I first started gathering data, to try and get ideas for our own ministry, but then decided that this was good information to share with everyone!
I asked a handful of current and former student ministry pastors, directors, coordinators, etc. how they retained students in their ministry. That question then unfolded to how do they keep track of students; old and new, what do they do for new students, and how do they then follow up with those new students. Many different ideas came in and I’d love to share some with you!
(Side Note: these ideas come from ministries of all sizes and cultures. Some of these may work for you and some of these may not work for you. You can be the judge of that, or feel free to put your own twist on what they do when wanting to apply to your ministry. OR maybe you are just checking out how other people are doing ministry.)
I want to break this up into three sections. Tracking students, welcoming new students, and follow up.
I’ve found that most ministries are using some sort of online tracker. And most are soon to be switching to have one attendance tracker for the whole church. So, basically when a student arrives on a programming night, they either physically sign-in themselves on an iPad/computer, or a volunteer team member signs them in. The benefit of an online attendance tracker is that you can then go back and see all kinds of stats for attendance and about your ministry.
Another way to do this is to do a paper sign in. It’s the same type of idea where a greeting team would check them in or they physically check themselves in. Some ministries, like ours, have small groups on their programming night, so a paper roster is given to each small group and then the small group leader checks them in. That information is then inserted into a database the following day. That way you can still track who is coming, who missed, and who you haven’t seen in awhile.
WELCOMING NEW STUDENTS
When a student comes that is new, most ministries have a central hub where that new student can go (aka where they would check in). The new student then fills out some sort of form, either online or physical, with basic information. (name, birth date, address, school, who brought them, etc.)
Some ministries, like said above, have a greeting team or a staff member that is at that welcome hub to greet them, answer any questions, and get them connected to someone in the group. In our group, we usually connect them with at least one person that will be in their small group that night and then their small group leader (that is if they come and check in before the night starts, if not, then we try to do this before small groups start).
One cool idea that a couple ministries I’ve talked to are doing (one large ministry and one small) is a VIP section. If a new student comes, they and the person that brought them are welcome in this area. I’ve seen all sorts of stuff in this room. Anywhere from pizza, soda, and hype music, to a chill area with couches and video games. This area is used to treat the new student like a VIP, which is one way to show them that we are so excited that they are here.
Another idea when a new student comes is to give them some sort of gift. Anywhere from coffee gift cards (your ministry could have a coffee shop in the church that is open) to youth group “swag” to a free snack at the snack counter. In our ministry, we used to do a “party in a box.” When someone brought a new student, the whole small group benefited from it by getting this box. It had a 5-minute timer, small toys, get-to-know-you questions, and some food.
After the programming night or small group night is over, these are some ideas that I heard as to how to follow up with these students. These are some ways to let the student know that we were glad they were there.
One idea is to send out a hand-written letter to them (emphasis on the hand-written). In that letter, you could include all sorts of things such as a gift card/snack card, a letter to the parent(s), church card, social media card, etc. This could either fall on someone on your ministry staff to do this or their small group leader to do the follow-up.
One ministry has a 30-day follow-up plan that they’ve put together for a new student. This has ideas for the leader (whichever small group they were in or in this specific ministry a group of leaders will decide which leader will take this kid under their wing). Within the 30 days, there is at least one meet up, having some point of contact, whether on social media, text, phone call, or email and keeping an eye on whether this student comes back (I love this idea in some sort of fashion)!
Out of that idea, you see ways to follow up. Social media follows/ message and keeping an eye on if/when they come back. If you don’t see them around for awhile, maybe shoot them a text and tell them that you’d love to see them back (that goes for new or old students).
Lastly, I think a big part of follow-up and retention is making the student feel welcomed and like they were a part of something. Everyone wants to be seen and be a part of a community. We could give a student all the stuff in the world, but all they still want is to be seen. So, whatever you are doing to retain students, make sure someone is making a point of connection with them (i.e. have a bomb volunteer team to help you).
Special shout out to all those that helped me by answering my questions and giving me input on your ministries! You’re the real MVPs of this post!
Becca has done youth ministry in various places across the US and is currently doing youth ministry in Modesto, CA.
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