I absolutely love going to the Starbucks by my house.  Every time I walk in someone super friendly is ready to take my order.  They always say hello and sincerely ask me about my day. One time I ordered something and they quietly hinted that if I ordered a similar drink it would be free!  I am sure you have been to places where you felt very welcomed and made up your mind right then and there that you would come back.  Its a brilliant sales pitch that works.

I moved recently and started going to a church where I knew absolutely no one.  I had to prepare myself before walking up to the door because I was nervous going to a place where I was a stranger.  Who would I talk to?  Who would I sit with?  I literally prayed and asked God to send someone to talk to me and ask me to sit with them.

Can you imagine how a teenager must feel going to a church youth group for the first time, not knowing what to expect, and not being a follower of Jesus?  I was terrified and I am outgoing and I knew what to expect.  Now imagine that same teenager walking into your youth group and not having one person say one word to them.  Do you think they will come back?  If it was me – I wouldn’t even last through the first song.

There is a problem when the local coffee shop or grocery store is more welcoming then youth group.

You value these students and you desire for them to feel loved and welcomed but that is often not happening.  Why?  I am sure there are several reasons.  One being that the beginning of youth group can be crazy as you finish the final touches on everything that needs to happen in order to start.  Also, students flock to those they comfortable with – leaving out new people.

So what can you do (or encourage others to do) to make new students feel welcome and valued when they come to youth group?

1) Plan ahead.  Build in time so that you are able to be available and notice the students as they come in the door.  Don’t spend those last moments before you start doing last minute preparations for your talk.  Get that done well before that.

2) Ask student leaders and volunteers to be proactive.  Encourage your leaders to notice new people and say hello to them.

3) Station someone outside.  When I was leading youth group I started greeting students as they got out of their cars.  Not only did students feel welcomed but I often was able to meet parents.

4) Introduce them.  When you meet a new student introduce them to another student – now they know at least 2 people in the building.

5) Remember names.  People feel valued when you remember their name – do not use the excuse that you are bad with names – get good at it.

6) Un-greet.  I came up with this term when I became a greeter at my own church.  Basically what it means is that people should feel welcome the whole time – not just at the beginning of an event.  As students leave, walk them out. Say “goodbye,” “I am glad you came” and “see you next week” to every person who leaves.

I was very impressed at how welcomed I felt and that people remembered me every time I came back to church.  This was what made me keep coming back, not what the pastor preached.  In the end its the relationships that are built that keep students around, so value them.