I’m a big fan of the Atlanta Braves, Pearl Jam, and Denzel Washington. I’m also a big fan of having a place for students who show up for the first time. 

When I was at North Point, when first timers showed up alone—or with a member of the opposite sex—we had a place for them after the service called On Deck. At the end of our large group environment, the speaker or host would say, “Hey, if you’re here for the first time, or you simply don’t know where to go next, come up to the front and I’ll let you know what to do.” As the crowd dispersed, we had a person or two that owned this process. They greeted the newcomers, asked them questions, and helped them feel comfortable.

Let’s say we had three new students at On Deck. The host would start the process by having a normal conversation with them. “What’s your name? Where do you go to school? What kinds of things are you interested in? What did you think of tonight?” It wasn’t a business meeting—it was more like a casual, welcoming chat. Then the host described the small group process: “So…this is how this whole thing works: Every week we have a program that was kind of like the one you just saw. There’s some fun stuff, some music, and someone shares a talk. Then our entire crowd disbands into small groups. We’d love to link you up with a group for several reasons. First, we think you’ll love your small group leader. Second, you’ll get to meet some new people. Third, you’ll get an opportunity to talk about what you just heard. It’s great. You’ll love it! If you don’t love it, we have dinner afterwards. So at least you get free food out of it.”

Then we asked each new student to fill out a profile, which is a fancy way of saying information sheet. This helped us determine which groups to place them in (our groups joined students that were same gender, grade, and area/school). In addition to gathering basic info, we asked students to list hobbies, interests, etc. Sometimes interests led to a better match than geographic region. Occasionally the best fit for a student was to not be with people from his or her school. Those were things we wanted to be aware of. And a profile, along with a conversation, helped. 

Finally, we communicated the next step. We let our new students know that when they came back next week, we’d have an awesome group for them to join.

Overall, the process bought us a week to discuss and pray about which group would be best for the new student, which was huge. It could be helpful for you, too. 

So what’s your one step? Create a place for first-timers.

 Ben Crawshaw is a youth worker, DYM author and author of the new book Live Free, available now on Amazon!