I stared in horror as a gaggle of youth group kids ignored the new kids in the room. Several things went though my mind:
- What will these new students think about our group?
- My students just don’t get it!
- I’m going to pinch their heads off!
- What if these new students aren’t Christians? What kind of witness are we showing them?
I jumped into action to save the day. I greeted the new students and averted a new-kid faux pas.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve scolded my youth group from center stage about how to treat guests. This was improper, and the reality is that their behavior was in part due to my failure to build a culture of welcome.
There are a great many assumptions youth workers can make about youth ministry:
- Of course kids want to grow!
- Of course kids want other kids to join the youth group!
- Of course my kids know and love Jesus!
- Of course these kids want to follow my vision—I’m their leader!
I’ve made all of these assumptions and many more. Today, I make no assumptions. So how do we change a me culture to a we culture?
Identify As The Church
I don’t use the term youth group. Instead, I say we’re a youth ministry. We refer to ourselves in various scriptural metaphors, such as the body of Christ, the flock, a family, a city on a hill, etc.If I say we’re just a youth group, I’ve lowered the value of our gathering. Click To Tweet
We’re not a meeting—we’re saints gathered for mutual help, encouragement, and worship.
I like to use Rick Warren’s description of us as orphans without a family. I want our students to know that each student who walks into our room needs to be adopted, cared for, and ministered to.
Share and Exemplify The Value of People To God
Once we’ve established who we are, I do my best to convey that God values all people. If God cares about and loves people, we should as well. Every new student who walks through our doors is important to God and should be important to us.
Pastor Tommy Barnett of Phoenix First Assembly, uses the term soul conscious. I love that. It helps me remember to be aware of the spiritual condition of others and not make judgments based on what’s happening on the outside.
When we teach students to value each person as God does, their perspective changes. And once students have a changed perspective, we can train them.
Build A Team
Once my students understand that valuing people—all people—is a big deal to God, I can teach them some basic skills, such as the following:
- Greet guests at the door.
- Have new kids fill out a guest card.
- If a student came alone, invite him or her to sit with you.
- Get to know new students by asking basic questions such as, “Where do you go to school?”
- If the group is going out somewhere, be sure to invite new students to come.
- The next day, call, text, or message new students to tell them you’re glad they came.
Inspect What You Expect
I have to revisit this with my adult team and my student leaders. I ask key questions to make sure they’re valuing every student who walks in:
- What new students did you meet last week?
- Where do they go to school?
- Do their parents come to church here?
- Did you follow up with the new students you met?
I constantly remind my students that we were all once new kids. We’ve all walked into a new place and tried to figure out who the friendly kids were so we could drift toward them. How much better would it be for our guests if we took away some of the guesswork and found them first.
PAUL TURNER is a long-time youth worker, speaker, and blogger of all things youth ministry. He’s the youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Assembly in Birmingham, AL and writes regularly at THEDISCIPLEPROJECT.NET.