By Andrew Davis 7/30/19
As youth pastors, we must be intentional about how we welcome our new 6th or 7th graders into the youth ministry. Church involvement can be a very positive aspect of the lives of new middle schoolers. This is also a significant time in the lives of their parents as well, and we should try to be just as welcoming and inclusive to the new parents as we are to the new students.
Perhaps you remember your first day in middle school. It was scary! You were the new kid, the youngest in the group. You probably had many questions swirling in your head. “Will I be cool enough?” “Where do I go?” “What do I do?” “Will people like me?” Youth today still wrestle with the same questions and the same fears. Your youth group can be a fantastic place that empowers these new 6th or 7th graders, where the messages they hear are empowering. “You are more than cool enough!” “You are right where you need to be!” “You are doing great!” and “We love you!”
Your youth ministry can speak into parents’ concerns and fears as well. Your parents need to know that there is a place in your church where their children can go and feel safe, encouraged, and empowered to deal with life.
Here are two ideas to help your youth ministry welcome your new students and their parents as they transition into youth group.
Never underestimate the power of a personal invitation. This may be difficult for many youth pastors, because it sometimes feels like we are used car salesmen cold calling teenagers and their parents. But, connecting personally with your new students and their parents may be the most effective method of invitation out there. Here are a few ideas for how you can make personal connections with the new students and their parents before they even come to your youth group.
-Give the parents a phone call. Introduce yourself and share a little about your youth group. If you have any upcoming events, invite the student and parent. Feel free to be chatty and get to know this parent too; it’s okay to connect with adults in youth ministry!
-Mail a letter to the new student. Yes, I am actually recommending snail mail in this case. Dust off your stamps and envelopes and send an inviting letter to youth group or an invitation to your next big event. Be sure to specifically address it to the student (not just “Dear new 6th grader”). I know it’s 2019, but there is still something special about getting mail with your name on it!
-Face-to-face invitation to youth group. If you have been at your church any period of time, chances are you know some of the younger kids that are aging up into your ministry. Use those connections! Start a casual conversation after worship, grab a meal out with the family, or volunteer with the older kids at VBS and tell them about youth group. Take the extra steps to make a personal connection with the kids who will be in your ministry soon. They will be more comfortable in their first interactions with “the big kids” at youth group if they are already comfortable with you.
-Ask your volunteers, students, and parents, to make personal invitations too. Remember that it’s not just your youth group! If your students, parents, or volunteers, know of any potential new student that is aging into your group ask them to reach out. In many ways, them inviting another student to your youth group will hold a lot more weight then you inviting someone to your own youth group.
You should have one big event in the summer specifically for your new students and their parents. Get creative and give it an appealing, fun, welcoming name. Maybe it’s “Welcome to Youth Group Party” or “6th Grade Orientation” or even “Super Big Fun Awesome Pizza Time!”
-Invite your current students, parents, and volunteers to be part of this event. Encourage existing youth group members and volunteers to come and meet the new people. If you have middle school Sunday School teachers or small group leaders, I’d specifically invite them to come get to know the students and their parents too.
-FEED THEM!!! This is probably obvious…but everything is better with food. Humans connect better over a good meal. Maybe you have some volunteers that can cook an amazing meal for your group or grill out. If they can’t and you can’t, pizza is always a safe and fun option!
-Play some fun icebreakers and some of your “fan favorite” youth group games. Plan some activities where your group can get to know the new students in a way that’s fun for them. In our youth group, we play Two Truths and a Lie and the new students are the ones who write out the truths/lie. The rest of the group has to figure out which one is inaccurate. Also, if your youth group has favorite games that they are always playing, this is a great time to teach them to your new students. I ask some of my older kids to pick out the games and lead them.
-Invite the new parents to be part of this event. I can’t stress how important it is to connect with parents in youth ministry. New parents may have no idea about who you are or what your youth group is about. They need to know you so they can trust you! When we do this event, most of my volunteers and older students go with the new students to the gym to play games. I stay back and get to know the parents. This is a perfect time to give them all your youth group details, pass out medical release forms, give them a calendar of youth events, and maybe even try to do some recruiting for new volunteers!
-Bonus tip! Consider giving the parents a space to ask questions about youth group or middle school life in general. Especially if your new student is their oldest, this is a crazy, new time for the parent. They may need a place to express their concern and hopefully you or one of your people can help defuse it.
“They won’t care what you know until they know how much you care,” is one of the most cliche sayings, but I have found it to be very true in the context of student ministry. By making personal connections and hosting a big event for your new students, you are letting your rising students and their parents know how much you and your youth group care about them.
Andrew Davis is a 2019 graduate of Memphis Theological Seminary and CYMT. He serves at Covington First United Methodist Church as the Youth and Young Adults Pastor.