Incorporating new kids into youth group is always tricky. Trying to re-mix the group each year is so hard. You have to build trust every time, and every time it’s a new dynamic. My biggest problem this coming fall is that I have six 7th grade boys coming in to an almost all-girl high school age youth group! So I’m taking that into account as I make my plans. But here are some general suggestions I have for bringing new people into youth group.
There are lots of things you can do to ease that transition as kids come to youth group for the first time. Here are some of the things I do.
Before their first meeting:
- Create a range of events: Our youth group includes all youth from 7th grade through high school, but I try to set up some events that are just for the 7th and 8th graders so they can bond as a group and do stuff that’s specific for them. I do hold some just high school only events too. Four times a year, I have a volunteer gig for all ages. And four times a year I have a fun event scheduled for all ages, like an outing to a trampoline place (do you have those where you are?). Keep in mind the particular group you’re going to get. This year, because I’m adding in so many boys, I’m pulling Scott Denman in for a few guy nights only. Be aware of the circumstances and dynamics you see coming up and plan accordingly.
- Set up the schedule: I send out a schedule for all the fall activities by August 10. Many kids start school then, so their schedules are already filling up. I highlight by hand the 7-8th grade events and fun stuff for new families with a note that these are my suggested meetings or events where the kids can get involved.
- Contact youth and parents directly: I send a card to all new kids just from me about a week before the first meeting saying hello and welcome and inviting them to the first event. I always call the parents too as they are often clueless about youth group. Many think if their kid goes to youth group he /she will be "saved" from drugs and mean kids. I talk to them about what I do and what youth group provides and tell them how they can reach me if they have questions.
- Pair new kids with an older youth: I try to match kids. I have 10th graders adopt a new kid and invite them with a text or a call, then sit with them if need be for a couple of months.
At the first meeting:
- Make it easy for people to mix: I start with a fun night for all the ages with lots of silly games that allow people to mix easily. I do small group games where I mix the ages. The first meeting is all about getting new kids involved with an already established group, so you need to find ways for the new kids to get integrated.
- Keep an eye on the dynamics: This is important all the time, but keep your antenna up for any dynamics, who is being left out, who wants attention, etc. Are there any younger siblings coming into the group? When a younger sibling is coming in, I always a have a problem with the older youth not wanting to be in the group if younger sibling is there, so I try to keep them apart (I’ll need to do another post on sibling dynamics). Pay attention to the returning youth too. Have there been any big changes since you last saw them? Is anyone missing?
- Make adjustments: Based on what you saw, you can make some adjustments to your plans or how you want to run the group. Did you notice this is a shy, quiet group? Or a group with a lot of energy? How do you want to tailor your activities to how this group works?
- Notice any gaps Is there someone missing? Follow up to see if they are OK. You don’t need to convince them to come, just ask if there’s anything they need. One reason may be if there is no one of their age or a kid feels they don’t have friends in the group. If you notice there’s only 1 7th grader or 9th grader or whatever, encourage that person to bring a friend, which will make them feel more comfortable.
- Check in A few meetings in, I check in with the new families to see how they are doing. If you can catch any problems or concerns early, it’s going to make it much easier to deal with.
Something to consider:
- Connect with 3-6th graders One thing we do that makes the transition to youth group easier is to offer what we call Pizza Club. Once a month after church, we have Pizza Club, which is what you might think: a time when 3-6th graders and their families get together for pizza (no beer, though). So when the kids are getting ready to come to youth group, they already know each other and they already know me, and they also have an idea of what it’s like to be in a group like this.
Remember that church youth groups are not for all kids! They may have a group elsewhere. They may have commitments to sports, music, or other extracurriculars. But a church youth group offers them something else none of those groups do...A place to explore a faith that fits in to their daily life!!!