Not long ago I was driving through the countryside when my GPS went on the blink. Lost and disoriented, I happened upon a small country church where, upon approaching the front door to ask for directions, I noticed a traditional “Welcome” mat on the steps. That day, I did receive a warm welcome from the office staff, including the director of youth ministries—a young lady with a guitar and bandana who subsequently pointed me to my destination with directions and a bottle of water.
I experienced a welcome—one that met my need and offered helpful outcomes. As I drove away that day I began to think about the various types of “Welcome Mats” that we can intentionally, or inadvertently, establish in ministry. Here are three welcome mats, of various sizes and depth, that can help youth workers focus their embrace and broaden their outreach.
Of course, the traditional welcome mat is usually located in high foot traffic areas. And with youth ministry, welcome is no different.
As you consider your youth ministry, take a few minutes to identify your primary entry points for teenagers. Is this entry point a Sunday night youth meeting? Is it a youth worship service? Is it a Bible study or in-home support group? Where do teenagers experience that initial welcome, the invitation, the opportunity? These entry points, and identifying them, are important. If we don’t have them, they need to be created! Entry points are predominantly going to be those programs or ministries or relationships that invite teenagers into a safe environment where they can be themselves, where they can interact with peers, and where they can experience new friendship and support. Identifying these entry points is a first step. After you have identified your most important entry points, don’t stop there. Consider your next welcomes.
After the larger entry points for teenagers, there need to be other welcomes which point to discipleship and faith.
Here, consider how welcome plays such an important role in our faith development. All of us began our faith journeys at some point where another person began explaining the Christian faith to us. It may have been in the home, or through a friend, or even through a group, but there were relationships that birthed faith at some point along the journey. Youth ministry needs to have those points, intentional and relational, where teenagers can ask deeper questions, explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and essentially enter into faith (or deepen faith). These welcome mats are important, as they become the crux of youth ministry.
Here, consider where these places are in your ministry. Is the welcome apparent and intentional through peer support groups? Study groups? In-home clusters? Through parental involvement and family events? Consider your discipleship entry points and make a note of them. Broaden them. Deepen the welcome.
Every dynamic youth ministry is also built around those teen and adult leaders who hear the call to lead. But this call is essentially another form of welcome. Teens and adults who don’t feel welcomed to lead will never commit to taking this deeper step of faith. A welcome to leadership roles is vital, especially as a youth leader seeks to grow a ministry and get away from the lone-ranger mentality of youth ministry.
Here, consider your current leaders (both youth and adult). Who are these people? How did they arrive at leadership? What were the welcomes (the invitations, the conversations) that lead them to be servants of others—and hence, be a part of that full circle back to your entry points? Ministries that are intentional about welcome always complete the circle—with teens and adults entering for the first time, experiencing welcome, deepening discipleship, and then some assuming the mantle of leadership to welcome even more people. Full circle.
Finally, never stop assessing your entry points and welcome mats. They do change—just like new doorways may be cut into a building. Ministry is always morphing into those places where the church intersects with culture and change. This is where welcome—in the form of conversation, relationships, programs and faith—begins and ends.