[This is the fifth post in our series on Building a Youth Ministry from Scratch]
So, you’ve just gotten started with a new youth ministry. You’ve got a few students already and you’ve hung out a few times, maybe shared some Scripture with them, or played a game or two.
A rookie mistake you need to avoid in this phase, is to ask the first students to bring friends right away. Don’t. It’s okay if they do it out of their own initiative, but don’t ask them just yet.
First of all, you don’t want them to feel like they’re not enough. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He would be present. Make that a reality by affirming to these few that they are enough. If the whole ministry would be just them, it would still be completely worth it. This will also help you to stay away from focusing on numbers too much, especially attendance numbers.
Secondly, if you ask them to bring friends in that first stage, you’re putting them in an awkward position. There’s no ministry yet and even if you have started something, it may not ‘interesting’ enough yet for them to risk bringing friends.
Inviting friends costs them social capital and if their friends would hate it, they’d take a big hit. Besides, their main motivation would be a sense of obligation and a sense of guilt—both horrible motivations to invite people to church. Make sure to only ask students to invite people when they themselves are enthusiastic about the ministry.
I would suggest an internal focus for at least the first few months of your ministry, meaning you don’t actively try to draw students from outside the ministry. Make sure you have leaders in place first, some sort of a plan and approach before inviting new people. That doesn’t mean they’re not welcome, but there’s a difference in them being welcome and focusing on actively drawing new students.
The thing is this: if you don’t have much in place yet and something goes wrong, resulting in a negative experience, the student(s) may not come back. Now of course we depend and rely on God in everything, but Jesus prepared His disciples as well internally (meaning teaching them and showing them ‘ministry’) before sending them out in twos to spread the Gospel.
Now, if you’re a perfectionist, you may never feel like you’re ready to switch from an inward to an outward focus. That’s the other side of preparing, is that you’ll never feel prepared enough, ‘good enough’ to draw new students. That’s a trap you’ll have to avoid as well, so finding a middle ground here would be good.
How are you on the scale of inward to outward focus in your youth ministry?