The Power of Hello

Posted: November 21, 2011 in community, hospitality

“Hey! I’m David. How’s it going?”

I’m starting to wonder how many times I’ve repeated that phrase or something similar to it in youth ministry settings. I think it’s a pretty natural thing to say. It doesn’t take a youth ministry veteran to think of that one. But I’m starting to think that God has divinely blessed that exact phrase because of the impact it’s had on so many kids I know.

Okay maybe that’s over-stating it a little (though I’d like to see you prove me wrong!). But recently I have truly been amazed when I look around our middle school room and see some faces consistently every week that I never thought would become some of our core kids. These particular kids were those kids who came to our church every single week and even hung out with each other, but never stepped foot in our middle school theater. (Yes, our church is in an old movie theater. And yes, it is awesome to have a whole theater for middle school stuff.). I really have a heart for these kids.

On one hand, I can say that I don’t blame them. It can be really intimidating walking into our crazy room with the music blasting and kids running around playing ping pong and foosball or hanging out on the couches. It’d be easy to turn the other way into the safe anonymity of the “adult scene.” I get that. But I refuse to accept it.

Every time I see a middle schooler outside of our room, I make it a priority to say “hello” to them even if it’s just for a second. I don’t pressure them to come to youth group. I don’t guilt them for not joining one of our Life Groups. I just say hello. And I’m starting to think this should become our new outreach program!

I’m thinking of two students (a guy and a girl) in particular who have become regulars in our youth group when they used to avoid eye contact as they walked past the middle school room. When I first met the guy, he was very shy and seemed really uninterested in socializing. I think our conversation lasted a solid 30 seconds before it slid to an awkward, painful halt. In my early years in ministry that would have frustrated me beyond anything. But I have learned that those short, awkward conversations are all seeds in God’s plan for these students. Every week I’d find the area he’d hang out in and commence our normal, short conversation before the first service. Each week I’d learn one new interesting fact about his outdoor interests, his love for reading, and so forth. Finally after months of minute “hellos”, he stepped foot in our youth group. Not long after that, he started serving as a student leader. Now he’s connected to other students and has become one of the most dependable students we have – one that doesn’t just show up for fun, but truly wants to grow.

When I first met the other student, a girl, she had that deer-in-the-headlights look when I said hello. I’m pretty sure “hello” was the only word I could get out before she would turn to find a friend or something to do. But I refused to stop saying hi. Every week I’d make it a point to say hello even if I felt like she didn’t care either way. Then some of our female leaders took the extra step to get to know this student in non-church settings. All of a sudden this girl showed up to youth group! And she didn’t just hide either; she really engaged with other students. Now she has become one of our regulars who is also involved in our Life Groups. She even talks to me now! Haha!

These may be simple stories that don’t really impress many of you. And that’s ok. My intention is not to impress, but rather, to un-impress you with the simplicity of ministry. Sometimes we create programs and events so elaborate, there is no way they can be repeated or sustained. And in our busy-ness of planning, we neglect the informal “Greeting Ministry” AKA saying hello to students! I have such a strong conviction about this that I do my best to say hello to every student that walks through our doors on a Sunday. This can be very difficult with the large number of kids that have been coming to our ministry. But as a pastor, I am simply not okay with a student coming to church and not being greeted by at least one person.

We have to remember that one of the biggest roadblocks to evangelism and discipleship in our ministries is the front door. If you really think of it, the front door is usually the biggest hump that students have to climb in order to feel like church or youth group is a place that they want to be at. The first impression of a youth group can often be a lasting one.

This is a lesson I re-learn every week. We are not perfect. I get new inspiration to make our ministry more welcoming every Sunday. But I try to remember above all the simplicity of saying “hello”. I have a strong conviction that saying hello can be the first seed in a student’s life to help them encounter the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

How hospitable is your ministry? How hospitable are you? If you were a teenager in your church would you feel welcomed by the staff, volunteers, and students in your youth group?

  1. timgough says:

    Brilliant. Cheers for this matie. It’s useful to be reminded of the power of small community-actions that share our love and our willingness to be connected as concerned adults to young people.

    Mark Yaconelli says something similar in ‘contemplative youth ministry’ – He reminds us that one of the biggest needs in young people’s journeys are caring, open adults who will simply take time and say ‘hello’ with love.

    Cheers again.


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