Have you ever walked into a place where you did not know anyone? Do you remember what you were thinking? Just imagine this story:

The day before Wednesday night, you were invited by a friend at school to come to church. Your friend even gave you an invite card with a cool design on it. Even though you aren’t a “church person” you decide to give it a try. Your Dad begrudgingly decided to take you but made a few comments on the drive. He said, “you know son, churches are all messed up, that is why I don’t go. I think it is good you are going but son, don’t get your hopes up, most of the those people are hypocrites anyway.” As he gets out of the vehicle, he quickly notices the buzz of people whizzing by. He sees people smiling. He watches adult leaders giving high-five’s and fist bumps. He is unsure. He thinks, “Is this church filled with uncaring people? What will happen when I walk in? Is my friend inside? I wonder where I will sit? I don’t have a Bible, I sure hope nobody calls on me to read or pray.” He decides to go for it. He walks in the door as an adult leader welcomes him with the love of Christ. He begins to wonder, “Will I belong here? Will I find people who truly care about my life?”

You see, this is a powerful moment. We must always think like this student. If we become too focused upon the status quo of the ministry, we can easily miss the people who walk in each week who need the love of Christ.
The key to building an environment of acceptance is by meeting people at their point of need. Each student who walks in the doors of the church is loved by God. Every student matters to Him so much that the heartbeat of the ministry should be to meet them with the unconditional love of Christ.

Here are a few steps we take on welcoming students:

First impressions. In the first 30 seconds of the student arriving, the goal is for a student to have some type of interaction. Any type of welcome (fist bump, high-five, kind word and smile) is huge to ease the pressure when each person enters.

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Intentional Conversations. Some students do not have quality conversations. The intermittent attention spans of students are a result of our media saturated culture. We should make it a priority to have face-to-face conversations with students in our ministries. One of the goals should be for each leader to have 2-3 quality conversations with students each time. Whether it is a few minutes or if a student is pouring their heart out, the importance of an encouraging conversation is the key to building an environment of acceptance.

No One is Isolated. Look out for students who tend to isolate themselves and try to sit by themselves. Lead students and volunteers to always be looking for opportunities to build relationships with other students, especially those who are new.

Greeting team: We include a grade per month to come early and help the adult greeters welcome students. They help pass out information and encourage people as they enter. Each student has a name tag with “greeter” on the lanyard as well as adult volunteers.

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New students: They will receive a Source tube filled with random candy as a gift as they arrive. Inside of the tube also has a wooden coin. The coin has our logo and it is a $1 token towards the café.

Once a student has visited, I send out our first time guest postcard with a personal note thanking them for being our guest and some encouragement. On the postcard there is a note for them to bring back to receive a free Source Student Ministry t-shirt!

What tips do you have on welcoming students? Add to the conversation below in the comments!

Josh Robinson is a the Pastor to Students at Church @ The Springs, a husband and a father. Check out his blog at joshrobinson.cc or follow him on Twitter: @josh_robinson

My friend AC has a great new blog about leaders at our weekend services being active and available in our youth group meetings – here’s a clip of how he is leading our volunteer team on the weekend. Read this teaser, and head there for the rest:

  1. Greet – We want to greet students.  We will greet students instead of wait in a corner for them to come to us.  We will reach out to them instead of waiting for them to reach out to us.
  2. Meet – We want to make sure that we genuinely meet them.  Refer to the hand out “Hand Shake Hi to a Hug Goodbye/”.  I also had them refer to this handout I created to help them really connect with the students “Conversation tactics for youth workers“.
  3. Connect – We want to make sure that we are intentional about our conversation with students.  We want to look for ways in the conversation to suggest a next step.  For new students we want to guide them towards community.  That could range from life groups to serving opportunities within the ministry or summer camp.  You can even suggest grabbing coffee, lunch or ice cream with them sometime.  For students who are already in life groups, you can suggest serving in a ministry, missions or summer camp.  We want to make sure students are getting connected.
  4. Pray – We want to pray for students.  While you are connecting through conversations, once an area of struggle, pain, disappointment, hardship and trial appears offer prayer.  We want to avoid saying “I’ll be praying for you”.  Pray for the student right there on the spot.  Even pray for the core students you already know that have been met, greeted and connected.  Go deeper in conversation and pray for them.  Just because they are a part of our core students doesn’t mean they have everything together.  Every situation will be different but when the opportunity presents itself feel free to pray.

JG



You’ve got some leaders showing up to youth group – but after a few weeks they fall into the dreaded trap of standing in the back of the room as chaperones instead of shepherds. They need modeling on how to talk to teenagers and some training! Saw this on the YS Blog and am going to steal it for our ministry, too. Here’s a clip from 10 Tips to a 1st Encounter:

1. Say hello!
Don’t be shy! Take the initiative to introduce yourself. Although their body language may be showing otherwise, students want a warm welcome!

2. Understand the context
Let your surroundings and circumstances dictate how to begin the conversation. For instance, if you’re meeting at a food place, talk about what’s good to eat, at a movie theater, what movie to see, etc.

3. Pay attention
You’ll learn a lot about people from their body language and the words and phrases they use. Listen and watch carefully

4. Pay attention, part 2
Your own body language will determine how willing and interested you are to actually have a conversation. Be authentic. Students know whether you are genuinely interested or not.

5. Let’em shine!
Encourage students to talk about themselves by asking about their interests, tattoos, jewelry, bad breath, etc.

JG

Next weekend we finish up a series we’ve done 3 years running called You Own the Weekend. In fact, we added a 6th week by popular demand – that’s how exciting this series has been. It is one of the biggest series we do every year (beaten only by our kickoff weekend and the sex series) and has become a staple in HSM’s culture.

The idea is that each high school gets their own weekend to run from start to finish – they do everything from the message to the videos, testimonies and bits. Each school starts a Facebook group and has an adult mentor, but no adults take the stage at any time for the entire month. How crazy is that?

Here’s why it totally works:

Students get involved in ministry
More students get a taste of ministry during this month than any other time of the year. Students step up and there’s a positive peer pressure on them to be a part of what is going on. There’s something for everyone – from greeting, decorating, videos – even speaking!

Students bring their friends
Without a doubt this is the most evangelistic series we have – teenagers bring their friends to something they are a part of. You Own the Weekend captures school spirit and gives students an easier opportunity than normal to bring their friends. Every student from every school gets an invitation to church.

Parents show up
I’m amazed at the number of parents who attend a weekend service during You Own the Weekend. They love seeing their kids doing ministry, not just watching it. Parents leave with a better idea of what the high school ministry is about and infectious in spreading a positive word to others when they leave.

One fun byproduct of the series is that it allows students to see just how challenging it is to create a youth group every week. They appreciate sermon prep, great videos, awesome stories or a funny bit way more in the future.

JG



A little promo video for our new Shake It! student greeting ministry. Silly fun.

JG

This weekend is freshman promotion weekend – the weekend that in our church culture we bring in the new kids for their first weekend in our high school ministry. It is an awesome weekend, we a little extra programming and a strong welcoming environment.

It also creates the perfect opportunity for us to re-launch a weekend ministry team: greeting! This weekend some students will launch “Shake It” a simple plan to help students get greeted at the door, a conversation with inside and make sure no on sits alone. Excited!

JG



Jessica Torres (on the HSM team) is responsible for mentoring and shaping the final weekend of the You Own the Weekend teaching series in our ministry. She’s been coaching her Tesoro High School students on a great greeting ministry and shared some great thoughts with them this week. I asked her if I could share them here on the blog – thought it might be helpful in your ministry setting, too:

Before the service
Everyone be in “places” 10 minutes prior to service starting.
Open doors 5 minutes before service starts.
Greeters in room – encourage students to “move in”, carry bulletins and pens in hand.
Greeters at doors – welcome students, pass out pens and bulletins.

During service
There must always be a greeter in the theater by the doors welcoming and passing out pens/bulletins to latecomers.
Quickly help students coming in late to find a seat.
Sit with a student who is alone and be engaged during the service (singing, listening, taking notes-you are part of setting the mood).
Be available to pass out pens/bulletins to students we missed as they entered the theater.
Don’t be afraid to politely ask “chatty” students to please step outside if they wish to have a conversation.
DO NOT stand in the back of the theater blocking the doorway.

End of service
Make sure to prop doors open right before the service ends. Be in position before all of the students are dismissed.
All greeters be at doors at end of service to collect pens.
Clean theater. Pick up trash, pens, etc. that might be left on the floor.
Make sure you’re all stocked up with pens/bulletins for the next service.

JG