Teenagers are tribal by nature. “Excluding the outsider” from their social clique is standard operating procedure. Just think back to your own middle and high school experience. Did you ever walk into the lunchroom alone and feel uncomfortable because you didn’t spot anyone from your clique to sit with?
That dynamic can be exponentially exacerbated for teens today. Cliques are tighter than ever because of the 24-7 social media culture. Teenagers can unlike, disrespect, mock and cyberbully others long after the final school bell rings at the end of the day.
While gravitating toward known friends is natural, without even realizing it, the regular attendees in your youth group may be so used to circling up in their comfortable cliques that they’re oblivious to the social moat and raised drawbridge effect they’re presenting others—especially newcomers. Visitors can leave feeling awkward, isolated and unwelcome.
Try This! ❯
Set aside a few minutes in your meeting this week to coach your students on how to help visitors to your youth group feel welcome and included.
Gospel Advancing youth groups should be different. Jesus modeled reaching out to the losers, the broken, the hurting—the outsiders. So how do you override teens natural inclinations to gather with like-minded students and leave visitors feeling uncomfortable?
Here are three keys that can help you create a youth group environment where visitors are welcome.
1. Pray together regularly for the lost.
Prayer changes things! It changes circumstances, hearts AND behaviors. When you lead from the front by making time in your youth group meetings to pray together for the lost, it invites God into your Gospel Advancing efforts. It also helps shift your students’ mindset so that they begin to see their unreached friends and their schools as a mission field. Regular prayer times for your group’s individual and corporate outreach efforts will foster awareness and begin to kindle your students’ heart for the lost. For help with this, check out the article “5 Ideas for Programming Prayer in Your Youth Group.”
2. Provide “when you bring a friend” coaching.
Coach your students on how to be a great host when they invite a friend to youth group. Even if they feel tempted to run off and do their normal youth group thing with their normal youth group friends, when a guest comes out to youth group at their invitation, it’s time to pull out all the stops and make sure that guest feels welcome. Here’s a quick how-to list:
- Pray for your guest before, during and after youth group—that they would be open to Jesus’ gospel message and put their faith in Him.
- Stay with your guest throughout the meeting. Sit by them. Introduce them around—particularly to students who have similar interests, go to the same school or are at the same grade level.
- After the meeting, follow up and ask them what they thought of the talk. Did they learn anything new or different about Jesus? Did what the youth leader said make sense to them? Why or why not? Explain any “Christianese” or inside jokes they might not have understood.
- Invite them to put their trust in Jesus.
- Make it clear that if they aren’t ready to trust in Christ, they are still welcome at youth group. They can “belong” before they “believe.”
- Invite them back for the next youth group meeting. If they decline, invite them back for the next social event your youth group plans. Sometimes fun is the best first foot in the door!
3. Nurture a “there you are” vs. a “here I am” mindset.
Even if your students haven’t brought a friend to youth group on any given week, help them understand that they have a role to play when it comes to making visitors feel welcome. Sure, most teenagers are experts at being self-absorbed. They naturally arrive on the scene (any scene, not just youth group) with a “here I am” mindset, as in, “I am the center of the universe”—entertain me, give me what I want, make me feel special. Yet Jesus calls us to a “there you are” mindset, as in, love one another (1 John 4:16-17), serve one another (Galatians 5:13-14), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:31-32). Here’s a short check list to help you nurture a “there you are” mindset in your youth group.
- Watch for new people and take the initiative to go over and meet them. Pray for them during and after the meeting and ask God to draw them to faith in Jesus.
- Ask the visitor your meet questions about themselves so you can get to know them and help them feel special and comfortable in this new setting. Offer to introduce them to some of your friends.
- Follow up with them outside of youth group. Add them as a social media friend. Hangout with them outside of youth group.
As a youth leader, nurture a “there you are” vs. a “here I am” mindset in your students. Click To Tweet
Creating a visitor-friendly youth group culture is at the core of building a Gospel Advancing Ministry mindset. Everyone has a part to play! And you’re the Coach!
Want more practical advice on mobilizing your teens to share the gospel? All of our Mobilize stories offer great ideas for training your students and building a Gospel Advancing Ministry. Sign up here to receive this free, hands-on resource in your inbox!