1. Be cool and funny
2. Be near/around students who do not attend church
3. Invite them to your church/youth group
4. Get your kids to be cool/funny at your meetings
5. New kid gets plugged in.
Another model I’ve seen is this one:
1. Plan a really cool, free, outreach event targeting unchurched kids.
2. Do cool interactive games and ice breakers to create deep, authentic relationships in 15 minutes.
3. Mostly, the kids who come will be your regular kids, but when those new students come, invite them to your “regular” meetings.
4. Get your kids to be cool/funny at the regular meetings.
5. Kid gets plugged in.
While I tried to get these models to work, they never really worked for me. Maybe because I wasn’t cool enough or funny enough (and probably so), or maybe it was because our outreach events were way too different from our regular meetings. (If you go to a store the day after the Grand Opening, the prices are higher and there are no free hot dogs.-also, see Tim Schmoyer’s post about Abandoning Outreach Events) But I think more so than any of this is the fact that these aren’t centered around the most important thing-relationships. I’ve posted before that I believe friends are the single most important factor for getting new kids into a youth program.
So what is the most effective model I’ve seen? Here it is.
1. Quit trying to be cool/funny
2. Quit trying to create meaningful relationships by playing “Human knot” for a half hour.
3. Quit trying to make your ministry so cool at an outreach event that the “actual product” looks nothing like your sales pitch.
4. Teach your students to be missional and to build relationships with kids who do not have a church home.
5. Your students invite and bring new students to the youth group
6. Other students in the youth group build relationships with the new student
7. The new student gets plugged into the ministry.
I’ve found this model to be far more effective for several reasons:
1. It is natural. While I have spent some time on our local school campuses, on the surface level, there is something kind of creepy about a middle-aged guy coming to talk to all the kids at lunch (this is a necessary part of youth ministry, but it is awkward to say the least).
2. It builds on established relationships rather than on shallow ones that have been “created.” Sometimes in trying to grow a youth program we approach students with an exclusive agenda for adding a student to the youth group or leading the student to profess his or her faith in Christ. This approach is similar to the way a salesman approaches a customer. His concern for the customer goes only so far as his capacity to make a sale. While an adult’s efforts may be completely genuine, if the ultimate goal is to add a new student to the program, this interaction with prospective students will ultimately seem contrived and superficial.
3. It allows teens to be involved in all stages of the recruiting/evangelism process. The first model was focused on the adult/leader. The second model focused on something that was fabricated, yet appealing. The last model is focused on the students in the ministry.
4. There is no pressure at meetings for existing students to “befriend” the new students, because the new students are already with (a) friend(s). Again, this is more natural. Imagine if you were a teenager and an adult had talked with you at lunch one day and invited you to the youth group. So you show up and he introduces you to everyone, and all of a sudden these students who had never spoken to you before flock to you and tell you how glad they are that you are here. Seem fake to you?
5. It is biblical.
The most difficult thing about this type of model is getting students to be missional. But it will build more long-term relationships with new students. It also works really well in a world where the average tenure of most youth workers is about 18 months. If the students are the ones being missional and building relationships, the house doesn’t cave in when the youth worker leaves.
So what has worked in your youth ministry? What has been the most effective way you’ve found for reaching new students? By doing the outreach ourselves, are we robbing our students of the joy/responsibility of reaching out to their friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts.