The other night I got a text from a student in my small group who literally has not shown his face around HSM or our small group since the beginning of this last summer. He just stopped showing up. I had tried to get in to touch with him many times, we had even set up a few times to hang out and he stood me up at the meeting place. Needless to say, that is not a good feeling. So I just kept on sending him texts with group information and whenever he popped into my head I would let him know I was thinking about him and praying for him and he was missed at group. Well, I got this random text saying he wants to meet up. It was one of those texts where you know he knows he messed up and now wants to talk about it. We set up to meet a few days later and he actually showed up and our conversation was great. It was super refreshing, to be honest, because I know all not all “prodigal son” situations don’t go so well. I know as the leader, it’s up to you on how you set the tone for that first meeting. What I have learned for these types of meetings I have learned from the father in the story of Luke 15.

20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

  • The father was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son. He welcomed them in. I think many times a student is afraid to come back because they feel like they will be judged. This means as leaders we have not set that tone before. When they let you know they want to come back and talk, the answer should be, “Dude, it’s so good to hear from you. Of course. When can you?” Details don’t need to happen immediately, they will mostly likely talk about it when you see them. Make them feel like you are excited to see them, because you really are and show them compassion.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

  • When the son tried to explain himself, the father interrupted him and let his son know that he was so pumped he was back and wanted to celebrate. There will be time for talking about why he initially wanted to come back and why he wanted to talk to you. I don’t want them to think that’s all I care about. I want to see how they were doing. How is school going? How are sports? How is the family? Is there anything super exciting happening right now in their life? Then you can transition it into, “I was so excited to hear from you the other night. Tell me what’s going on that you wanted to meet.” Trust me, they are already coming in with fences up because they, like the son in Luke 15, know they have messed up. When we ease the tension a little bit, more than likely the full story will come out at that point and great conversations will be had.

32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

  • His son was gone and now he is back. Let’s celebrate. Same with a returning student. There doesn’t need to be an announcement. The group, if it’s healthy, will welcome the student back with open arms and will be genuinely excited that he is back. If the student wants to talk about it, he will. If not right away, then go on with group as normal, resume your lesson plan and make sure the student is back in the swing of things. With the student I got to talk to, we talked about how making group a priority is just one step I want him to make. I know that as we go through God’s Word, have the conversations our group has and the community and accountability we have set within it, he will see that it’s the place to be and the life change he wants to see can happen through it. That is my prayer.