We all want every kid in our community to feel welcome to make our youth ministry their home. Our doors are open and all are welcome. The love of Jesus extends to every teen. If we can reach even one more teen and introduce them to the love of Jesus, we sure want to. But something we don’t often evaluate is whether the teens in our community know that about our ministries. We welcome all in our heart, but our invitation itself might need to be unlocked.
Recently at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference, I had the privilege of working with a group of committed and passionate youth workers on what we called “Mastering our Invitation” during our session on “Radical Hospitality” in youth ministry. Each of us put the “invitation” of our youth ministries under the microscope. We were vulnerable, humble, and honest about whether or not our invitations have room for improvement.
I asked this group to think of one program piece of youth ministry – Sunday night youth group, small group, Wacky Wednesday – whatever program area they wanted to focus on. Then we pulled apart what the invitation to that program looks like and feels like in reality.
Our Discovery: No one new views our invitation.
The buzz around the room and a common discovery was this: invitation to youth ministry usually happens in a small section of the church bulletin, through a weekly email to parents of teens who already attend, or buried deep within our church website on the youth page (which may or may not have updated, accurate information). This discovery could mean that the only students or parents seeing our invitation are parents and students who already attend our church. In the week-to-week of youth ministry, many of us have put a lock on the door of invitation without even realizing it.
Our Response: Our invitation needs to be unlocked and extend beyond the walls of the church.
When we are truly passionate about reaching teens who have not yet discovered the love of Jesus, we must place our invitation where those teens will see or hear it. Peer-to-peer personal invitations are probably the most genuine and successful invitations. But where else and how else can our invitation be seen or heard? This is an important question to ask in response to our discovery.
If our programs are in fact relationship-centered investments of time that can lead to the transformation of students, then we need to master our invitation.
Mastering our invitation begins by asking some simple but important questions. Here are a few of the questions we asked ourselves in this group:
Who is our invitation visible to?
Who hears our invitation?
How often are invitations taking place?
Who is invited?
Who do we anticipate will respond to our invitation?
How does this invitation help us fulfill the mission of our ministry?
Having an open door policy to programs we are committed to for the sake of tradition is not radical. Reaching beyond the walls of the church and extending our reach to the kid who will make our job harder is radical (this was a statement made by Jenny Popp during our session). Asking ourselves if we are inviting teens into something life changing is radical, especially when it means ditching what we know to do something unknown.
When was the last time you asked yourself why you’re inviting teens to your youth program? If you are willing to ask that question, you have just taken one more step toward radical hospitality and mastering your invitation.
Being welcome to a party and being properly invited to a party are two different things. For far too long our invitation to the family of God to unreached teens has been an open door policy. You are welcome to come if you happen to stumble across our ministry and find your way to our building and our program. That is not an invitation, that is a gamble.
We can extend our reach by extending our invitation to those in our community working with teens. Who in our community views us as partners in the development and well-being of teens? Who in our community is working with marginalized teens who are not connected to our family of faith? Who in our community is a stone’s throw from our building and has never heard of us?
Ready to send them an invitation? Let’s do it. It just might change the life of a teenager who has been waiting for the kind of invitation you’ve accepted from Jesus, to be loved and made whole.