This Sunday, I watched as a now 8th grader who, let’s be honest, used to be a big turd, do something awesome. She invited a 6th-grade student up on stage with her to sing for the worship band. This 6th-grade student had arrived early and didn’t have a place to serve. The 8th-grade student saw that and made space for her up on stage. She coached her through signing: how to stand, what to do with the microphone, and how to have a good stage presence.

It was the most encouraging thing I’ve seen in a long time, and it made my heart so happy to see it! 

After watching this, it got me thinking: How can we encourage students to be more welcoming and inviting? That’s what I want to break down today!

Make room for new Students

Consider your physical space. Are there enough chairs for new students, or are there only enough for the ones who are present? Are there couches that are reserved only for the “chosen few,” or are there spots for new faces?

Sometimes our students don’t see the need to include new students in things because there’s not any space for them. That can be physically, but it’s also a thing to remind students that a mindset of more space matters too!

Have you ever walked up to a circle of people in conversation, and they didn’t open up a spot for you to step in and begin talking? Man, that hurts! Encourage students to “open up their circles” for both new and current students so that there can be a more welcoming environment!

Create Opportunities for Current Students

I have one student who sits in a corner and draws. She’s not lonely. She has friends who hang with her. But she just chills and draws. In a youth group where only the extroverts get celebrated, she wouldn’t have a place to serve.

But I’m going to ask her to draw some things for our ministry. Like the logo in her own style. And something for the announcement board. Instead of just assuming that she doesn’t have a place because she isn’t bubbly and outgoing, I want to create an opportunity for her to be a part of the group in her own way!

Look at your students. Find their strengths. Then create opportunities for them to use those strengths within the group. Don’t pigeonhole your students. Once you start to do this, students will be able to see that every gift has a place and can be used for God’s glory!

See the Insider’s Value

Sometimes we rail against the Insider because we think it’s bad to have insiders—students who know every part of the ministry and could basically run the thing if we asked.

Instead of saying “THERE AREN’T ANY INSIDERS” until people think it’s wrong to have them, try to think of how to have insiders serve the ministry. They know just about everything, after all! Help them catch the vision. Let them see their value in bringing in new students or fixing something that’s broken.

These students might say, “You want this to happen, but it WON’T because…”

While their reasoning might not be thought out all the way through, you can create a starting point with their insider info and help to find things that aren’t working as you’d hope.

Connect the Outsider to Other Students

This is where we probably spend most of our time. We want the visitor to feel welcome. To find a group to hang out with. We can’t force them to fit into the group that’s already there. But we can encourage the students who are our regulars to find common ground.

That might be a shared interest, sport, activity, youtube binge, or just a love of coffee. 

Encourage your students (and small group leaders!) to help outsiders find a point of connection. If you know your students, you can help them connect with a new student by finding the dots to connect. Your small group leaders can be great at this too! By asking a few questions like “What do you like to do in your free time?” or “What’s your favorite sport?” you can connect Outside students to Inside ones. It takes work, but once your students catch this vision, it’ll pay off in big ways!

Like an 8th grade student who used to be a turd becoming much less of one and inviting a new kid on stage.

Questions to consider:

Is your group insider focused or outsider focused?

Do you have a place for a new student to fit in?

Are there places for current students to step up?