- By Garrett Rea
I saw them as soon as I came into the room: five of them clumped
together, looking around the room. Immediately I knew that this was their first time to
our youth group. The one who seemed to be the leader of the pack was a teenage girl. The
others were looking to her for their cues on how to behave in our group. The leader of
their little pack didn't know what to do either because she was new. Since that first day
they came, I have heard each of them say separately: The reason I came back to your youth
group is because I felt everyone liked me.
A welcoming group
If your church keeps 2 out of every 10 visitors, you have a
growing church. At least that is what the statistics say. I would say the same about youth
groups. If your group does a fair job of keeping people who visit, then it will grow. I
talk to lots of youth leaders who complain about how their own kids in the youth group
chase away visitors by staying in cliques, being rude, being critical, failing to welcome
and be friendly. It seems common for youth pastors to want to build a growing group, only
to be sabotaged by the very people he is pastoring. The goal is to have a community of
believers. The main ingredient is practical love.
They will do what you do. It seems to me that if a youth pastor
focuses on evangelism, then his kids will value it. The same goes for worship, service,
and devotional life. If any issue is an underlying value in your life, it comes out in
those you lead. You could go back to your files, go over old teachings and search for
threads of spoken or unspoken values. For your youth group to be visitor friendly, you
must possess a deep sense of the value of community.
Here is an example of the sort of group we want to develop.
Stephanie came to the youth group because she was invited by her friend. When Stephanie
arrived, she was greeted by Amber who asked her which school she went to. Stephanie told
her which one, so Amber took Stephanie over to a student from that school and introduced
them. That night, in our fellowship time before the start of the meeting, Stephanie was
greeted by 10 kids who didn't know her. She played our game, worshipped with us, and
listened to my talk. All night she had a smile on her face. At the end of the night she
came up to me and gave me a huge hug. She had a tear in her eye when she told me that she
felt great. I asked her what she meant by great. Her answer was that she felt love for
real that night. What she was trying to tell me was that God had used our kids to show
her, practically, the love that she would come to know in Christ. She gave her life to
Christ two weeks later.
My kids are sold out to loving new and lost people. Here are some
things that we do intentionally:
- Our teams meet at 6:00 to prepare for the 7:00 meeting. At 6:45 we
all stop our meetings and go greet new people. This is an army of kids greeting. A new kid
cannot come to our youth group without being connected relationally.
- I talk about how good our greeting is from the pulpit. I brag
openly about how it helps us to accomplish our mission. I brag on kids who do it and brag
about the important part that they play in the kingdom.
- I tell the "Stephanie" stories all the time to anyone who
- I watch each week for more success stories. When I see one, I point
it out publicly.
- We tell kids who come the second time that this is now their youth
group and that any new kids they see this week should be treated like a new visitor. They
always tell me, "But I'm the new person. I'll look dumb." So I always reply,
"If you are friendly to someone this week they will never think you are dumb. If the
person you greet is not a new person but an old timer, then they will be impressed with
- I teach on the subject from time to time. It goes well in teaching
about being a body, a family, our mission, the great commission, Love, who is your
neighbor and so on.
- I also regularly do talks on relationship, forgiveness.
Say it again and again
I am a believer in casting vision for the things that matter. So I
talk about being visitor friendly all the time. You couldn't go to our youth group for
three weeks without hearing me talk about it. This is the kind of community I think God
wants me to help build. But it doesn't come easily. I have found that it takes commitment
to celebrating the good things and directing the energy of the students toward good goals
as well as an internal sense of urgency on the part of the leader.
Garrett Rea, 26, and his wife Sandy live in Palm
Desert, CA. Garrett holds a
bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas. He is the youth
pastor at the Desert Springs Church.
For a photo-impression of Garrett's youth group, look here.
to respond to Garrett's article.