Whenever we talk about increasing ministry impact on students’ lives, too often we think about those students who are the mainstays, who are the most ingrained in our ministry’s programs and initiatives. It’s easy to see why we think this way. You see these students every week. They’re fresh on your mind. But, the problem is that not all of the students you have the chance to interact with are in a small group, or are attending your events. Not everyone of your students goes on a mission trip. See where I’m headed?
As we seek to make the most impact with what we’ve been given, maybe we should be asking how we can seek to impact those students who might be the most disconnected.
When we begin to consider our impact on disconnected students, our minds should immediately turn to our adult volunteers. These leaders are our best foot forward at making disconnected students feel connected. And not just any leaders. You need leaders who understand how to be welcoming to disconnected and unfamiliar students.
Making disconnected students feel welcome has the potential to be one of the most vital parts of your youth ministry.
It starts with a student’s first impression. Do you have a welcome team of volunteers as a part of your student ministry? Do you make the first fifteen seconds of a student’s arrival at church great? Do students walk away with a sense of belonging? This is an easy thing to pass over and to drop the ball on when it comes to how we train our leaders. Trust me. I’ve dropped the ball on it myself.
So with the perspectives of both having done it well, and having neglected it, I have a few thoughts on the subject:
- Allowing a student to feel like he or she belongs in the first fifteen seconds of their arrival at church will speak volumes to a student who is otherwise disconnected.
- When students feel comfortable with a leader and other students, they’re more likely to engage at a deeper level.
- Welcoming students begins with learning their names and facts about them, but the goal is a real relationship.
- You lead the way. You should never be too busy to create a welcoming environment for students.
- The sense of belonging is something most students will struggle with in some way. Don't let your youth ministry be the place that they “wonder” if they belong.
So how do we make it happen? Here are a few things you can do to make your environment a welcoming one for your students.
- 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. Be welcoming and engaging.
- Have something to recognize and celebrate first time guests in your program so they don't just feel like one in the crowd.
- Work on your systems. How do you track student info? If you do this well, it makes follow-up a breeze. Plus you can touch base with students during the week so they know they’re being thought of outside of church.
I have seen what 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’re 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. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Be intentional. Make it a priority. It’s actually a pretty simple change to make, but one that will have lasting impact.