What to Do With Youth Visitors
Healthy ministries design their gathering environments with an awareness of visitors. The Bible refers to the Church as a family, and we “family” ought to be a place where the hurting and weary and lonely and fearful can feel safe. It’s incredibly difficult to think like a visitor because we love comfort. It’s natural to get used to our routes and routines. In our comfort, we forget what it feels like to be new. The problem becomes that when connecting outsiders isn’t a priority, the ministry can become inward focused and apathetic. This week, we’ll look at a few ideas to help your ministry be more welcoming and warm toward visitors.
A few weeks ago, I (Matt) reached in deep to our youth ministry bag o’tricks and pulled out a tried and true method for training students to be warmer. I wanted them to catch a vision for the kind of place our youth ministry could become. I gathered a handful of our regular students and asked them to show up for “MYSTERY NIGHT” [Doug: “Wow! Real creative title Matt] [Matt: “Doug, I sense sarcasm]. I told them to bring four dollars, socks, and a few cans of food. I did this to throw them off. We didn’t need any of those items… I wanted to keep them guessing.
We gathered together at a local high school and drove to the church we were visiting. When we were about 5 minutes away, I pulled over and told them what we were doing and that they would have to enter the new youth group alone and not sit with anyone they knew. It would be an understatement to say they were surprised. Shock was more appropriate. Fear gripped everyone except for one extroverted senior. She said, “This will be great, I love meeting people.”
When we arrived to the church, I circled the parking lot and kicked them out one by one. “Where do we go,” the first student asked. I responded with, “Welcome to mystery night! Find your way. Let me know if you need a compass.” Let’s finish up the story we began yesterday.
After visiting the youth service, everyone jumped in the car and we went to a food and debrief spot. Since I (Matt) was buying I chose a nearby, fine dining experience (Taco Bell) to debrief the experience. The conversations were amazing! Everyone’s eyes were opened to the feelings of an outsider. Here were a few of their comments:
“I had no idea how difficult that would be.”
“I hated feeling like a new person, but I’m glad I did it.”
“I thought it would be easy to meet people, but wasn’t. Even though a few people said hello to me, I still felt alone.”
“I couldn’t be myself. When I’m at church, I am always around my sister or a friend, but when I was alone I found it hard to be me.”
All of these students were regular attendees in our high school ministry. Many had been attending church since early childhood and had no idea how a visitor felt. They are overly involved in all aspects of our ministry. They are fun to be around…but they don’t naturally think about visitors.
Without compassion for the outsider, they unintentionally helped create an “US vs. THEM” environment. Everyone hates cliques, but left to our natural selves, we will always form them.
The night was a total success, and the proof came at our next youth meeting. Without being asked by an adult leader, I noticed a couple students who had been on the mystery tour greet some visitors. It was so rewarding to see that they “got it!”
Create a Greeting Team
Challenge some of your students to be greeters within your ministry. Show them where to greet others and coach them on what they might say. Encourage them NOT to say things like, “It has been a long time, where have you been?” Have them stay near their “posts” 10 or 15 minutes into the service (since a significant number of our students typically show up late). These are typically the students we REALLY want greeted so they feel welcomed into a warm environment.
All great things that happen within youth ministry require on-going leadership. Once your greeting team is up and running, you will still need to evaluate, encourage, and when necessary, coach the teenagers. In my (Matt) ministry, one of our greeters is REALLY outgoing (which is usually a helpful trait for a greeter). One weekend, I noticed she was a little TOO outgoing, so I sent her a quick Facebook “coaching” message. Here’s our (edited) conversation:
Me: Hey! You did a great job greeting people last week! Sorry it took me all week to say it!!
Gina: Oh why thank you kind sir! I love greeting people and making them feel awkward as they walk in. 10% of the time I got the same reaction back haha! But the other 90%…they looked scared. Well if I can…I would like to greet people again tomorrow 🙂
Me: Ha! I’d love to see you lean a little more toward “welcomed” rather than awkward! A newcomer (like Megan) said you offered to sit by her. That’s amazing! Exactly what a caring person does…way to go.
Gina: Haha ok. I will work on being more welcoming verses awkward. Good point. I get it.
I could have started with our vision to create a welcoming place, but I’m still really new and don’t know this student very well. I figured it would be best to start out with an encouragement and see where the conversation led.
This article “What to Do With Youth Visitors” by Matt Stone was excerpted from: www.youthministry.com web site. March 2011. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”