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"Ya’ll Come Back Now"

(Don’t plan on it—unless you plan on it)

by Carey Huffman

I can think of few other times a junior high student would rather stick with his parents than hang out with friends. Then again, he doesn’t know any "friends" here. And there is no way he’s going to follow this old guy down the hall into a room full of unfamiliar teenage stares. If his parents are bent on checking out Sunday School at this new church, they’ll have an hour of "family time." At least the adult class has plenty of doughnuts.

You may never know if this happens at your church. Before new students ever venture into the "great unknown," that is your classroom, you must have an intentional strategy for reaching them or you may not even get a first—let alone a second—chance to connect.

An aggressively friendly group, generous with hospitality, stands out from the crowd—eventually it attracts a crowd—because teens return to places where they feel welcome, appreciated, and have friends. Regardless of the rest of the program’s appeal, guests won’t likely return unless they connect with 5-6 other students during their initial visit.

Here’s how your class can ensure that students are met with hospitality and friendship.

  • Assign students "care leaders" to all morning services to identify newcomers, invite them to class, and introduce them to other students and leaders.
  • Regularly schedule teens as all-church greeters, giving youth higher visibility in the church and the availability to meet and escort new students to class.
  • Provide a relaxed and inviting atmosphere with appropriate music, food, décor and friendly students at the door welcoming all others to class.
  • Set your classroom to accommodate interaction and avoid drawing attention to latecomers.
  • Appoint in-class evangelism coordinators to introduce, register and serve guests. They can also assist with initial contact and follow-up of newcomers. If students are limited, your in-service care people can also fill this role.
  • Acknowledge guests at the beginning of class without putting them on spot or asking them to reply.
  • Use occasional introductory "mixers" to facilitate creative personal interaction and new friendships for regulars and newcomers.
  • Frequently incorporate small group huddles and breakouts for interactive response time.
  • Encourage students to meet each other’s guests, inviting them to other youth activities and events.
  • As the teacher, personally catch new students before and after class for brief conversation.
  • Give a small gift from your youth ministry to all guests.
  • Make follow-up contact with new students through quick appreciation calls on Monday or Tuesday, and invitation calls on Saturday.