We’ve all been there: A new student comes to your youth group—and then never comes back.
Why does that happen? A few simple questions can help you get to the bottom of it. Do you have a system in place to welcome them? Are your regular kids clustered around the room in their usual friend groups? Are all your adult leaders talking just to each other? Does anyone follow up with the newcomer?
As youth leaders, we want our groups to grow, both in terms of depth and numbers, but we struggle to create a strategy to welcome guests.
Here’s the way out: Cultivate a culture in which your regular students are motivated and equipped to welcome visitors and engage them in meaningful conversations. As a youth leader, I taught my students the Ask – Admire – Admit (AAA) method (click here for the scoop) to both share the Gospel and welcome guests to our group. AAA walks them through a conversational strategy that easily applies to both situations. Often, we teach our students to use these skills outside the church walls, but then during youth group they completely ignore guests!
After coaching your students in AAA—using the Takeoff to Touchdown curriculum or some other method—regularly encourage them to remember to have those conversations with each other and guests during youth group time. Once this starts happening, you’ll see many incredible things begin to occur: The students who are believers will grow in their ability to share the Gospel, their desire to put others first, and their love for God, and the students who are new will feel welcomed, know the youth group authentically loves Jesus, and have an opportunity to believe in Him.
Here are three things you want your students thinking about when new students attend youth group:
1. First Impressions
Statistics, as well as real-life situations, show that the first three minutes of the youth group experience are crucial. Developing a culture of friendship—one that includes your leaders and student leaders modeling warmth, kindness, and not just talking to their best friends—takes time and consistency. But making this a priority will pay huge dividends and help you fight the challenge of cliques that often get in the way of welcoming new people.
To help you make a great first impression, recruit naturally social and friendly students to be greeters (we always called them hype crew for fun). Explain to them very specifically what you want them to do, whether it’s standing at the door—off their phone—or mingling about looking for first-time guests to start a conversation with. Regularly remind these students of the importance of their role and what you want them to be doing.
If you also coach the whole group from time to time into thinking this way, it really helps create great first impressions. The first few minutes of youth group is a great time to focus on the Ask part of AAA and encourage students to spend time asking each other natural and spiritual questions, especially with guests. For example, you could coach students to ask questions like:
- How was your week?
- Are you in any clubs/do you do any sports?
- Have you ever been to a youth group before?
2. Finding a Connection
Remind your students to use the Admire step of AAA once a conversation has been going for a while. Help them to see the connection that happens when they embrace the kindness of admiring others—in both regular and spiritual matters.
Guide your students to be good listeners and show interest in others. Encourage them to invite guests to sit with them during worship or the message or be on their team during game time.
To reinforce a welcoming culture, it helps to come up with a one-line mantra that is repeated often with your group. For example, when I was a youth leader I incorporated “We’re the friendliest place in Westminster for teenagers” into my welcoming comments and encouraged students to embrace it. One night I forgot to say this line, and several students stood up and said it for me! It was a simple thing, but it was hugely helpful in establishing what we were about—so much so that my own students reminded me if I forgot.
3. Following Up
Another thing I did to create a culture of friendship was to regularly remind students of John 15:15:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know His master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
This verse helped us remember that Jesus built friends by simply sharing what He had learned from God, and that we’re called to do the same. This is where their testimony and the Admit part of AAA comes into the conversation.
If one of your students brings a guest, make sure to remind them to follow up with questions like:
- What did you think about youth group?
- Do you have any questions about what my youth leader shared?
- When you heard the part about Jesus and the Gospel, did that make sense?
- Can I share with you why I’m a Christian?
This can happen at the end of the night or a few days later as a follow-up conversation. If you send a quick text message midweek or remind them on their way out the door, it can go a long way in helping them remember. Also, make sure your whole group knows the importance of having a follow-up conversation after they’ve invited a friend to come to youth group. Emphasize that this is a great time to share their own personal testimony and admit their need for Jesus.
These three things probably won’t come naturally to students, but if you continually implement relational evangelism this way, during and after your gathering, it can in time lead to contagious growth!