How to Reach New Students
Youth workers have a lot of plates to juggle. We teach, preach, mentor, lead mission trips, run events, participate in church-wide activities, create budgets that we desperately try to stick to, plus a thousand other tasks. The core of our ministry, however, should be simple: show students how to have a relationship with Jesus, how to grow both on their own and in community, and how to share their faith. Instead of getting caught up in all our spinning plates, let’s remember that—like Jesus—we are called to shepherd the sheep. But not just our own sheep, we are called to reach out to other students and invite them into our ministry where they can connect and grow in a relationship with Jesus. So, how do we do that? Here are 3 ways that I have found to be helpful and effective in that endeavor.
“Don’t just encourage your students to bring their friends, empower them with the tools they need to make it happen!”
1. Your students are your best advocates: Your students are the best advocates for your ministry. I have found that when students are experiencing growth and have ownership in your ministry they can become its biggest advocates and promoters. Students want to talk about what excites them, so encourage them to invite others so their friends can experience the same growth that they are seeing in their own lives.
And don’t just encourage your students to bring their friends, empower them with the tools they need to make it happen! Train them on how to start conversations about their faith, growth, and the benefits they’ve seen through your church and youth ministry. Equip them with knowledge of upcoming events or activities so they can invite their friends to connect with your church and—more importantly—to God. Speaking of activities…
2. Come and see activities: When I talk with my student leaders at the start of each school year, we review what we call the “ministry cake”. The ministry cake compares the different layer of ministry—such as outreach, growth, equipping, etc.—to the number of events that correlate with each layer. This gives us a visual of how balanced or unbalanced our ministry events are. The bottom layer of the cake is the outreach layer. Outreach events are the entry points into your ministry where new students get to know you and your students and come and see what your ministry is all about. These should be the types of events that students want to come to regardless of where they are in their faith.
Here are some of our events that have been well-attended in the past:
- Fall Corn Maze. We take our students to a local corn maze, complete with an inflatable jump pillow, a café with seasonal food and drinks, and other activities.
- Christmas Lock-In. This is our biggest outreach of the year; half of the students are usually guests. There are typically large group games, a white elephant gift exchange, broomball, and lots of pizza and candy throughout the night.
- Laser Tag. Twice a year we have a group come in and run laser tag games for our students for 2-3 hours. We have food and additional games going on as well. These nights have become as popular, if not more so, than our lock-ins.
- Service Projects. We open our group service projects to students’ friends as well. This can be a great opportunity to connect and start a relationship as you serve alongside a student.
- Summer BBQ and Bible Study. Different church families will host our group as we study guest-friendly topics together in a more relaxed atmosphere. Other nights, we’ll choose to have fun activity (like a pool party) to serve as a “bring-a-friend” event.
During the larger activities, we take time give our guests a preview of what our weekly time together looks like and what we are studying or have planned for the coming months. After guests start showing up and showing interest in your ministry…
3. Follow-up: Make sure you are effective in your follow-up. We have guests fill out a card with basic contact information which we use to send out periodic mailings, emails, and Facebook posts about upcoming events. We want to make sure all students—especially guests—are aware of what’s coming up.
More importantly, though, encourage your students to follow up with their friends. Of course, you can and should follow up with new students, but this is an opportunity to allow your students to build on an existing relationship. Remember that hosting a big event with lots of guests and students isn’t the goal, maintaining and building connections is. With proper follow-up, these events can become a launch-pad into relationship and discipleship.
Reaching out to new students effectively takes intentionality, planning, and solid follow-up. The potential payoffs, though, are new students in your church and ministry, an atmosphere of inclusiveness within your group, confident students who invite others and share their faith, and—most importantly—lives changed for eternity.
About the Author
Frank Newburn is a husband and father of three. He has been the youth director for Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois since 2006. Before that Frank worked for LeaderTreks as a Leadership Specialist and Trip Leader. His ministry focuses include mentoring and discipleship, student leadership, and missions. He has over 25 years of youth […]