There’s something intimating about meeting a new student for the first time, especially if it’s not among your normal Sunday night activities. But as a youth worker, one of your biggest jobs on Sunday night is meeting new students.
We all know how important first impressions are. Whether it’s a job interview, the first day of school, the start of a new job, or simply meeting some special for the first time, we only make one first impression. Youth ministry is no different. For the teenager who finally decides to visit the youth group he’s been invited to about 100 times by their friends; the first impression can be a “make” or “break” event.
So how do we go about insuring the all important, first impression?
As you get ready for your year of ministry, consider these five simple suggestions to help you make a great first impression.
1. Stay close to the door. – It’s really easy to hide from the student. You can hoover towards the back of the room, get lost in the crowd, even busy yourself doing things like getting the snacks ready. Instead of “hiding,” stay close to the door. Putting yourself in the pathway of arriving students makes it easy to meet and greet them as they arrive. A smile, a firm handshake, a high-five, or a shoulder touch give that extra reassurance that we and happy to see them. The only caution to this is; don’t mob the door. We don’t want to scared students by having the entire Leadership Team standing out the door. Rotate weekly so everyone has the opportunity to meet and greet throughout the year.
2. Be the first to make contact. – Students gravitate towards other students. They will congregate, giving them security and power in numbers. This might be the most intimating point of contact. Students will not approach you especially if they have joined a group of their friends. But because it is important that we as adults make contact, you must build approach. Be the first to make contact. Go to the students and welcome them. If there is a guest in the group, be sure to introduce yourself and get their name.
3. Remember the names of at least five students. – Knowing a student’s name is extremely important, especial when you greet them by name when they return. I have not yet mastered total name recall. On any given week we will welcome 45 to 60 students. As a new leader, it’s going to take you a little while to learn the names of students in our population. Shrink your target and focus on learning five names at a time. Your goal then becomes, remembering those five names the next week. Once you master those five names, begin working on five more.
4. Be sure to mingle but try not linger. – There are two ideal times to mingle with students, while they are arriving and as they are leaving. Each week you can expect ten to fifteen minutes at the beginning and the end of our service when students mingle and socialize. This is a great time to move about the room greeting and welcoming students. Because it is good to know as many students as possible, try not to linger too long with any one student or group. We are often tempted to linger when you come to our own small group of students. There will be time when you will be with your group.
5. Take notes for the next face to face. – It may sound a little crazy but, you might find it easier if you take notes. Our job is to get to know our students. We want to know their names, their grade, their sport, and anything else that’s relevant to their lives. Making notes about the students you meet will help you remember who they are. As you are preparing for the coming week, pull out your notes and review. Now when you see those students, you can approach them with confidence and ask them questions like, “How was your game? or How was your band recital?” It’s not so intimidating when you know what to ask.
The first month or two you might feel a little awkward and very insecure. That’s okay. All you need to remember is, you were called to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of students. And, because He called you, He has given you exactly what you need to love your students. We’ll talk more about that at another time.
So say hello to a student. Ask them their name. Tell them your name. And let them know that you are very glad to meet them.