When we look to talk about the most effective way to impact students’ lives, the conversation usually goes toward discipleship. Well, that makes sense—we all want to go for depth, not width. Discipleship is an easy principle to grab onto: looking at how you can take things deeper in an intentional way that impacts students in a big way. Additionally, the conversation always moves in the direction of serve opportunities, student leadership, or small groups.
What about the week-in and week-out stuff that takes place in ministry? To put it in context, we see a large number of students every week. Not all of the students that we interact with are in a small group, and not every one of them serves at our various events. How can we seek depth in a real way with students who are disconnected?
Leaders! Not just any leaders, but leaders who understand how to be welcoming to disconnected and unfamiliar students. Arguably, welcoming students has the potential to be one of the most vital parts of ministry.
Recently, I was reading some partial pages on crisis from the Mayo Clinic. Topics that were covered included cutting, eating disorders, and suicide. When focusing on the mitigating factors of the various crisis situations, the common thread seemed to be a lack of belonging. I teared up over that, and prayed over it for a while. However, the church is about belonging. It’s about having a body of believers that you can be a part of. A true sense of belonging for students is also something that can be a big home run in our ministry.
Do you have a welcome team of volunteers as a part of your student ministry? Do you make the first 15 seconds of a student’s arrival at church a great one? Do students walk away with a sense of belonging? This is the easiest thing to pass over and to drop the ball on when it comes to how we train our leaders. Trust me, I have dropped the ball on it.
So with the perspective of having done it well and having neglected it, I learned a few things.
1. Allowing a student to feel like they belong in the first 15 seconds of their arrival at church will say more than any lesson you give.
2. When students feel like they belong with a leader and other students, they will want to be around more often.
3.Welcoming students begins with learning their names and facts about them. It always builds relationship.
4. Pastors lead the way and you should never be too busy to create a welcoming environment for students.
5.BIG TICKET ISSUE! The sense of belonging is something every student will
struggle with in some way. Don’t let your youth ministry be the place that they “wonder” if they belong.
A few things you can do to make your environment a welcoming one for your students.
1. Find leaders gifted in making students feel welcome and place them at the front door. Make sure that they are the first ones that the students see. Have other student leaders help with this. Think customer service on this one—welcoming, exciting, engaging.
2. Have something to recognize and celebrate first-time guests in your program so they don’t just feel like one in the crowd.
3. Have a great information tracking system, a connection card, and a stack of postcards so you can keep track of your Flickr. Send students random things so they know they are being thought of outside of church.
I have seen this go very well—so well that students who feel a sense of belonging want to do more. They want to go to the next event with their leader. They want to come to youth ministry programs more often because when they do, they are not just a number or one of many in their school, they are known and valued. Students who feel like they belong typically will also want to be involved in small groups with other students. Creating a sense of belonging in your ministry can be life changing for students and it is the SIMPLEST LESSON EVER!
Justin serves as the Jr. High Pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. Since starting as a high school leader at his home church eight years ago, he hasn’t looked back. He speaks at camps and FCA meetings, writes, and is a social media fanatic. He lives and breathes Jesus and the creativity that is so vital within youth ministry, with a goal of being a quality voice in the building process of the next generation. He was born in NYC, raised in Buffalo, educated in Missouri at a small bible college, and now lives in California. You can connect with Justin on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/HeyJustinHerman) or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/heyjustinherman) or follow his blog (http://heyjustinherman.com)