Creating a Community that Welcomes New Students to your Youth Ministry

When the Lord moves your family for his plan and purpose, it is never easy. This means new ministry for you. For your children it also means NEW: Home, School, Church, Youth Group, & Friends…

Everything is about starting over.  It takes a toll on all of you in ways you never knew. This has been my own family for 8 months now.

Newbie Youth Ministry

I have always known a sense of community is important in our youth programming however recently it has become personal.   Why? My kids have become the ones at your youth service or group with their hands dug into the bottom of their pockets, staring at their feet, holding their breath, hoping beyond hope someone will create a space for them to belong.

I thought I knew how to create a warm environment.  However, there are some key pieces I have observed as well in our own journey.

  1. Leadership sets the tone. Students follow the examples and directions set before them.  This is true of our whole leadership team as well.  If we want them to understand how to welcome in someone new, we have to show and teach:  HOW.  Even when one adult is welcoming, if it feels like all the “kids” are just staring, the “newbie” won’t want to come back. Draw up a clear map and plan of action for building in new students.
  2. Follow up is key. One youth pastor called our children to talk to them and tell them they were glad they came to youth group.   Now my Middle School children didn’t say a whole lot on the phone.  They even told me they thought it was “weird” that someone would call like that.  Yet, this is where they wanted to go back to the next week.
  3. Know your culture- and explain it to the newbies. My children have landed at the youth programming of a Presbyterian church.  We have never been “Presbyterian” before.  Not only are there nuances of the new group,  they talk about things like “Confirmation” that were not a part of our church back home.  They have a small group leader that explains the new terms and what to expect in programming each week.  In addition as parents, we are engaged by the youth pastor to ensure we know what everything means.  This way we can help as well with the comfort levels.
  4. Create a student led Welcoming and Follow Up Team. Put a couple of students who are  naturally friendly in charge of talking to who comes through the door and then showing them the “ropes.”  In addition put others in charge of following up later in the week,  or checking up on students who have lapsed.  I actually had someone who did this for me when I was in High School.  It inspired my whole family to return to church.
  5. Purposely “mix it up.” Be aware of the cliques and friendship clusters in your group.  Students will always gravitate to people they feel comfortable with. While this is not always, “evil.” We have a responsibility to create new interactions within our group.

As a parent I have seen once again, inclusion always begins with the youth pastor/leader.  It must always be on our radar to create community, not programming.  My children “picked” a youth group this way.  Their youth pastor didn’t have to create a space for them in his group.  He knew Christ had already done that.  He simply reminded his other leaders and students of this truth.

What have you learned about creating healthy community that welcomes new students? 

Leneita

 

 

photo credit: lucesolare_x via photopin cc

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About Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix is the founder and lead consultant for Blue Sky/Green Sky Consulting whose heart is : ”Passionate about developing and training youth-oriented programs that are looking to take a generation from surviving to thriving in Christ. In 2012 she will reach the 20 year mark of experience in youth ministry, suburban, urban and rural. Most of her time has been spent in the urban community, living as a neighbor to those around her. http://www.blueskygreensky.com/
  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.daubenmeyer Kyle Daubenmeyer

    I love all of this… In response to #4, we have recently started a team of “greeters” who are students, and its crazy how much the friendliness factor has gone up over the last few months when a student is greeted immediately by their peers.

  • leneita

    Kyle, that is so encouraging to hear! So true. Although you might have a “team” of student greeters, it’s like the outward focus is contagious, it spurs all students to be inclusive and warm!

  • Phil Bell

    I agree! Student greeters are key! It’s been messy getting them consistently scheduled, but certainly worth it!

  • Theresa Mazza

    Leneita, I love you for offering this post today. All important. Thank you. I have also set up “playdates” in a way. If a new family joined the church and had a teenage daughter, I would set up a small gathering/outing with some friendly gals from our youth ministry. Hopefully this would happen before they come to youth group for the first time. When the new girl shows up to youth group, she is greeted and welcomed by her four new friends.

  • leneita

    LOVE IT! What a spectacular idea!

  • philbell

    This is a great idea! Love it Theresa. It’s so vital to build bridges of connection before students even arrive! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/ScottTinman ScottTinman

    Finding this is something that needs to be addressed in my new youth ministry….many different schools represented and even rival schools in the same conference…asked students last weekend to get the pulse of the community feel and definitely room for improvement