4 Tips for Making Youth Group an Inviting Space for New Students
When you’re a teenager (and heck, even an adult!), putting yourself out there and stepping into a new environment full of people you don’t know is a pretty big deal. A little bit of preparation goes a long way to create a space that is welcoming to newcomers from the moment they enter the door.
Let Students Lead the Way
Let’s be honest, no matter how awesome your adult volunteers, having students be the first to greet new students will make the biggest impact. Identify student leaders in your group that are particularly gifted at connecting with others. Invite them to come early and keep their eye out for new students or those who have yet to find their crew. Coach them to make the first move and welcome these students, connect with them on a personal level, and introduce them to others.
Play with Intention
Think through your service schedule and how it serves and fails to serve all the different kinds of students in attendance. Maybe the extroverts love the crazy games, but how are your more reserved students feeling when you put that Happy Meal in a blender? I’m not saying you should quit with the games altogether, but see if you can find activities that can make all different personalities feel excited to engage. A small group scavenger hunt, a jeopardy-style quiz game, or a raffle of completed service notes for a prize are fun alternatives to mix into the rotation for the shy newbies or stalwart sitter-outers. If you’re currently meeting online and need inspiration for some engaging, socially-distanced activities, Download Youth Ministry is an excellent resource.
Set the Tone
Once service begins, welcome new students. Don’t call them out (unless you can tell that would delight them), but, especially if you haven’t had the chance to connect with them individually yet, make it clear you see them and are glad they are there. It can also help to share your mission statement every week. This helps set the tone and lets new students know what your group is all about. A shared mission is an invitation to new students to belong and to help them determine if your group is the right fit for them.
Finesse the Follow Up
As group ends and parents arrive, follow up with new students individually. Thank them for coming by, and make sure you know their name and have a way to get in touch. Connection cards are a great way to collect this information, but you’ll have to feel out for yourself what feels the most organic. If possible, introduce yourself to new parents as well. Parents play a huge role in bringing kids back, and developing trust between yourself and new families goes a long way. If you aren’t meeting in person right now, collecting emails for new students and parents is a great way to start building those relationships.
Ultimately, you don’t have control over who chooses to stay, but you do have control over whether your environment and culture welcomes and nurtures students from the start. At the end of the day, we’re here to love on kids and show them Christ, not rack up the numbers. However, a welcoming community will lead to a growing one. Prioritize treating new students like they are valued, important, and included right off the bat with a little planning and intention, and watch them grow as they encounter Christ in community.
This is an unpredictable season, and we know that engaging your youth can feel trickier than ever. We see you and are so proud of you as you adapt to new challenges and show up for your students each week. What you’re doing matters and your hard work and faithfulness doesn’t go unnoticed. We’re praying for your stamina, your inspiration, and for God to continue to bless your ministry to change lives, even through screens and masks.
About the Author
Emma Tarp is a writer and worship leader based in Minneapolis, MN. On her best days, she's highlighter-deep in a good book or teaching herself to sew. On her other best days, she's helping passionate folks and inspired businesses put words to their work. Find out more at emmatarp.com.