You did it! You convinced an inactive kid to come back to church. Way to go!
Hopefully you feel proud (in a “boasting in the Spirit” sort of way) that your connection with this young person has compelled them to give church another chance. This may feel like your Mission Accomplished moment, but in reality, it only gets harder from here.
Now your efforts shift from recruitment to integration. The Lost Kid now walks into a youth group with routines, rituals, and inside jokes. They will likely feel overwhelmed and excluded, and the kids who come more often might not know what to do with this prodigal friend who has reemerged.
Here are three suggestions for helping a previously disconnected kid to keep coming back:
A great way to diffuse those awkward initial moments when a teen returns is to lead an icebreaker where kids are paired up with a buddy. Try to avoid something too competitive; you don’t want anyone to feel like a loser. Be sure to assign these pairs so nobody is left out.
Often times we think the best way to include new people is to give them extra attention. Sometimes all they want to do is blend in. It’s great to welcome them back and make sure they’re connecting with other teens, but don’t go out of your way to shine a spotlight on them right away.
Continue checking in
If this young person returned to church because of your outreach, it’s good to keep reaching out to them. Keep sending text messages or buying cups of coffee. Teens will head for the hills if they think you only cared about their lives enough to get them to come to youth group.
Kids won’t stick around very long if they think their opinion doesn’t matter or if they don’t have an opportunity to use their gifts in meaningful ways. Ask the returning young person if they’d like to help plan an outing, lead music, or give a testimony. This will go a long way in helping them feel like they belong.
Youth ministry rarely produces instant results. If kids don’t come back right away, or if they come back once and never again, don’t worry.
You’re not failing.
Keep at it.
Continue to plant seeds of faith with the young people in your ministry. Remain persistent in letting kids know that your church is a place of love, forgiveness, and acceptance. If you consistently create a culture of grace and welcome for all kids, you are successfully doing the work to which you are called.
Interested in more youth ministry perspectives, tips, and, well, support? Tune in to the Youth Ministry Podcast – new episodes drop every Friday!