He sat trembling in the school parking lot.
It seemed easy in his mind but when this youth worker pulled into the parking lot he froze. He wasn’t afraid of students. He spent lots of time with them at church. Somehow this was totally different. This was public property. There were rules and guidelines to follow. Above all, he feared rejection by the administration, the teachers, even his own students.
As he drove off the property, without entering the building, he lamented, “Spending time with students shouldn’t be this hard.”
To be completely honest, I can relate to the fear. The great news though is that hundreds of youth workers are on campus every day. Here are some of their secrets for overcoming the jitters and making meaningful contacts.
The hardest part is getting started. We all fear the unknown. So start by doing a little bit of homework. Find out which of your students go to which schools.
Talk to other youth workers who visit campuses. Can they introduce you to teachers or principals?
In one city I worked in there was veteran youth worker. He introduced me to a few principals. Soon I had volunteer passes for three schools.
Are there any Christian teachers on campus? Maybe you can arrange a meeting with one and they can introduce you to the administrators.
What about Christian clubs? Are there any on campus? How can you work alongside them? How can they help you to establish contacts in the school? How can your students be involved in what they are doing on campus
Set up a Meeting
Never sneak in the side door of a school. Introduce yourself to the principal. Let the principal know that you want to help. Many student ministers feel that they have nothing to offer the school. They are mistaken. Here are just a few places where youth pastors have been able to help on campus:
- Coaching a sport
- Helping with the band
- Helping with drama or the school play.
- Tutoring programs
- Chaperoning on trips, dances, and other school events
- Assisting with art
- Lunch Monitor (John, a Young Life leader I know, is affectionately called Mr. Lunch Lady)
- Working with special needs students who need one to one time
What if I can’t commit to volunteering that often?
This is a legitimate concern. We have limited time. We have varied responsibilities that may limit a weekly commitment. Still, there are ways to meet your students and their friends at the high school.
One thing that worked well for me was getting permission from parents to pick up a group of students at the school and bring them to lunch. This was a big treat for Junior High students.
At one church I was able to pick up my wife, drive by the high school and pick up groups of girls to go to MacDonald’s.
Another one that works great is being at sports events that are open to the public. Here you can sit with parents and cheer for your students. You can also sit with students and cheer for their friends. Even if you cannot be at the school once a week or during lunches sports, drama and musical events offer many opportunities to get out of the church and on to the campus.
You can build bridges with the school by organizing teacher appreciation events. One youth ministry I know runs a burger bash for an entire school. Although these are not weekly activities they create comfortable opportunities to interact with faculty, staff and students.
Invest Long Term
Contacting students on campus will be awkward at first. Eventually if you persevere past that first year you will begin to have opportunities that you never dreamed of! In one school where my students began a Christian club I was invited in to speak about Cults.
After a race riot broke out at the same school I was invited in to speak about Race Relations and Reconciliation. I was shocked when the room was packed standing room only with the student council, school administrators and a news crew.
One youth worker ran a session on stress management for the students. The principal was so impressed that they invited her to run the session for the teachers. District officials were so impressed that they asked her to run a 2 day stress management retreat for teachers in the district!
Other workers have been rewarded for their consistent visits with keys to rooms in the school, being invited to sit on important committees, or run school assemblies. Remember however that all these opportunities take time and consistent care.
Where are your students?
Right now they’re probably at school. They spend a lot of time at school. Unfortunately most youth pastors do not. There are lots of reasons for not spending time on campus. Fear should not be one of them. Every youth worker could become more effective by overcoming their fears and spending more time with students at school.
What are some ways that you or someone you know has been effective making connections with the campus?