Students desire to feel connected. Whether it is to a team, a musician, or a youth ministry, middle and high school students want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves! All we have to do is turn on the television to see the passion and excitement found within our teenage generation. They desire to fit in and feel important.
The main purpose of youth ministry is to see students connect into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must desire to walk alongside students as they go from where they currently are to where God is calling them! It begins with first time guests and continues on even after graduation. Student follow-up is a leadership wide responsibility through formed relationships, and must not be something that any one person can do.
Too often, I have seen students fall through the cracks of church because of the lack of connection. There is nobody present to reach out to them, to follow up with them, or to pray for them. Students also want to be challenged in ways that will push their limits. Today’s teenagers want to be invited to more than a pizza party with loud music and crazy games. They want to be empowered to change their culture, their schools, and even their own families. I have seen more students share Christ with their unsaved parents over the past two years than I can ever remember!
The vision behind seeing students connected goes way beyond the moment of salvation or the rising up out of the waters of baptism. What are we connecting and inviting our students to be a part of, even after they accept Christ? Are we seeing growth occur within each student that walks through our doors? Do new students not only feel welcome, but also desire to come back the following week? Are your students serving and even leading the charge in specific areas of ministry? What is it like to attend your youth service for the very first time?
Connecting a student to Christ begins the moment they step onto your campus – whether it is their very first time or they were born in your church. Do you have students and leaders greeting everyone as they pour onto your campus for youth night? Meeting new students is extremely important, but we cannot miss the significance behind welcoming a familiar face! Our leadership teams must be relationally intentional when it comes to greeting. That first impression may help determine whether or not your students will listen or tune you out during worship, message, and small groups.
Make your first impressions area visible. Students are already confused about enough in life, they shouldn’t have to be confused as to where to go once they arrive. Use signage, tables, music, lights, and most importantly – people! Designate students and adult leaders who are specifically there to help greet every one as they come on campus. Have information ready to go for all of your leaders as soon as they arrive. Utilize connect cards for new guests, and I highly recommend nametags for all students and leaders! Most importantly – have fun and be intentional with your first impressions team! Students should walk away from check-in feeling excited and important, and ultimately sensing a connection to something greater!
As your time with your students goes on, every leader must be relationally intentional. Students want relationships – they want to be talked to, not talked at. They want to be communicated with, not ignored. Even the most shy, timid, or introverted teenager you may meet desires to be a part of incredible relationships. What are your leaders doing to meet and greet all students? Is there a time to hang out and socialize before your service? I know students also create uniformity with friends. In other words, they often flock to the same people. Some youth pastors call them clicks, but I refer to it as a natural human tendency. I have my closest friends, and honestly I am comfortable hanging out with them any day of the week. There are other friends who know I have to work much harder at developing my relationship with them. It is completely natural for us to feel more comfortable around some people over others.
When it comes to students, clicks and popularity contests can destroy ministries. As leaders, we must create a culture in which all are invited, all are welcomed, and all are wanted. Our students want to fit in – even if their best friends are not present. Are we creating a welcoming culture that carries over into the atmosphere of our youth ministry?
Once our service begins, the connection process cannot end. I have talked to many leaders who think the goal is only to get students in the door. While I see where they are coming from, the goal must be to connect them to Jesus, not simply get them in the door! I know, I know… some of you are saying, ‘Well in order to get them connected to Jesus, we must first get them in the door.’ I get that, but our goal is not to see how many students we can get to show up to our youth service. Instead, our goal is to see students encounter Jesus Christ!
Utilize every aspect of your service to connect students. Is your time of worship exciting and interactive? Are your announcements and welcome full of energy and memorable? Is the message challenging, applicable, and thought-provoking? Do your small group leaders sincerely care about their students? If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to seriously revisit that specific area! The way you organize your youth service is key to seeing students connecting!
Our responsibility definitely does not end once students leave our campus! I tell my core leaders that youth ministry is a 24-hour responsibility. In other words, tragedy can strike at any minute of any day! Students want to feel welcomed to your ministry outside of your designated service time. Whether it is through social media, text messaging, email, or a phone call, it is extremely important to connect with students over the course of the week. Never underestimate the power of unexpected connections! Set the leaders’ expectations high – encouraging them to reach out to the students within their small group on a weekly basis. Personally follow up with every new student that walks onto your campus! I know this takes time, energy, and resources, but I can say from experience that students feel important when they are contacted and connected! And when students feel important they come back! Very few students accept Christ the first time they walk in the doors of a church, but who knows how God will work if they continue to come back week after week!
Do not stop at connecting your students to your weekly service! Challenge them as you connect them. Encourage them to create paths of spiritual growth – whether it is through a mentor, a discipleship process, or community groups. There were times that Jesus looked at the large crowds said, ‘You don’t get it… Spiritual growth is not solely about the large group setting! More importantly, it is about your daily routine to become more like Me!’
We are called to walk through life with our students in a way that brings honor and glory to Jesus! When we accomplish this we will see growth in ways we could never imagine! Connect your students to Christ through discipleship, leadership opportunities, and missional involvement. Make a way for your students to use their God-given abilities and talents. Allow your students to partner with mission organizations and individual families, empowering them to share Christ’s love and compassion with our lost and broken world.
So many of the students I come in contact with are broken, lost, and walking through life alone. Yet, they have the desire to fit in and experience a connection that goes beyond their own ability. We have the greatest connecting message this world has ever witnessed – the love and hope of Jesus Christ! Our responsibility is to create a path that connects our students to the Gospel message! But we cannot stop there! Today’s teenagers are culture changers. They are filled with an unbelievable passion for a cause greater than themselves. Challenge your students, empower your students, stir a passion for life-change within your students, and ultimately connect them to the greatest Person to ever live – Jesus Christ!
I would love to hear how you are practically connecting your students into a deeper walk with Christ! Within our student ministry, we have created an entire Connections Team made up of a Connections Coordinator, Small Group Hosts, Spiritual Formation Coordinator, and Student Vitals Host. I am more than willing to share further, how we have practically laid out our Connections Team. Feel free to contact me with any further questions.