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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?