Creating a Visitor Driven Culture

Youth Specialties
March 9th, 2016

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

That old quotation should shake you to your core. It’s true in your family. It’s true in your life. It’s true in your church. And it’s true in your student ministry.

The culture you’ve inherited, allowed, or—hopefully—created will define the direction of your student ministry. If you try to avoid this truth, you’ll likely be one of those bad youth ministry statistics in a few years. If you embrace this truth, you’ll give your ministry one of the greatest gifts you could imagine.

You create culture every day in your ministry. You create culture by living out the values you hold as a ministry. Some of those values are already present, but some simply are not yet there. Changing values takes a ton of time and effort. For the past couple of years, my student ministry has focused on creating a visitor-driven culture. It’s been a long, painful, glorious, and worthwhile process for our ministry.

Here are three shifts I made to change our visitor culture:

Spotlight The Value

Values are either present or absent. Your ministry either believes in something, or it doesn’t. Your job is to put a spotlight on being visitor-driven. If your student ministry doesn’t yet value visitors, you have to be the champion of the visitors.

That means you talk about the value, you teach about the value, and you remind them of the value. In our ministry, we phrased the value as “Be Awkward.” We talked about what that meant. Then we talked about it some more. Then we talked about it a little more. There wasn’t a week when our leadership didn’t hear that phrase.

Honestly, toward the end I was tired of hearing about being awkward. It took a lot of time and effort. But you know what? Our students got it. They learned it. They even began to own it. It became part of who we are as a student ministry. Now it’s part of our culture.

Train Your Team

Your team of leaders—whether adults or students—needs to be trained on how to properly greet and welcome new students. We take about two weeks every semester to refresh our leaders on the basics of welcoming.

In the beginning, we had to train our high school students on our leadership team all of the basics. We taught them how to give high fives at the door. We taught them to say, “We’re glad you’re here!” to all of our visitors. We made them walk around the room with our leadership team, giving high fives and repeating that phrase. Did they roll their eyes? Yes. Did they mock me for it? Yes. Did they get it? Absolutely.

We trained them how to properly introduce themselves to new people. They role-played meeting a visitor for the first time. They role-played asking good introductory questions of visitors. They role-played introducing a visitor to their friends. All of this happened in the safe environment of our leadership team.

Then they went out and did it for real. They came back, and we talked about it. They learned the theory—then they learned the practice. Eventually, it became second nature for most of them.

Celebrate The Wins

For the year and a half we focused on creating a visitor-driven culture, I gave out an award almost every week to someone on our student leadership team. We called it the Awkward Elephant.

I went over to the local home decor place, and I bought a ceramic elephant head. Every week, we celebrated one student on our leadership team who did a fantastic job welcoming visitors the previous week. That person then got to sign the Awkward Elephant and maybe take it home for the week. It was an honor for those students. It was fun. It was a little weird. And it worked.

We celebrated the actions we wanted repeated. We made a big deal of those who lived out the culture we wanted. We placed the spotlight on the value we wanted to create, we trained our leaders, and we celebrated the wins. And it made a difference. Actually, it made the difference.

Which of these three shifts do you need to make in order that your student ministry has a visitor-driven culture?

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With over a decade of student ministry experience, Nate loves seeing the hearts of teenagers turn to Jesus. He also loves seeing ministries changed through strategic planning and training, which he does through www.creativegridpartners.com. Follow him on Twitter: @natejturner

Youth Specialties

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