After 12 years of working in youth ministry, I have seen many trends come and go. We used to have to phone students (gasp), and then came email, then text, now Facebook. It’s a technological wonderland out there, but my experience lately has been that social media specifically has become more and more of a white noise in students lives. They are engaging where they need to and want to, but event invitation, group updates etc are reaching only those that really look for them and the lack of response to them has meant a major shift in our communication strategy.
Like many ministries, we have worked with mass texting programs, but are finding more and more that they are a “shout” of information but lack the relational foundation that Christianity is about. I am troubled by many studies that are showing that students are becoming more and more incapable of carrying on a conversation and that verbal communication skills are suffering as a result of texts, and Facebook becoming primary communication vehicles for students. Sometimes I just want to talk to our students in blocks bigger than 140 characters.
So this year we have taken a very strategic and intentional page from the days of old and we are picking up the phone with increasing frequency. We are calling students weekly and have recruited teams of like-minded volunteers to come in one day a week after school and call every student who has visited our program this year every week. The process takes about 2 hours with a team calling, but the time is well spent and here is why I think it’s the most important part of our follow up strategy:
Reminding: If you have worked with middle schoolers before you know that they have trouble remembering to put socks on, let alone what night youth group is on. The mid-week call is a great reminder to them that youth is coming, and that you want them there. I would hope that a students would leave that conversation feeling that youth group is not the same without them and that we love when they show up.
Affirmation: When we call students and ask for them by name, the reaction on the other end of the phone to someone calling and inviting them back communicates that they are valuable and memorable. The conversations are not always life changing and often awkward, but if you were to ask your students what a phone call checking in on them mid-week means to them, you would be shocked to hear the value.
Belonging: I have heard that if a student does not attend for three weeks in a row, they likelihood of them ever coming back is slim. When we call students to invite them back and check on how they are experiencing our program it’s a chance for us to let them know indirectly through that conversation they belong, and that their opinions matter to us. Having a solid follow up strategy means that the likelihood of a student coming to our program and leaving unnoticed is much less likely.
I wrote a post last week about making “the ask” on the phone with students which is a key part of our phoning strategy. We are so convicted that having a conversation with students on the phone ;albeit a much larger investment of time, it by far the most effective, intentional and loving way that we can follow up with our students. I don’t do much of the calling myself and I am sure that if you ask around, you have volunteers, and parents willing to come in and do it.
Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.