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Youth Ministry Environment: How to Welcome Teens to Your Church

The problem is, we (myself included) immediately want students to behave before they “officially” belong. I get it. It’s so much easier not paying attention to unchurched kids because they don’t talk like us, believe like us, pray like us, behave like us, dress like us, and think like us. Unchurched teens make many youth pastors feel uneasy. That’s because unchurched students don’t know church rules, and their worldviews and behaviors are often more risky.

But can you imagine if students felt like they already belonged before they had to behave? And if adults who care immediately surround and greet unchurched students?

Chap Clark writes in Hurt:

“Today’s adolescents are, as a lot, indescribably lonely.” (p. 69)

“Midadolescents believe that few if any adults genuinely care about them.” (p. 68)

“Adolescents have suffered the loss of safe relationships and intimate settings that served as the primary nurturing community for those traveling the path from child to adult… (50)

Today’s postmodern students long to belong! They need places where trusted and committed adults genuinely care for them.

So create 3rd spaces that communicate that kids belong and will receive care before they have to believe. Create a place where different types of people feel welcome.

How to Create 3rd Spaces in Youth Ministry

  1. Open mission trips and projects to all students.

2. Recruit and train leaders to be incarnational witnesses who unconditionally love and accept anyone. It’s important to teach leaders how to think incarnationally. I highly recommend Pete Ward’s God at the Mall for creating environments that engage any student.

3. Look for neutral places and spaces in the community. These include coffee shops, malls, school campuses, beaches, bowling alleys, restaurants, etc.

4. Intentionally create times in youth ministry programs that acknowledge, affirm, and invite unchurched students to belong.

5. Intentionally create church environments that are relevant to any teen. Think through your teaching style (especially your language) and surroundings.

6. Visit a local Young Life club. Observe how they program around unchurched teens. Essentially, the programming focuses on nonbelievers, creating 3rd spaces that are highly relational.