It’s Never Fun to Be the New Kid!
By Jason Moore
Can you remember the first day of school? Think back for a moment.
Maybe you have to dig deep and think all the way back to your first day of kindergarten. Or maybe it was moving up to middle school or high school that brings back vivid potentially uncomfortable memories. Maybe it’s more recent - was it your first day on campus at college that you can remember the most?
Regardless, take a moment to remember the awkward/nervous feeling of walking into a new building, to meet new people for the first time. Whether real or imagined, can you remember the feeling of being sized up by those around you, as you scanned for a friendly face? And worst of all, the feeling that came when walking into the cafeteria for lunch and not knowing where to sit?
Hold on to those feelings for a moment and don’t let go of them.
As a frequent secret worshiper consultant, I experience these feelings on an almost weekly basis. While not as extreme, I can identify with what it feels like to be an outsider.
Without really meaning to, we are often oblivious to the experiences of those who are new to our faith communities. We sort of assume guests know the drill, and we often fail to recognize that “first day of school” feeling they may walk in with.
This is true with adults, but it is especially true for children and youth. Feeling like you’re an outsider isn’t new to young people. They’re likely living in it every day.
So how do we go out of our ways to make them feel more welcome? Here are a few thoughts and ideas worth stealing:
1.) Everyone needs a buddy
One of the churches I coached had a brilliant program they created called the “child ambassador program”. Basically the “regulars” would be trained and assigned for a month at a time to be child ambassadors. This more or less meant that when new kids came, it was their job to be their buddy for the day. This meant easing a newcomer in to the group and having that friendly face we all long for when going somewhere new.
2.) Everyone needs to know the code words
We’re terrible in the church about using insider language. We love to abbreviate things: VBS, YL, E-LIFE, UMW, etc. Sure, acronyms save us some time, but if you don’t know what they mean, it’s easy to feel left out. It’s easy to assume that kids would know what we mean with our insider words like life-groups, breakfast club (this is what we called bible study when I was a youth), campaigners (a YoungLife group for Christian kids) and so on. Always, always, always give context and explain the code so every kid gets it.
3.) Everyone wants meaningful relationships
In my coaching work, I talk all the time about how we need to move from transactional mentality to relational mentality when it comes to engaging with new people (kids and adults alike). A transaction is more about checking a box; a relationship is more about the conversation around a task. In adult church, a transaction is handing someone a bulletin or a coffee mug after worship. Being relational is about the conversation at the front door, getting to know the guest and then providing things to help them navigate the experience.
With youth, there is sometimes a tendency to be focused on numbers and getting kids to sign up for things. Young people can sniff out when they’re just a notch on your belt vs. a meaningful relationship. Hand written notes, cards, and so on can go a long way in helping kids feel connected in meaningful ways.
4.) Everyone wants to find themselves
There is a trend taking place in the church where worship and young people are concerned. There is evidence to suggest that young people are less interested in hearing from a “sage on stage” to having more of a dialogue and guided conversation around matters of faith. I recently heard a wise seminar speaker say that young people prefer “let’s have a conversation” over “let me tell you how it is”.
We each can “find ourselves” in multiple ways, but often times it’s easier to “find oneself” in a conversation than it is when being preached at. This does not mean that preachers/pastors, and educated leaders are on the outs; instead, it means that the approach should shift more toward establishing safe space where mentoring and give and take relationships are the primary focus for discipleship.
With intentionality, we can ease new people (young and old alike) into our faith communities in ways that will earn second, third and ongoing visits. Remember every time you meet could potentially be someone’s first time.
Jason is an award winning digital artist, who continues to establish new styles for visual imagery in worship that he hopes will help the church reach the culture we live in. Known for his pioneering work in digital images for worship, he has devoted the last fourteen years to developing professional, highly emotive graphics, animation and video that are being emulated in churches throughout the country. Jason’s passions include designing worship, production, acting and teaching. He leads seminars across North America on creating cutting edge worship, with an emphasis on demystifying the productions process. Believing in the power of the story, he likes to pepper his projects and teaching with humor.
Find out more about Jason and his work by visiting his company's website: Midnight Oil Productions.