If your calendar is anything like mine, then you know that in just a matter of days or weeks, our students go back to school. And with the start of school comes the big fall kick-off. But before we can launch our epic programs and begin our year of ministry, we must first do the next to impossible task, gather those busy and fickle students who have been spread as far as the eye can see during summer.
While summer is great on paper, it seems to be almost disastrous to they needed rhythms our students and ourselves need. Yes we have camps, special events, and more hot dogs then the doctor would like. But for as many special activities we do as a student ministry, the truth is that summer actually scatters students to their individual actives. As they seem to all be landing from their family reunions, oversees vacations, summer camps of every kind (including college essay writing camp), and jobs, it is time to begin the process of gathering them together from their individual adventures to a common and shared purpose and identity as a student ministry. I have found that this is actually much more of an art form then simply announcing a fall kick-off and everyone showing up ready to go.
Our students are fickle and more individualized then ever and summer only exasperates this ethos. But for us to be the student ministry that God has for us this school year it is time to circle the wagons and heard thee cats. Over the years I have found some helpful tricks for gathering our wandering students.
Here is my strategy to collect my busy and fickle students:
1) Get buy in from the senior class. These are the oldest and most mature students we have. (That thought alone brings a wide verity of emotions) For some reason, more and more student ministries are believing the myth that seniors are or will basically check out so there is no point in investing too much into them, especially when the sophomore class is so pumped up and thinks we are so great. But if you can hook in the seniors, and give them a vision to lead and then actually let them do it, then you will be surprised how the younger classes will step up. Getting them to buy in is tricky, because if you are not careful, they will see through your shallow attempt for numbers and bail even quicker. I recommend a separate program for your seniors to invest into them and help them lead. We do just that in our ministry and it has radically transformed our ministry. I wrote a little bit about it in a post called, Helping seniors develop a faith that is ready for college.
2) Invite "leaders" over for dessert to dream big for youth group (Only fired up kids who see themselves as leaders come so grab them and encourage them.) That is it. Simply put a call out there for anyone who wants to be a leader in the student ministry this year to come and have dessert at your house. You get a pre-youth group meeting with the kids who have the most buy in. Take their excitement and let them feed of each other. It will be contagious. Plus you might actually be inspired with fresh new people and ideas for reaching out to students.
3) Connect with some of the freshmen subgroups, invite a senior to come along. Most freshmen are freaked out about high school and about high school group. There are probably several different pockets of freshmen who have spent the summer around the fringe. Before the fall kick-off, grab these groups of kids as clusters so that they see that their friends are in as well. This will help them land. More than ever, unless their friends make youth group their home, they will stay at the fringes. Don't overlook this point. Friendship groups are how you will build your ministry, not the perceived popular kid and their followers.
4) Pour love and grace on the contrarian kids who seem to always spoil the mood. Ask them what they are contrarian about and what we might be able to do to fix it. And then help then be a part of the solution. The best way to win over the naysayers is to put them in charge. We so want to write off these kids, but the truth is they often care more about the group. Capitalize on their angst to make your youth group that much better and in the process win over the kid who seems to always spoil the mood.
5) Personally contract every kid the week before our fall kick off. This is such a no brainer, many of my youth worker friends seem to forget about it. Block out some hours and hit the phone, fire up the Facebook, text away. Whatever ways you have to communicate, do it. Let every student know that they are seen by you and valuable.
6) Have every small group leader send a post card to each kid in their group and personally invite then to our fall kick off. Its that simple. Now every kid gets at least two touches. Freshmen more, seniors more, and kids that want to be leaders more. But every single kid no matter how connected gets two!
7) Pray your guts out. unfortunately, most of it is around my own anxiety and identity I falsely have wrapped up in my own issues. But once I get through that, I genuinely trust that God has his and on my students is doing a unique work in them. I want to be sensitive to his spirit and go where he leads and be able to be a shepherd, prophet, priest, brother, and friend to my students.
This is going to be an amazing year of ministry. It is a year of fresh starts, new decisions for Christ, big screw ups, and much more! Let's start off this year planting and watering our guts out and praying with as much expectant energy that God will do his part and cause faith to grow!
This is my plan, what's yours?