In youth ministry we invest a lot of time and resources in getting students to show up to our church. This investment is spent both in promoting our ministry so that those outside the church are aware of it but also in making sure our youth rooms/buildings are a place that students want to be.
But there is a moment in between the outside and the actual youth area that gets neglected. If this is the case it can affect the way a student views the area of your church you worked so hard to develop, how they hear the message you want to share with them, and greatly reduce the likelihood that a student will return to your youth ministry. The moment I am talking about is when they walk up to your church and on the path to your youth area.
This area will differ for each of you. If you have a youth building it is obviously a short path straight into the door. For those of you with a youth room, there may be a long path down a couple of hallways. But regardless this is a process we all need to think about. What does a student see and feel when they walk into your youth ministry?
To help answer that question I am going to ask a series of questions to help you think through the details and what things you might need to change and implement.
Do they know where to go?
We often take for granted, because we have done this so many times or we assume a student will come with a friend, that finding our youth area is a given. But this is far from the case. This may be the most important thing to think through, because it is difficult enough for someone to take that step of wanting to come to your church, and so any excuse they can find, especially early on could cause them to change their mind.
So as someone pulls into the parking lot do they not only know there is an even for youth happening but do they know where to go? Is there signage that is clear of where to walk in or if necessary areas of where to drive around to the back of the building? Once they are in the building do they know where walk and how to navigate the halls if applicable? I encourage you, as I will with all steps, to take a practice drive up to your church and into the parking lot and try to get a feel for what someone who knows no one and has never attended might see and feel and what the odds are they will actually end up in the right spot.
A good tip is to be overly detailed in your steps and consistent in your signage. By overly detailed I mean mark every turn with an arrow, or if it is one sheet on the front door because that is all you can do, mention every turn and include some landmarks. By consistent I mean if there is a logo you include on your main sign for promotion or your youth building, use that on every direction sign/sheet as well so they know where to look.
How long before they meet someone?
The quicker a student and/or parent is greeted and connected with someone the more likely they are to come back or at least stick out the first night. To increase the likelihood of this more than one contact will be important.
You could station someone at the parking lot entrance with an orange vest and some sort of notice that if you’re new they’re here to help. You could put someone at each entrance of the church with a backup to take their place. Then you could put another few people at the entrance of your youth room/building. One could do check-in and another could hangout with them for the night.
The key is as many connections as possible so they know they are welcome and cared for, and to make sure they never just get left somewhere.
You might be thinking that your ministry is not that big so who is going to be left? But if your ministry is not that big than likely there are not going too be more than 1-3 visitors who came on their own and not many entrances to cover.
A good tip here is to have a mixture of students and adults. Kids need both connections in general, but especially when it comes to feeling welcome in your ministry.
How quickly can they hear music?
Studies show that music can help people feel more comfortable. That is why you hear it everywhere you go. It is almost like wrapping someone in a bubble so they feel less exposed and alone.
I say can because your church may have restrictions on this. You might not be able to put music in the parking lot but maybe you can in the hallway. You might not be able to have music other than your worship music during your service. If so then that is fine as this more of a cherry on top step and not a necessity. So while you might want to explain that you want music, why, and where, it is not worth getting fired over if they say no.
A good tip here is to remember who your community is. I am not saying you have to play secular music. I am saying if the students in your community like rap do not have Shane and Shane playing when they walk in(no offense to Shane and Shane).
Do as many students as possible have a place to feel comfortable?
Not every kid likes basketball. Not every kid likes video games. So while you cannot accommodate every student try to accommodate as many as possible without breaking your budget.
A good tip here could be colors. This may seem like a children’s ministry thing but a lot of kids love art and rarely do people take that into consideration with older students. A bonus tip is sometimes just more places to sit and visit. Regardless, having places where as many students as possible can feel welcome will send a message to them that you care about them and who they are without you having to say a word.
Final Thought: Sale the Vision
Your leaders and students need to understand how important this and the role they play. Because if they do not buy in and support the vision any message you send by making the changes above will be overridden by their message of making new students feel unwelcome. So make sure they know the roles they can volunteer for and that they need to be aware of and ready to welcome new students regardless of who they may be catching up with or more comfortable with. This, combined to the practical changes above, will help you ensure you get the most out of the investment you made in promotion and your youth area and that you see your ministry grow.
BONUS: This does not just apply to youth ministry. If you want to be a rock star in staff meeting bring up these same thoughts when it comes to your weekend service experience for new visitors.