How To Make Every Student Feel Welcomed

The other day I went downtown to a meeting.  The only guy that I knew would be at the meeting wasn’t there yet, so when I walked in all I saw were some men and women standing in a circle receiving instructions from this one woman.  I just stood there, bag over my shoulder, jacket on, staring at them…I probably looked like a moron, I didn’t know what to do and it was obvious.  Finally, someone came up to me introduced himself and a sense of relief came over my body…I was accepted.
It makes me think, “How many of our students feel like that walking into our ministry?”  Maybe they are new, maybe they know one person, but when they arrive they don’t see anyone familiar and they feel like an intruder.  It’s something that probably happens more than we realize, so how can we make it less intimidating for teenagers to walk into our youth ministry?

  • Always Be Ready – For our high school program we advertise doors open at 6:30pm, worship begins at 7pm.  More times than not we’re all set-up and ready to go, but those times we aren’t are unacceptable.  Have you ever gone over to someone’s house for dinner, walked in and they’re still cleaning, cooking or setting up?  You feel like you’ve inconvenienced them, right?  If you say, “Church starts at 6pm” or “Small groups begin at noon.” Have your cleaning done, your materials ready and your ministry team set to serve.
  • Be Proactive – I am an extrovert, but I am horrible at breaking the ice.  I’ve been known for saying some of the most awkward things in the world to a teenager like, “So, what stuff do you like?”  Here’s the thing…it doesn’t matter what you say to the student, because you are already dorky.  You earn their respect by giving them your attention.  For a teen breaking the ice is tough, especially with an adult, having an authentic relationship with an adult can be a paradigm shift for them.
  • Divide and Conquer – A rule that I need to clarify more in my ministry is that no two adults should be talking to each other while a teenager is in the room.  They should be talking with the teen, but sometimes for us adults it’s a little less intimidating.  As adults we shouldn’t be socializing with one another (I’m guilty of this) but focusing on socializing with the teens first.  If your ministry is all ready to go, have your ministers seek out students to have a conversation with them.
  • Be Honest – I know there have been times when I’ve ignored a teenager because I didn’t know their name and I was too afraid to ask.  I’ve forgotten the names of a number of teenagers, but instead of sacrificing a little pride for not knowing a kid’s name, I just say, “Hey sorry I’m old, what’s your name?” They smile at the bad joke then answer.

It is so hard to walk into a room, meeting or event and not know anyone.  As soon as my friend showed up to the meeting I went to on Wednesday I was more at ease.  For these teens some of them are just waiting for a friend to show, but then there are others who are going on their own at their own risk.  No matter who the teen is, how long they have been coming and how much they know about you, we need to make sure that students are greeted with consistency, authenticity, kindness and love.
How do you greet new students?
How do you monitor the hospitality of your ministry?