Our youth ministry had the basic hospitality components in place. We had greeters at the doors, music playing in the background, gifts for first time students, but we started to notice that these basic things weren’t cutting it.
We often have students who show up 10 or 15 minutes early for worship and saw that the students who arrived early usually hung around awkwardly and didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves. We also noticed that a lot of kids would walk past our leadership team students who were serving as greeters without really interacting with them. We began to realize that we were missing the mark at being “inventive in hospitality” as stated in Romans 12:13 (MSG).
We decided to step back and take a critical look at what was happening in those first moments after the students began arriving, and we identified a few key problems.
The first was that students didn’t have anything to do as they waited for worship to start. The second was that we needed a way for the kids to interact right off the bat, and the third was that our leadership team needed to find a way to effectively connect with the students that didn’t seem awkward or staged. Lots of brainstorming and trial and error led to making some changes in the way we do hospitality. Here’s what we did:
1. We made three smaller greeting teams
The first change was to divide into three separate teams for the fifteen minute period leading up to worship. One team of two students man the outside doors, opening doors for students as they enter the church building and greeting them. The second team greets students at the welcome area, and the third team hangs out in the youth room to mingle with the students who arrive early.
This small change made it less intimidating for the students arriving, because they aren’t bombarded with several super enthusiastic students greeting them at the same time.
2. We Designed Planned Interaction
The second change we made was to include some planned interaction time as the students first come up to the youth room. The students greeting in this area pass out candy, gifts to new students and encourage kids to leave their cell phones so they can focus on Jesus during worship (totally their idea, not mine, and it works fantastically).
We also have a large chalkboard wall in our welcome center that will have a question of the day. The students take a minute to answer the question and sign their name. The question is usually something fairly simple that relates to the theme. For example, if we are talking about the fruits of the spirit, it may ask them to name their favorite fruit. This gets the students interacting around the theme as soon as they arrive and it helps us track attendance.
3. We Planted Conversation Starters
Instead of just awkwardly hanging out in the worship room after they enter waiting for worship to start, we have conversation starter games at a few of the tables. The leadership team members responsible for this area divide themselves among the tables and play games with the students as they arrive. The games are usually things like Apples to Apples, Would You Rather and Chat Packs that encourage students to talk and interact with each other.
This gives the leadership team students a simple, but effective way to connect with the students, and also gives the students a way to interact with one another before worship. We then start worship off with a five minute countdown so the students know when it is time to wrap up the game and get ready to focus on God.
These small changes have really made a huge impact in our ministry and our ability to connect with our students even before we get started. If you’re feeling like you are in a bit of a hospitality rut, I encourage you to take a step back and identify the key problems, and then look for ways that you too can be “inventive in hospitality.”