Momentum is a very hard thing to build, especially for your new hire. Frequently, momentum is built when there’s a good turn out and teens are excited about what happened. It doesn’t matter if the experience was focused on fun or deep spiritual impact, as long as it was well-attended and positive, it contributes to momentum. The difficulty your new hire may have is that they are not entirely sure what has worked in the past and what was a complete failure. They don’t know that all of your youth are tired of going to the bowling alley, or that the Sunday school class already spent four weeks on prayer a few months ago and the teens don’t need a refresher yet. Left to their own devices, the new minister may very likely spend several months experimenting with a lot of starts and stalls with very mixed results. Instead, create artificial momentum. You can do this by doing two things and an optional third thing.
Get teens to show up
The quickest way to build momentum is to ensure that events are well-attended. So do what you can to make sure teens are present. Parents generally want the youth ministry at their church to be good. They’re probably hopeful that the new hire will be able to deliver such a program. What they may not realize is that they can be a big part of making it a reality. Explain to the parents in your circle that their teens presence can be a contributor to the program becoming the exciting, fun, powerful ministry they want. And focus on the teenagers in your circle as well. Talk up the exciting aspects of whatever event or program is coming on the calendar. If you have teenagers at home, recruit them to invite their friends to come along. On a three-day weekend, we decided to take our youth group to a climbing wall gym. I optimistically hoped to take ten teenagers and expected mostly middle school students. But one student decided that she wanted to make that event a huge success. She spent an entire Sunday morning talking up the event to every teenager in the building. When the day came, we had over twenty students, over half of them were high school students. That day, momentum was created for me by a seventeen year old.
Highlight the positive
Momentum has a lot to do with perception, and you have a great ability to help shape perception. Our church hosted a talent show as part of an all-day Saturday event. One of the acts was a rock band made up entirely of high school students. My boss was standing next to an older gentleman who commented that he didn’t appreciate the style of music or how loud it was. Her response was to point to the guitarist and say, “That boy in the middle has been leading worship at children’s church for years. And now this is his opportunity to invite his friends from school to be here.” It entirely changed the perception of the event. You have the ability to do that as well. Find the positive of events and share them with others in the church. Create a good buzz around the congregation that the new youth pastor is doing well and things are going up.
Plan an event
An option that you can take, depending on how much time you have, is to plan and carry out an event yourself. You know your church and your youth ministry. You know what’s going to work and be well-received. Make it happen. Ensure there is a portion of the event where your new hire is upfront and leading so that people can catch a glimpse of his style and personality. But mostly, free him to spend time with the students and build relationships. Those relationships will make it easier for him to secure buy-in from the students and parents on future endeavors, making future successes more likely and maintaining momentum in the long run.
Extra Credit Momentum Idea
I think it may be impossible to exaggerate how important this phase of the process is. A new youth leader is exciting. Students and parents are curious and optimistic. But that energy fades quickly. For many new youth leaders, it fades faster than their ability to capitalize on it. But you, who are already on the inside and know the ministry and the key players and the history are able to capitalize on it easily. What you do in the first few months will positively impact the ministry in a way that will pay dividends for years
One difficulty I have when working at a new church is learning all the names. It seems to come in stages. The first sets of names I’m usually able to learn is the church staff and the active teenagers, and one or two youth volunteers. Next, it is the rest of the volunteers. Then I start learning the names of the youth parents. Sometime after that I start learning the names of other members of the congregation who don’t have any connection to the youth ministry. I don’t set out to learn names in that order. It is just what happens because of how my time is spent and who I spend that time with most. And if a youth isn’t very active, it will likely take me as long as six months to learn who their parents are and remember their names.
The difficulty is that outside the youth, volunteers, and church staff, I generally get a few minutes a week to engage with anyone else in the church. And those few minutes are generally right before or after a church service or when kids are being picked up or dropped off—not the best time to have a significant conversation whereby I actually learn anything about the person. When I learn names the best are when I’ve had the chance to have a conversation lasting more than seven minutes in a comfortable, non-rushed environment. Launch Partners can help provide those type of moments by hosting meet and greets.
Invite the new hire and several members of the congregation to your home for some sort of laid back gathering like a cook out or dessert. I recommend organizing a few of these over the first three months of your new hire’s time at your church. Break them up so that you have no more than twenty people for them to meet at each one. You probably want to focus on the youth families at first before extending to the wider members of the congregation. Don’t have teens present for most of them. This is an opportunity for the new hire to meet the adults. Don’t expect them to have any sort of speech or statement ready. Again, this is about introducing your church. If you do this well, in three months your new minister can make the same number of connections that would otherwise likely take eighteen months. That is huge for volunteer recruitment, vision casting among the church, being able to help connect teens with other adults in the congregation, and much more.