When I first came to the church at the age of 12, the idea of hospitality was foreign to me. Growing up, I lived in a home that didn’t value time together in the same way that I would come to experience at church. When I visited on a Sunday morning, I was greeted at the front door and experienced someone taking the time to get to know my story. There I realized the church wasn’t limited to a building; church is a family of believers who intentionally fellowship with one another for God’s glory.
This is one of the beautiful blessings we get to enjoy here on Earth – the fellowship of believers. Jesus modeled this example perfectly. He always found opportunities to spend time with His disciples. From the last supper (Matt. 26:17-29) to eating breakfast after His resurrection (John 21:1-19), Jesus valued fellowship and was intentional about it. Therefore, when leading a youth ministry, I have adopted the saying from a ministry mentor of mine: “Radical Hospitality.”
Despite exposure to social media, Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2012) is known as the loneliest generation according to the Institute for Family Studies. More than half of Gen Z (56%) has reported to feel lonely at least once a month during their childhood. As students walk in with baggage we are unaware of, how can we show them the same hospitality that Jesus showed His disciples? How can we show our students they are more than just the seat they fill or a check-in statistic through Planning Center? How can we show them they are loved and valued by God and the body of Christ? Our pursuit of radical hospitality to the next generation is modeled through the following practices.
We make them feel at home.
Our church has implemented a mission statement: Connect, Grow, Serve. We first connect people to Christ by showing them that the church is their home. They are made in the image of God and we show them they can belong with the people of God. From engaging through sermon illustrations, to shooting hoops after service, we seek to find common interests and provide affirmations on who they are in Christ.
There is a saying that I have heard from many experienced youth leaders I look up to: “students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” If we want a ministry that grows with a hunger for God’s Word, we need to be intentional about the process. As we connect students to Christ, we show them we care by helping them grow in Christ. We do this through small groups and Sunday services. Making sure that we are working in unison with our Senior Pastor (who leads and guides us with vision) and our small group teachers, students are being submerged in God’s Word while also experiencing what the church truly is, God’s family.
One name, one story.
I am absolutely terrible with names – ask anyone – which is why I challenge myself and my team to connect with at least one student every Friday night. We do this by learning their name and their story. One of our students made sure to help me understand the importance of memorizing names by challenging me every Friday what his name is for one month straight. Our students want to be known, they want to be loved, they want to be remembered, and they want to be welcomed. They just want us to make the first move.
Vision Statement: To See Christ Elevated
As we connect our students to Christ and help them grow in Christ, we show them what it means to serve Christ. By doing these things we show our students their value as well as the importance of fellowship. Our mission statement helps us keep our focus on our vision statement: to see Christ elevated. By seeing Christ elevated, we put our focus on connecting, growing, and serving to bring our God glory.