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So You Want to Be a Youth Leader? Start Here.
- Bill Nance
I just completed my first month as the youth minister at a new church. The first month can be one of the toughest as you get to know the congregation, learn the culture, and try to figure out how things work. You get all sorts of people coming up to you with smiling faces and firm hand shakes, telling you their names and after a while it sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown—"Whon whon wha wha, wha whooo wha." You meet the teens, and you get extremely varied responses. Some look at you like their long-lost best friend. Others act like you shot their dog and then ran over him with your car. You have to learn the rhythm of the church, where to put forms, what drawers in the kitchen you must never touch under any circumstances, etc. The worst part, though, is that many times you just don't know what to do! It's a weird dichotomy in that you simultaneously have a lot to do and very little to do. By that I mean you do not have a daily routine of things to get done, but you have a lot of what I call "introductory tasks" to do that can seem overwhelming. So what do you do in the first month at a new church? Here are seven things that might make the first month go smoothly: 1. Get to know people. This is priority number 1, and probably 2, 3, 4 … If you do NOTHING else the first month at a church, this should be it. If you can avoid it, don't jump into teaching Sunday School or youth group, but just hang back and use the time to meet people and get to know them. Learn names. Grab the picture directory and study it like you have a test on it the next day. Go on Facebook and reach out to as many people as you can. Identify the people who are the social butterflies and just say, "Introduce me to everyone!" You'll of course get to know the teens, but you need to get to meet everyone you can. Those little old ladies and the other people who might not come up to you could have a big impact on your ministry so get to know them as well. 2. Learn the culture. Each church is different. If you can, sit down with a staff member or church leader and have them clue you into everything they can think of. You'll get it all eventually, but whatever you can learn early on will keep you from stepping on a landmine down the road. If you can, go back and read old newsletters and bulletins. Those are treasure troves of clues for the church culture. Most importantly, just be observant. You can learn a lot by keeping your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. If you go in with the mindset of, "I know everything, leave me alone!" you'll quickly run into tough times. But if you are conscious of how the church operates and try to adapt yourself to its rhythms, you'll be in good shape. 3. Organize your office. In your first few weeks, you'll have a lot of time during the week where you'll be going, "Hmmm, I've got nothing to do…" Use this time to organize your office. Believe me, you will not have time later on to do it. Once you get rolling, that will be way down on the priority list. Organizing your office also communicates something about you—that you're professional and you take this job seriously. Its just a good idea to take a few days to set it up right so you don't have to worry about it later. 4. Meet with core people. You will have a lot of people you need to meet with. Church staff, parents, teens, volunteers—the list goes on and on. You may or may not be able to meet with all these groups in the first month, but you should at least make plans to meet with them later. You meet with them to get to know them, of course. But you also meet with them to share your vision. You need them to buy into your ministry. They need to know what you're about, what you're going to do, and most importantly the role they play in this. 5. Get to know the community. This one can be easy or hard, depending on your community. Drive around and get to know the area. Learn where the schools are. See where teens hang out. Read the local newspaper or check out online resources about the town. Get an idea about the heartbeat of the place. This is your mission field—study it carefully! Ask lots of questions from people in the church. This should be an ongoing process, but at least make the first steps in this first month. 6. Evaluate the ministry. You should be observing and evaluating the ministry from the first minute you come through the door. What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? What has the youth group done in its past? What curriculum (if any) do they use? How are the facilities? Just look at every aspect of the ministry, and see how it works. Ask teens, parents, and volunteers on what they think of how things are. Getting that clear picture will help you in the future. 7. Make a plan for the future. You should start laying the foundation of your plans for the ministry. You don't need to lay out exactly what you want to do, just some general goals for the future. For example, let's say in a year you want to have started a small group ministry. Set that as a goal, and then make some plans on how to achieve that. Or, say you need new volunteers: set a goal that in 6 months you'll have 3 new volunteers. Have an idea what you want to do, but also remember to keep it flexible enough that you're not locked into a bad idea in 6 months when you learn some new stuff. The first month at a church can seem tough and overwhelming, but it is also an awesome time to meet new friends, learn about a new place, and have an opportunity to do some tremendous things for God's kingdom. Enjoy these early months, but be sure to use them to your full advantage.