Think back to when you were a teenager. For some of you that wasn’t too long ago, for others, well, it was a bit longer. Do you remember how awkward it was to meet new people, to walk into a crowd of your peers and introduce yourself, or start at a new school, to be a visitor at a new church? If you don’t remember, let me remind you. It can be excruciating.
Take our church as an example and look at it from the eyes of a visiting 13-year-old boy.
You are here with your parents because your family is looking for a church home. You’ve heard they have a youth ministry but you know nothing about it. You follow the signs to the café but you’re not even sure what that is. It feels like you’re going to the basement. You get there. It’s a large room with Chinese lanterns, a bagel table, and nursery play equipment on the far side of the room with tons of adults grabbing coffee right as you walk in. Am I in the right place? Forty or so students are mingling around with bagels and hot chocolate and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do. Everyone else has someone to talk to because most of them go to school together. They are all laughing and having a good time. You aren’t, so you awkwardly sit down at one of the many open tables. Unknowingly, you just sat at the high school girls’ table and now you messed up the natural order of things. Therefore, no one sits at your table except the latecomers who have nowhere else to sit. And then finally, Sunday school starts. That was a scary 2 minutes and you just want this to be over.
To highlight this, Rick Lawrence did a study for Group Magazine. He asked ten thousand students the question “If you were choosing a church, how important would the following things be?” The survey directed them to rate the importance of 10 factors that influence their commitment to church. Here are the top five results:
#1—A welcoming atmosphere where you can be yourself—73%
#2—Quality relationships with teenagers—70%
#3—A senior pastor who understands and loves teenagers—59%
#4—Interesting preaching that tackles key questions—53%
#5—Spiritual growth experiences that actively involve you—51%
Seventy-three percent of ten thousand students placed “welcoming atmosphere where you can be yourself” as the number one factor in choosing a church! Is it important that we as a church create a welcoming atmosphere for teenagers? The answer is quite obvious. YES! It’s helpful to be reminded of this fact because every week we have visitors that come into our church.
One of the ways the youth ministry is trying to keep the above scenario from playing out each week and to meet visitors in that awkwardness is the launch of The MOB Squad. Starting in February, we will have a team of students whose mission and goal is to create a culture of friendship, to identify visitors and outsiders and include them into our community, to make them feel like they belong. Hence the name they came up with, The MOB Squad – Making Outsiders Belong.
This team of students has taken very seriously the instructions of Paul to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God”. (Romans 15:7 ESV)
There are currently sixteen students on the squad. Led by Emerson Rogers and Rebekah Vaughn, they are divided into teams of 3-4 and will rotate weeks to serve. Each Sunday, a team will arrive early to pray for the ministry and for visiting families. They will set up a welcome table, take attendance and post people at the door to verbally greet all who come in. Any visitors will be paired with another student who will get to know them, explain what to expect and stay with them throughout the morning. In addition, a team member will be assigned to follow up during the week with each visitor, as well students we haven’t seen in awhile. The hope is that this team will set in motion a practice that will become second nature to our group, turning outward to invite others in.
Please join me in praying for The MOB Squad and ask the Lord to use them in creating a culture of friendship in our youth ministry. I also want to encourage you to join them in creating a welcoming atmosphere for everyone who visits our church, teenagers as well as adults. You and I both know that the scariness of walking into a group of unknown people isn’t restricted to the youth ministry. Remember that truth as we gather this Sunday for worship. Who around you is a visitor, needs an invite to lunch or needs encouragement? I encourage you to welcome them as Christ has welcomed you.
Author: Rev. Wes Andrews