Getting Started in a New Church
Not too long ago, a friend of mine started a new position in youth ministry, and had posted on Facebook asking for tips, suggestions, and resources. As I get ready to start my new position at Epiphany Lutheran Church this week, I think maybe I ought to be taking some of my own advice. While I’m not necessarily “new” to youth ministry, the advice I was offering to my friend also serves as an important reminder to myself. So, here it is: my top five pieces of advice for starting out in a new church. Hopefully I’ll be putting these tips into practice in the coming weeks and months as I, too, get settled into a new position in a new congregation.
- Get to Know People – learn quickly who the important people are to get to know in the church, and set up times to get together with them. Get to know the kids. Get to know the parents. Get to know the other staff members. Get to know the key volunteers. Get to know the congregational leaders. Relationships are the most important part of youth ministry, so invest in them early and invest in them often. These relationships will provide a really strong foundation for recruiting volunteers in the future.
- Network – get to know other youth ministers in your town. Find out if there’s a group that meets on a regular basis, and get plugged in. Other youth ministers have the potential to be your greatest support network. Seriously. This comes from experience.
- Don’t Overprogram – One of the things that I’ve learned (the hard way) is that kids are busy already. The last thing they need is three more programs a week to try to work into their already overworked schedules. Secure buy-in before starting anything, because if the kids and parents aren’t invested in something from the start, then the chances of success drop significantly.
- Partner With and Equip Parents – Parents are your most important ally. After all, they spend A LOT more time with their kids than you do, and they should really be the primary faith-formers in their kids lives. Find ways to equip them to pass along faith to their kids. Consider a Parent Newsletter (Parent Link makes a great ready-to-go parent newsletter for relatively inexpensive http://www.theparentlink.com).
- Equip Other Adults – A youth ministry centered on the skills and abilities of the sole youth minister is never healthy. Surround yourself with volunteers who have the gifts you don’t have (for me, that means finding volunteers who are organized and good at thinking through logistics, because I’m no good at that stuff). Spend time with these leaders. Cast vision. Get them on board with your vision for the youth ministry. Empower them to do ministry with or without you.
- BONUS: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! – Communicate in as many ways and as often as possible (print, e-mail, texting, phone, facebook, verbal announcements, etc.). Don’t stop communicating until someone tells you that it’s too much (trust me, that will probably never happen). Figure out how your kids need to receive information (probably texting, facebook wall posts, etc.). Find out how their parents need to receive information (print, e-mail, phone calls). Find out how the pastor and church leaders need to receive information (e-mail, face-to-face meetings, etc.). Once you’ve figured all that out, then put it into practice. I have been SO frustrated over and over again by kids (and adults) who tell me “but I didn’t know about that!” If you are communicating in every way possible, then it makes it harder for them to use that excuse.
Erin M Haligowski
Erin M Haligowski serves as the full-time Youth Director at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (Practical Theology) from Ashland University (2007) and a Masters of Divinity in General Ministry from Ashland Theological Seminary (2011). Erin is a social media power-user, and blogs regularly. She is happily married to her husband, Scott. In her dream world, Erin would spend her time sharing Jesus with young people, playing guitar, and sipping a good cup of light roast coffee from Caribou Coffee.