Starting at a new church is scary, exciting and motivating all at the same time. You want to exceed expectations, you want to make a good first impression and lets be honest you just want the students, their families and everyone else to like you. There are 7 ways to make sure the first three months at a new church set you up a great tenure.
2. Plan Something Can’t Miss
In the first 3 months do some creative planning on a big event, get away or amazing night. This is an opportunity to let everyone know that you value fun and fun is a common language everyone can understand. Leverage resources from your church, go all out, make it something your students want to bring their friends to, etc. Color War, black lights, food trucks, giant foam slip n slide, water wars, mess fest, there are great ideas out there, find out what your students would love and blow it up!!
3. Create Opportunities for Parents to Meet & Get To Know You
When you start, get dates on the calendar to invite parents to a meet and great. Parents need to trust who is leading their children. The more parents know you, the more trust they will give you, the more opportunities you will have for influence. Ask parents to lunch, coffee, over to your home, to the church for dessert, anything to get in front of them.
4. Every Student Matters
The tendency will be to connect with the students that are easy to connect with. That is low hanging fruit. Seriously, go after those students for sure. The students that are on the fringe and on the fringe for a reason. Make sure the fringe students know that you care about them just as much as the core kids. If you do this, you will see some of those kids become more involved because they know you care. People over programs is a good rule to have. If you can spend time with students, you can find time to respond to emails later.
5. Engage With The Rest Of The Church Staff
The staff you are on needs you to value what they do just as much as you want them to value what you do. The best thing you can do when you start is to sit down with each department and ask what ways you can serve them are. If they know you have their back right off the bat, they will go to battle with you when the time comes. Ministries within the church can’t function effectively if they are off on their own. Make sure your ministry isn’t a silo, its part of the church and will be part of the vision to reach that community for Christ.
6. Over Communicate
Set the tone for communication early. Parents, Students, the rest of the congregation need to be over communicated to. The tension is that we think if we send to many emails or texts that they will stop reading them, which is possible. The flip side is that no one knows whats going on at all and that might be more problematic. Starting at your church over communicating will give you the option to pull back if need be. You want to be known as someone who get details to people quickly and thoroughly
7. Pray and Spend Tons of time with the Lord
You can’t pour into others if you are empty. Start a habit of spending time with God. Pray all the time, carve out specific time where you can focus on your relationship with God. This is by far the best thing you can do for your church, your students and yourself. If you’re filled up, you’ll be able to pour out what God is teaching you to those around you. Leading from empty doesn’t work, don’t get to that point, stay fueled up and connected to your Savior.
When I started as a new youth pastor, I new I couldn’t do it all. I inherited a group of leaders when I started at my first church and began to recruit more. As the new school year approached, I planned a leader meeting so we could all get on the same page and so that the leaders knew what was expected of them. I tried to be as prepared as I possibly could be, I made a booklet with pages of information for them, ways to help them be the best youth leader ever. The leader meeting happened, I handed out the booklets and went through it all. No one had any questions at the end of the meeting and I left pumped about how awesome I was at leading leaders. I could barely fit my head out the door that night, the pride was oozing from my ears. A few weeks later we had our kickoff and it went ok but I noticed the majority of them didn’t really know what to do and weren’t engaged with what was happening. Instead of meeting after the kickoff to debrief, I assumed that my leadership musk would rub off on them and that they would just figure it out. After an entire semester of this type of thing happening, I finally asked some of the leaders if they feel like they are doing a good job. They said that they didn’t because the booklet that I gave out at the beginning of the year gave them so much information, tasks and stuff to do that they didn’t know where to begin or what to do each night. I realized quickly that evening that whats clear to me, the youth pastor, wasn’t going to be clear for my volunteer leaders that are giving only a few hours of their time to youth ministry. I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t leading them well and it wasn’t obvious to them how they could do a good job in their current role. (insert deflated head emoji)
I was learning a valuable lesson and continued growing and learning for the first number of years in youth ministry. Your volunteers need simple to understand expectations, clear roles and obvious ways they can “win” with students. Anyone who gives up their personal time or time with their family needs to find what they are doing to be valuable and that they are doing it well.
Give your leaders one focus for a semester of ministry that is easy to see, evaluate and measure. Be strategic with those focuses when you get your leaders together to help them understand the reason behind the focus and how they can be effective within that focus. For your small group leaders building community within the group is a big deal so give them a focus of getting together with their small group outside of church time 2 times that first semester. A focus could be just being consistent and getting to know each student in their group on a deeper level. What I can your volunteer team focus on that will add exponential value to the ministry. Be strategic!
Give them feedback and help them grow. Your leaders need to know if the job they are doing is good enough. This means that you have to meet with them on a somewhat consistent basis so they can hear feedback from you, the leader. Be specific and do not shy away from the hard conversations if they aren’t doing the job you need them to do. They will be better leaders in the long run if you lovingly and gracefully help them see how they can improve.
Celebrate with them when they are absolutely killing it! Have an award for rockstar leaders that you give out frequently so they know if they are doing a good job. Every student ministry should have a traveling trophy, championship belt or a gold spray painted bobble-head of a mediocre baseball player on hand to give to amazing leaders who are making the ministry a better place to be.
I had to learn the hard way to keep things simple, to give good feedback and to allow them opportunities to try and succeed! Don’t wait until the middle of a school semester to give your leaders clarity, do it NOW!
We all need someone in our lives that will fight for us. We need someone in our corner that has our back. Students especially need to know that and feel that assurance that someone cares enough to go to battle with them.
Exodus 14:14 says “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
The Egyptians were bearing down on the Israelites… they had just escaped captivity and Pharaoh changed his mind and came after them with the full force of the Egyptian army. The Israelites saw this huge army heading right for them, their backs up against a large body of water with seemingly no where to go. Panic was setting in.
Isn’t this the state we find ourselves in with our students at times? We see things not going the way we want, we see our students not engaging, we see some students being sporadic in attendance or just flat out not showing up, we see students not getting it or even regressing (in our minds) in their faith. This is a terribly helpless place. This is a place where we don’t know what to do and in our humanity we decide to let our emotions take over and direct our actions. There are a lot of times its just easier to give up and focus on the ones that come rather than turn and face the challenge to go after them. It would be easier to give up instead of fight for those students like God fights for you.
That was where the Israelites were as they stared down a seemingly unbeatable foe. They were ready to just give up and rejoin the Egyptian work force, the easy way out.
How easily they forgot all that God had done for them leading up to that point. They forgot about the plagues to soften the heart of one of the most powerful men in the world, they forgot about their ancestors before them who in a drought packed up to move to Egypt because not going there would have resulted in starvation and death. They forgot about time after time God meeting them in their deepest need and providing.
Right after those doubts The Lord uses Moses to speak words of truth and life. Words that we, today, need to hear. “The Lord your God will fight for you… you need only be still.”
The Lord told Moses to grab his staff and lift it high and the waters of the Red Sea. The waters parted and the Israelites crossed over on dry ground with a great army bearing down on them. The Egyptians came through the same pass after all the people made it to the other side and the waters crashed down on them crushing the army. God’s provision for his people came through again, shocking right?
When we are faced with doubt, uncertainty, students who don’t show up or don’t focus on the conversation, know that God is fighting for you. He is not fight for you so you can win a battle but because the enemy knows if you give up on your students then who is there to love them, go after them, encourage them? If you don’t do it… who will…
As much as God fights for you; you have to fight for the students God has given you. Even if it seems difficult, step into the gap on their behalf, show them love by touching base with them, write them a note, make a phone call, figure out a way to encourage them. Whatever you do, Don’t give up!!!
Never forget where your strength comes from and what God wants us to do in those moments of desperation, confusion and despair.
“You need only be still”, that is God telling you that He’s got this. In Psalms 46:10, it says to be still on know that God is on the throne. It could be in the season you are in, you have to be still, be ready to fight for your students and realize that God has you right where you are for a reason.
On behalf of the students who don’t realize how much you care, how much you love them, how much you fight for them, how much time and effort you put into helping them get to know about the love God has for them… THANK YOU! Don’t give up, Don’t lose heart, Don’t back down. Your Red Sea moment is right around the corner!