Sep 09

Firm Foundation 2: welcoming

I have learnt that the quality of our welcome directly relates to the quality of what follows. If we get the welcome right, people are much more likely to engage with what we do the rest of the meeting. If we get it wrong, behaviour tends to be worse and the level of connection with the leaders and the programme seems to drop.

Over the years I have discovered plenty of different ways that we have not been very welcoming and we’ve seen young people drift away from the group or never come back after their first visit. If this is what you are trying to achieve, here are my top five ways to make sure you don’t welcome well! Read more …

1. Leave setting up until the young people arrive We all know life is busy and so it can be hard to get down early to set up the projector or the evening’s activity.  But if leaders are busy preparing for the group session when young people arrive, it gives the impression that the teenagers have arrived too early (do your group tend to turn up late to youth group? Maybe this might be a factor).

2. Have nothing for people to do when they arrive It is so easy to think that at the start of the meeting the young people just need space to catch up with each other. In one sense this is true; it does help the rest of the session if people have caught up with each other’s news, but the way most people catch up is ‘over’ something. This is why coffee shops are so popular in this country. “Let’s catch up ‘over’ coffee”. We need to have a variety of options available, whether that is some kind of refreshments, a game to play, a jenga tower to knock over. It is especially important for new people so they don’t feel awkward having to just stand around until someone talks to them.

3. Leaders catch up with other leaders This is so common and so easy to do. Just as the young people want to catch up with each other, if the leadership team is working well then they will want to catch up also. This really needs to be done before and after the meeting. It is vital to remember the reason you are all there is to invest in the teenagers and to build connections and positive relationships with them. Agree as leaders, that this is your purpose and agree to keep chats between leaders to a minimum while the young people are around, unless, of course, the conversation involves some of the young people too. Then it can be great!

4. Put refreshments on a table in the corner This may seem a strange one but what happens if you do this? Everyone comes in and goes for the drinks and snacks, and then they tend to stay nearby to refill as required. If this happens, what is the first impression someone gets when they walk in the door? They probably see people, mostly with their backs to them, all huddled in a corner of the room. If everyone’s back is to them, there is no one to notice that they have arrived and so they have to somehow break into this group, which has already formed without them. Some more confident and extravert teenagers may find this easy to do, especially if they have been coming to the youth group for some time, but the more timid, introvert young people will really struggle. Put refreshments in a place where people can gather all around the table, where just as many people are facing the door as have their backs to it.

5. Pay no notice of people as they arrive Being a youth leader can be tough. We don’t want to come across as too keen or pushy so we can think it is a good idea to not make a fuss of people as they arrive. Let them slip in unnoticed and find people they already know to chat to. No! This is exactly not what we should do! No matter how large or small the group is, each person needs to be treated as an individual and made to feel that you as the leader are delighted that they have come along, that they would be missed if they hadn’t come and that they are important, valued and loved. Instead, make sure one leader is near the door to welcome, by name, each person as they arrive. The other leaders should then make sure that between them they greet all the young people and find out how they are, what their week has been like and can gauge what kind of mood they are in.

If we heed these warnings, our welcome will be strong and effective. Young people will know that we care about them. Remember, we are called to imitate Christ, and Jesus was always welcoming people to him. We need to do the same.

What good ways have you developed to welcome young people? Leave a comment below.