Holding on to young people who come to our youth ministries takes three things: good leaders, good programmes and good strategies. We often focus on the first two and neglect the third. Below are listed twenty one strategies you can use to attract and hold young people in your youth ministries.
STAGE I: BEFORE they come
1. Visit new church families: Not many people get a visit in their homes from a church leader these days. Going the extra mile and offering to do this when a new family arrives at your church is a great way to encourage them to stay.
2. Visit new youth group members: Visit all the new year 9′s in January before youth group starts for the year. Make your first activity a fun event they will look forward to and ask them “Who are some friends who don’t go to church that you could invite?” Give them extra publicity to pass on.
3. Get to know your young people’s friends: When you go to watch them play sport etc. have them introduce you to their friends. Hold small group activities – overnighters, trips away etc. and encourage young people to bring a friend.
STAGE II: ARRIVAL
4. Offer a genuine, non-threatening personal welcome: Don’t embarrass them in front of the whole youth group! Just tell them one to one how pleased you are that they came and how good it is to meet them.
5. Provide a welcoming atmosphere: Use whatever it takes – lighting, technology, sports equipment, or music to make your youth room have the sort of atmosphere that would make a young person say “cool” when they walk in the door!
6. Help them make relational connections: Introduce them to their (small group) leader, and others their own age when they arrive.
STAGE III: DURING
7. Give clear directions and explanations: Don’t refer to things that newcomers will have no idea about – explain! And make sure your buildings are visitor friendly – don’t assume everyone knows directions to other rooms – such as the bathroom!
8. Do Bible studies that don’t assume prior knowledge: When people who do not have a background in church hear these questions it makes them feel, in their mind at least, “dumb” and unwelcome. Read a Bible passage together and then discuss it so that you are all on an equal footing.
9. Request their personal details for follow up: Ask, “Are you already involved in another youth group?” If so let them know they have been welcome to visit. If not ask them if they’d like to give you their contact details so you can keep in touch. If they refuse or are hesitant don’t push it. Once they return a couple of times ask again. They may have been reluctant to commit initially.
STAGE IV DEPARTURE
10. Offer a personal farewell: Again, tell them how pleased you were they could make it along.
11. Extend an invitation to return: Let them know what’s happening next week and express a desire to see them return.
12. Have a word to parents/caregivers: Make an effort to meet these people when they arrive to pick their child up, even if it means going out into the carpark. Let the parents know how much you appreciated meeting their son/daughter and express the hope they will return. Mention anything positive you can think of about their child’s involvement – parents love to get compliments about their teens! If a parent is impressed with you they are more likely to encourage their child to return.
STAGE V: AFTER they have been
13. Add them to your contact database: Not only will this ensure they get the latest info from you but it will help cement their name in your mind.
14. Pray for them: Pray that they will come back next week and pray for any personal needs they might have. If you are unaware of any invite God to direct your prayers,
15. Make some form of personal follow up contact: If they have given you contact details you MUST follow them up – they will expect it. Ask how their week is going and tell them you appreciated meeting them. Invite them to your next programme – even if you already did that the previous week.
STAGE VI: NEXT youth group event
16. A personal welcome back: They are the second most important person at your youth group when they return (the most important is the newcomer!). Make sure they feel like it with a warm personal welcome.
17. Use their name: The fact you have remembered their name may amaze them! They don’t know you have written it into your contact list and have been praying for them by name. By remembering their name you make them feel like they are important to you – which they should be!
18. If they are not there ask their friend about them: Sometimes young people need encouragement to keep inviting a friend. Tell them to let their friend know they were missed!
STAGE VII: LATER – as they continue to come
19. Facilitate the widening of friendships: Help them to get to know more people then the friend they came with (if they did come with a friend). Organise small groups activities with their peers so they can get to make friends in a smaller setting. Holding a camp near the start of the year is a great way to help newcomers feel a part of things.
20. Look for ways to involve them and affirm them: The best way to keep a young person committed is to involve them. Look for ways to have them contribute even if only ocassionally.
21. Follow up absentees: When someone misses a week it’s imperative to follow them up as soon as possible. If you don’t they may assume no one cares. Let them know they were missed. One of young people’s greatest desires is to belong.