We have to do better than this. We can do better than this!
These two sentences formed in my mind and pulled at my heart as I watched students come in the door confused and ready to turn around and walk right back out the door. I called out to get their attention, “We’re having youth group. Come in. Come on in.”
We weren’t ready.
Youth group happens every week at the same time, and we weren’t ready. It took me a minute to realize that I happened to be the only adult in the room and it was time for youth group to start. Our youth staff and other volunteers had not yet made it into the room and even I felt uneasy. It was a regular weekly youth group night. Instead creating a welcome environment, we managed to create an environment of confusion and awkwardness where students walked into youth group timid and unsure if they should stay or leave. Have you experienced this?
When students come to youth group, we never want them to feel like they are in the wrong place or consider leaving before they’ve really arrived, but it does happen. If students are going to experience an incredibly welcoming environment where they belong to a family and where they are loved and supported and can grow deep in their faith, we have to create and foster that welcoming environment.
It starts with us admitting we can do better.
I’ve allowed myself to slip some weeks in my planning. I find myself preparing for youth group right up to the wire. This means that I’m focused on setting up instead of on students when they arrive. Instead of welcoming them, I end up practically ignoring them or pretending to listen as I set up and rush to be ready for my ministry moment. This doesn’t even make sense right? I admit I can do better. Raise your hand if you’re with me, and we can do better together.
We have to count on our students more.
It’s their youth ministry. Having loving adults ready to welcome students is awesome. Having loving students ready to welcome students is really awesome. Can you identify students in your ministry that are great with other students? Ask them to come early to help you welcome students and connect with them as they arrive. Give them the opportunity to lead by asking them to be part of creating a welcoming environment.
Welcome doesn’t end at the door it starts at the door.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where your server greets you but then disappears? You want to order your food but you just sit there waiting and waiting. It’s almost as if they are inviting you to get up and walk out before you order. You start to wonder if they even remember you’re there. Most likely you won’t go back to that establishment. Greeting students when they arrive isn’t enough to create an environment that will bring them back or keep them involved in youth ministry. We have to make sure that the welcome doesn’t end when they step into the building, but begins when they step into the building by inviting them into conversation, inviting them to connect to new people, inviting them to be honest, inviting them to be themselves, and always inviting them to come back.
Make everyone your favorite.
This isn’t easy to accomplish but it is simple if we are praying for our students and serving each of them as passionately as Jesus himself would. The places I love to be make me feel like I’m their favorite. When you are someone’s favorite it means they’re always excited to see you. They always have a genuine interest in how you are doing. They do more for you than you feel like you deserve. And they never forget who you are and are always waiting with excitement for you to come back. Who feels like they’re your favorite in your youth group? That’s the student you’ll have the opportunity to serve the longest.
Will you share with us in the comments how you are creating a welcoming environment in your youth group? We’d love to know.
7 thoughts on “How to Create a Genuine Welcoming Environment in Your Youth Group”
Right on the head. Thank you for sharing! I am going to share this with my leaders to light that fire under their butts and mine! Thank you!
So glad to be able to be honest. Thanks for going to that honest place with me. I’ll be praying that all of your leaders and students feel deeply connected and deeply loved.
These are great insights. Especially important when we are about to begin our programs for this year. They will be handy for the long haul.
It is a marathon Jiare, so true! Stay encouraged!!!
I loved this post! It’s a really good reminder. I would add that I have learned also that there’s a fine line between showing you’re excited that they’re there to being over excited that they’re there or over excited about what they’re talking about. Kids are definite bs readers. One high schooler of mine was talking about another facilitator from our church and made a comment by saying “is she the one who always talks as if there’s exclamation points to everything she’s saying?” They like and want your enthusiasm, but too much of it is overkill and exhausting. Be genuine and be real!
As I reflect. I’m usually that youth leader that is flying in from a previous activity, trying to get snacks out/other various things set out as I welcome kids coming in. This was eye-opening to me to try to bring more a chilled out vibe that’s more peaceful and inviting than chaotic.
I really love your comments Heidi! One of the biggest lessons I learned in youth ministry came when a middle school student looked me right in the eyes and said, “Miss Theresa you are trying to hard.” Okay, it stung a bit but it was true and it gave me permission to be myself. Students love us for who we are and they don’t want us to try to impress them.
Sometimes a relaxed atmosphere is what teens crave instead of a high powered presentation or lots of noise. They can get that anywhere. What if church was less geared to grab their attention and became a staying power instead?