sandwiches, provided by the stake).  We had a service project.  Then, at about 3-4 PM, we changed into our Sunday clothes in the bathrooms.  We carpooled up to the Stake Center.  There was a testimony meeting, then a dinner (by the stake), then a dance.  Those were great conferences that just about all the youth my age went to.  We had a good time, and seeing the young women and having a dance afterwards was one of the incentives to sit through the classes/workshops/service project.  Wrong attitude, I know, but it was the prevalent one.

The final year I was in the youth program, they announced that there was not going to be a dinner with the combined youth afterward.  I was OK with that.  The kicker was there was not going to be a dance either.  I was not OK with that.  Neither were 80% of the youth in our ward.  I didn’t attend.  Neither did 80% of the ward.  And the year after, they canceled the entire thing.

I think there’s a lesson to be learned there.  Just like with dances, the Young Men don’t want to go to a dance with only young men.  The young women don’t like to go to a dance with only young women.  Let them mingle, let them talk, let them be teenagers.

#5. Thou Shalt Listen

This goes along with rule #3.  The youth really do amaze me sometimes.  They have great insights, and sometimes they see more than we do.  They hear what others are saying.  And they are willing to put themselves out there.  Listen to them.  Ask for their suggestions.  Be sincerely interested.  And take their suggestions and critiques and advice under careful consideration.  Allow them to be proactive in developing their ideas.  They’ll thank you later.

What other rules would you add?