For years, I strategized how to get more and more teens onsite with big events and incentives.
But it wasn’t until years later after lots of frustration and low retention rates that I discovered some keys to getting students to not just show up on a youth night, but to stick.
Our goal as youth pastors is to set students up for a life of vibrant and thriving faith. In order to do that, we need to have a good strategy for not just getting students plugged into your siloed off youth ministry on a Wednesday night, but to also get them plugged into the life of your church BEFORE they graduate high school.
It’s so important to accomplish this before high school graduation, because studies like the Renegotiating Faith Study are showing us that as teens graduate high school, they enter into Emerging Adulthood and are forming their identities 5-7 years later than previously. Read more on that here.
This is the whole idea of assimilation.
Assimilation asks the question, “how do we move a student from being a first-timer to being fully plugged into the life of the church?”
There are 3 keys that will help us develop an effective Assimilation Strategy for teens.
First of all, we need to be on our game with connecting.
If a new student doesn’t make a meaningful connection within the first 5 minutes of attending, it is highly unlikely they’ll return, unless forced by parents.
According to the Growing Young study, teens today are looking for a sense of community and warmth over polish and production (although that’s important too).
To teens today, warmth is the new cool.
Here is a question to consider: “What happens within the first 5 minutes a new student shows up to your youth ministry, or Sunday morning gathering?”
We need to be quick to help facilitate meaningful connection for new teens that show up.
What If new kid, “Tom” shows up for the first time to your youth ministry and is able to make an immediate connection with 4 others of mixed gender in your group, who are tasked with welcoming and connecting with new people?
What if then during small group time, Tom is able to meet a few more teens his age, and the small group leader at the end of small groups gets everyone to take out their phones and add each other on social?
Then throughout the week, Tom has been sending ridiculous memes to his newfound friend, Pete.
When Tom shows up the next week, not only does he have multiple connections, he feels a part of the community, because those connections made it out of the 4 walls of the church and into his life during the week.
The second key is to disciple our teens.
A question to consider here is, “what are some things you would love to see instilled in your students when they graduate high school? And what discipleship strategies do you have in place right now to facilitate this?”
Be intentional with developing students to be fully devoted followers of Christ.
This can’t happen from the pulpit alone.
Utilize small groups and release leaders to pastor them weekly. You can’t do this part alone.
The final key here is to integrate students into the life of the group and the life of the church.
We need to make sure that students are getting plugged in and are serving using their God-given gifts and unique personalities. This can’t just be limited to our siloed off youth ministry on a Wednesday night, but it has to translate into the larger church body before high school graduation.
Students need to know that they have a unique part to play in the Kingdom of God that is different from their parents.
An important question to consider here is: How are you helping students discover their identity and their fit within the larger body of Christ before they graduate high school?
If we do these three keys effectively, we are working towards reducing the percentage of students that never come back, or who leave their faith behind during Emerging Adulthood.
Check out the interview below with John Albiston on Assimilation Strategies For Youth Ministry. Also, check out this blog post on getting students plugged into the life of your church.