Student Leadership Team Basics: Creating a Culture of Welcome

Once you have a student leadership team, the question is, what do you do with it? What jobs can & should student leaders fulfill?

To be honest, I cringe a little bit at the notion of jobs for student leaders. Jobs are something that can be easily quit. They're something that are limited. It's far too easy to say you're done once you've completed a specific job or task. Rather than complete a job, I want student leaders to embrace their role as part of their identity – not just as something they do a few days or hours a week.

For that reason, the primary role of every person on my student leadership team is to establish a culture of welcome.

To be clear, establishing a culture of welcome involves so much more than being a greeter. Being greeters is a job that starts 15 minutes before an event and ends 10 minute after it begins. It involves a few teens standing at the door, shaking hands with people as they arrive, handing out name tags, and maybe, if you're lucky, awkwardly making small talk with people.

In contrast, establishing a culture of welcome is a role that never ends. As people tasked with this important responsibility, student leaders know it's their job to make every single person who walks into our youth ministry feel welcome, regardless of what grade they're in, what school they go to, how popular they are, or often they've come.

Establishing a culture of welcome means that at every event or gathering we have, student leaders are responsible for: 

- Knowing people's names
- Being the first to initiate a conversation with someone – even someone they don't know
- Leaving a conversation with their close friends in order to hang out with someone who's alone
- Inviting people to join a conversation or activity
- Connecting people with those they might have something in common with.

Being responsible for creating a culture of welcome means that student leaders aren't finished with their job when the discussion starts. Instead, student leaders are responsible for

- Sitting with people who they don't know to help make sure no one feels alone
- Asking questions to help people see that it's a safe environment to do so
- Participating in the discussion to encourage others to do the same
- Monitoring their own participation in a discussion to ensure that rather than dominating it, there's room for others to participate in it as well.

Student leaders know that creating a culture of welcome extends beyond the walls of a youth room. To that end, student leaders are responsible for

- Finding other high school students in worship, connecting with them, and inviting them to attend youth group
- Noticing who's missing and following up with them via text, Facebook, and Instagram to check in on them and let them know they've been missed
- Affirming and encouraging those who aren't student leaders – through prayer, in life, and in their faith journeys.

In more than a decade of youth ministry, I've learned the hard way that creating a welcoming environment with a bunch of high schoolers doesn't happen naturally, nor can I and my adult leaders create such a place. However, with a dedicated group of student leaders who know and understand their role in creating such a place, it's entirely possible.

The result?

A ministry that will be welcoming to the geeks and the jocks, to the popular kids and the misfits. A ministry in which teens continually and tangibly see God's love – not just in the adults, but in their peers.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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