For many of us, our students have either already returned to school or will be in the coming days. With school returning there are many changes happening in the lives of students and families, and this presents many new challenges for youth leaders but also some amazing opportunities.
It can be easy for us to bemoan the difficulty of trying to compete with students’ schedules and all the things they are committed to, but I would recommend a different approach. See this season as an opportunity. An opportunity to do ministry in a different way, an opportunity to see your reach extend past the traditional Sunday or Wednesday, and an opportunity to reach more than just students.
When it comes to a new school year, there are some action steps I would suggest that every student ministry leader take as the fall begins.
Pray. This is a simple one, but often the most simple things fall by the wayside. But take time to pray for and with your students. One of my favorite things to do is pray over students at church or youth group. But the biggest rewards have been when I have texted students during the day and said, “Hey, just wanted you to know I am praying for you. What can I pray for?” Wait and see what the results are.
Host a venue for families. The church I serve at now hosts a “passage ceremony” to create a space for families to speak into the lives of their students. We host it for incoming 6th and 9th grade students and their families each year for a couple hours after church. We provide a full lunch, and allow for space for parents to pray with and for their students, and to speak truth and encouragement into their lives. As leaders, we also recognize this change and encourage the students and families. The results from this (and our subsequent venue for graduating seniors) have been awesome! Students and parents alike talk about how this has helped them mentally and spiritually prepare for the school year and the new journey that is ahead of them.
Be willing to go to where your students are. One of my favorite things about working with students is going to their events and supporting them. I love going to fall football games with my wife and leaders, the Halloween parade is a blast with all of the bands participating, and watching my students act and sing in plays and musicals is awesome! But the money shot here isn’t just meeting my students and supporting them, but loving and ministering to their friends and families. Venues outside of church allow for you to meet and engage with countless other people who you may never have met before. I am not advocating for you to go to all the things, but instead to see ministry as larger than just the time at church.
Also, encourage your leaders to do this as well. This is key in the disciple-making process and allows for the reach of the ministry to be even larger. All of my leaders love supporting their students and actually get their small groups to go to one another’s events. We have even advocated for small groups to do this on youth group nights because it allows for more intentional connection and we have seen awesome Gospel conversations come about from those moments.
Engage with teachers and school leaders. I try to have open lines of communication with our school administrators and reach out throughout the year with an offer to buy them coffee or lunch. I let them know that we are for them and want to do whatever we can to support and care for them. We also have a group of churches that host a lunch for the teachers as they do back to school training and we get to love and encourage them as they serve. This will open up many conversations and opportunities to minister in ways you may not have anticipated.
Remember the parents. It is hard for parents to see their students go back to school and experience the changes happening at home. Make sure to invest in the families, and to offer support to them as this new season begins. We send out a monthly newsletter with articles and resources to help equip and strengthen families because this isn’t about doing life alone, but as a group of Christ followers. Stop parents in the halls, at events, or shoot them a text asking how they are doing and how you can pray for them and their families. Watch and listen for key things and phrases, and follow up! Let them know they were seen, heard, and valued.
Also make sure to let them know how their kids are doing. You don’t need to give them a 40-page debrief on the previous youth group night, but point out some things you have noticed about their students. This will not only encourage them but give them buy-in to the program as well. It will also challenge you to intentionally see and be involved in all the lives of your students so you can do that. Your relational rapport will grow and subsequently strengthen the program overall.