Whether you are a full-time, part-time, or volunteer leader in student ministry, you probably hope that when a student comes to your group they do four things: enjoy themselves, come back next week, tell their friends, and grow in their faith. While each of our meeting spaces will look different, the culture and atmosphere of our gatherings needs to become a priority of our ministry. And no one can tell you about your culture like a guest.
Here is my definition of what culture encompasses: the attitudes of the people, the feel of the space, and the relational opportunities. I have tried to work on this for a while in my ministries simply because of my desire for students to have fun and to make life easier for myself. But then I had a moment that made me realize how essential creating a good culture is for the health and growth of our group. Here is a question: have you ever eaten some food, whether at a restaurant or at home, that gave you food poisoning or just made you really sick? If you are like me, just the mention of that place or food returns me to the bad memory and I steer clear of it. I have nicknamed this the “Lobster Reaction,” because of a personal experience. And I have watched students react the same way to youth group, especially on their first visit.
Here is where creating good culture comes in! I look back at some instances and think; had my student leader team been engaged, had my adult leaders been trained to seek out the loners, and if our entrance was staffed with a welcoming face and a cookie, maybe that person would have come back. And youth leader…it starts with us, but cannot succeed with JUST us. We are SUPPOSED to talk with students, it is our job, and they see right through that.
Creating a healthy culture has to be trained and taught through our leaders. One thing I have started pushing down is the need to keep ours eyes open for new students FIRST. When leaders are aware of the possibility that every night could include a guest, they automatically begin working on the other things that are unhelpful in our culture. Unhelpful things for us have included closed conversation circles, dark rooms, no music in sound system, messy meeting spaces, lack of welcoming people to greet, and insider language in our small groups and sermons. I am not saying that you will win 100% of the time, but when you live in the house you don’t notice the dirt and dust, but you do when a guest comes over right? In the same way, we all need to be aware of what our culture is speaking to a guest, because if the guest is welcomed and engaged, how much better will it be for your regular? Whether you are in a dedicated youth room or the basement of a house, you CAN do something about your culture. Don’t let a student leave with a “Lobster Reaction.”
– Scott Osborne
1. If you asked the guests to your group what they thought of your culture, what might they say? (Why don’t you do a survey?)
2. What are some things that might need to change to help your culture welcome new people?