Engaging students at your church is critical to retaining them throughout their school years and into young adult life.
But there is a difference between communication and engagement.
A church has several demographic groups called “students”: elementary, middle school, high school and college. Each student group has its own communication challenges.
Though many of these tips can work with each group, parents tend to make most of the decisions for elementary and middle school students, so let’s focus on the older students since they make more decisions independent of their parents.
Here are five tips for engaging students at your church:
1. Have listening sessions with students. Consider the student groups you want to engage with and organize small listening sessions with 8–10 students of similar age. Start by asking general questions about their needs, concerns and goals.
You’ll be surprised at what’s top of mind for them. This helps student ministry leaders create content that will get a student’s attention.
Be pain experts for them.
Any parent will confirm that talking to a student is different than interacting with a student. So strive to listen as much as you talk. With that engagement, introduce biblical solutions.
In your sessions, end with a discussion of where they get information. End with asking what content they’d like from the church, what communication channels they regularly use from the church and if they’d like something different.
Listen to learn and understand.
2. Establish your main communication channel. Empowered by the listening groups, concentrate on one or two channels you know students are using. Then provide the content they want and need.
Once they’re working well, let the students (and parents) know what channel they can depend on for solutions, answers and/or events. Remember, most churches can’t do all channels well — so focus on one or two.
Regularly remind them to rely on the channel for information.
3. Create a student area on your website. Likely, social media will be the channel that most students are on regularly (constantly!) — but also focus on your student area of your church website.
This will be found easier by those outside of the church; and also allows you to link to details on social posts. Organize the area and keep it up-to-date. It needs to look simple — but, through links and tertiary pages, it can go deep for those who want more information.
4. Recruit student volunteers to help communicate. In the listening groups, be on the lookout for students with many social media followers and also have an eagerness to participate in student ministry.
They’re perfect for being an influencer to reach their church and school friends. Together, establish content rules and structure.
Encourage them as you meet regularly to hold them accountable to the church’s goals.
5. Be consistent. Say it, then say it again. Student engagement doesn’t happen overnight. Keep conducting listening groups and improving. Teach them consistency too.
Engaging students at your church will ensure the next generation remains in the church for the long haul.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Mark MacDonald is a communication pastor, speaker, consultant, bestselling author, church branding strategist for BeKnownforSomething.com and Executive Director of Center for Church Communication. His book “Be Known for Something” is available at BeKnownBook.com.