Techniques and Tips for Welcoming Newcomers into a Youth Group Family
Just in case adolescence has faded into a misty memory (or perhaps been blocked out), please take a moment to appreciate the fact that social life in middle and high school years is awkward and challenging at best. Relationships are critical at this juncture, and those developed within church groups can be incredibly beneficial. Unfortunately, youth group experiences can also be detrimental, and even negatively impact a teen’s view of faith and the church. How can we make sure that newcomers are properly shepherded into an existing youth program? What are the best methods to welcome and love new students without making them feel too singled out or ostracized?
There are various factors to consider when planning and implementing programs that will help to incorporate newcomers. Approaches to working with newer students will depend on the size and makeup of the current youth group, as well as programs already in place and personalities that are involved. Relationships govern a quality youth group, and it’s first and foremost vital to ensure that cliques have no place in the dynamic. This can, of course, be challenging with larger groups or more established ones, but cliques and over-abundance of inside joke mentality are highly destructive to a warm welcoming atmosphere.
That being the case, there are always options when it comes to incorporating newcomers into a youth program. Sometimes, as in a smaller group, it can be helpful to be direct and explicit in shepherding in new members. With some personalities, though, this can be intimidating, if it seems to put kids too much “on the spot.” Here are some suggestions that might be useful for leaders considering how to shepherd new members into a group setting:
As cliché as some of the typical icebreaker games may seem, they truly can be a great way to incorporate new students. Just make sure these are games that all will enjoy and be able to participate in. Some classics include:
- “Never Have I Ever,” where students list activities they have done and switch seats.
- “Get to Know You Bingo,” prompting kids to walk around the room asking each other questions and checking off boxes.
- “Going on a Picnic,” where teens go around a circle saying name and an item they are “bringing;” the subsequent students must remember first participants and add on.
- “String toss,” an activity in which students become tangled up with yarn and must de-tangle the whole mess.
Have an interview day with new students.
Invite established group members to become investigative reporters and find out (formally or in secret) more information about new friends.
Pair up kids “Secret Santa Style…”
If you do not wish newcomers to feel singled out, let all group members participate and pair students off. Let the secret partner provide prayer, notes and special favorites to their match, and choose a fun activity for a “reveal.” If new students come in mid-way through this, make sure to assign a partner and invite participation.
FOLLOW UP with newcomers.
Make sure to obtain contact information for new students, and keep up with them! If they are not showing up, gently check in; and make sure to welcome and invite them to future activities.
Regardless of what activities you implement and include in your program, a key to remember is that the biggest impact on young lives is human connection. The best games and snacks and songs and activities will only go so far if students do not feel loved, valued and respected. Stay in tune with all members of the youth group. If groups are larger, make sure multiple adults can check in with students and see that all are provided with nurturing attention. Welcome with arms and smiles wide!