Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a parent telling me that her son (a high school freshman) would not be participating in my congregation’s high school youth ministry. This is not the first time I’ve received such a message from a parent. Each time I do, my heart breaks a little. I lament the family’s decision to write-off our youth ministry before even giving it a chance.

A few short hours after she sent this message to me, this parent’s son was ding dong ditched by some of the active students in our high school youth ministry. When the family opened the door, they discovered a bag of goodies waiting for their son.

We call this bag of goodies our “Youth Ministry Survival Kit”. It’s one small part of our strategy to welcome freshmen into our high school ministry.

Each year, before our high school ministry begins it’s fall programs, we intentionally assign all of our incoming freshmen to a few big buddies – people already active in our high school ministry. Among other things, our big buddies commit to putting together a Survival Kit for their little buddies.

To ensure that no one feels as though they got the shaft, each Survival Kit contains the same basic items. That said, because big buddies shop separately for their items, each Survival Kit is a bit unique. Each item in the Survival Kit relates, in some way, to our high school ministry.

For example, this year’s Survival Kit included:

  • A juice box as a plug for the 30-Hour Famine
  • A travel related item to encourage students to apply for our international mission trip
  • A toy car to challenge students to serve at our Kids Club for refugee children
  • Dice to plug our monthly game nights
  • A Bible to encourage students to attend our weekly gatherings
  • A list of phone numbers for those in our ministry who drive so freshmen know who to call for rides
  • A personalized note inviting little buddies to attend our weekly gatherings.

Big buddies spend their own money on the gifts in the Survival Kits. They’re also responsible for delivering the kit to their little buddies before our fall kickoff. Doing so gives those active in our youth ministry ownership of it while at the same time, communicating a powerful message of welcome to our incoming freshmen.

Evidently, this message is much more powerful than even I realized.

Today, the same parent who just yesterday said her son would not be attending our congregation’s youth ministry sent me this e-mail:

Thank you for the Survival Kit! Very clever idea. Whenever our son’s able, we’ll be sure to send him over.

Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at