Fourteen years ago, my youth ministry story began. It was a chilly January night when my sister and I hopped out of our parent’s car to enter a church building for what we thought was going to be another Bible class. What we didn’t know was that our lives were about to change. Our idea of what we assumed a church was, was about to be flipped upside down. My sister and I were going to meet Jesus.
Immediately, as we entered the church doors, my friend Becca ran to me with a huge smile on her face. She pulled me into a room filled with students and adults. Becca introduced me to about fifteen people in the first five minutes of being there. I was excited, overwhelmed, and anxious.
No one was ever thrilled to be at church from my experience. In my mind, church meant homework and wearing uncomfortable clothes. I was completely thrown off, but also felt completely safe and wanted. No one had ever been that excited about me walking into a room before…besides maybe my mom.
As the night went on, I watched kids play a weird game where they had to eat something disgusting and then everyone sang some catchy songs that they all knew the words to. Pastor Jason then welcomed all the new people and shared some stories about his track meets back in the day. I was waiting for the homework assignment to come, but Jason continued to engage me in what he was saying about running track and his family, and Jesus. I actually related to what Jason said.
Afterward, Becca walked me right up to Jason and told him I was joining her small group. I had no idea what a small group was, but I was glad I had someone to lead the way. Two leaders started the group off with happy crappys, and legitimately cared about what happened in our weeks. The leaders wove Jesus into the discussion, prayed for us, and sent us on our way.
SO much happened in so little time, but I walked away wanting more.
What made me stick?
- A junior high student was bold enough to invite me to church. Let’s challenge our students to be bold in their faith. Some kids aren’t connected to the church yet because no one has invited them. Becca invited me every single week until I came.
- I felt accepted. I didn’t need to fake that I knew the Bible or recite verses walking in the door. All I needed to do, was just be me. The more accepting we are of the kids walking in our doors, the more likely they are to stick. Students get judged enough at school and in their extra-curricular activities.
- People were real. Jason talked about his struggles. My leaders listened and listened well. Students opened up in the group. If we can foster an youth ministry culture where people can lay their troubles down, we can build a beautiful community.
It’s easy to get caught up in writing the perfect message or creating engaging small group questions. Those things are important.
But what would happen if we focused on encouraging the students and adults in the room to be bold, to be non-judgmental, and to be real?
What are some steps you and your team have put into place to help new kids stick?
Haley got dragged to a youth ministry by a friend when she was 12 years old and hasn’t been able to leave ever since! She started serving in junior high ministry back in 2006 and now leads the Junior High program at Parkview Christian Church. Her heart is for the lost, infinity scarves, and family.