Your first month at a new church will often define how your new members will see you for a long time. Starting on the right foot is crucial to cultivating a trusting, supportive environment with your youth parents and church body. The R3 Team has provided thirteen tips that we think every youth director should consider---especially the new ones.
1. Dress appropriately. This doesn't mean that you need to wear a tuxedo to work, but you should dress for what you are doing that day. Meetings? Dress nicer. Tearing out old couches and painting the youth room? Dress down. Often, being the worst-dressed person in the office results in being the least respected voice in the office.
2. Turn down your music when you pull into the parking lot. Let's be honest: the music of your generation probably is not the music of your senior pastor's generation--or the music of the ladies Bridge Club that meets at 8am on Monday mornings. Arrive at work slow and controlled: It is far better to surprise them by how young you are instead of surprising them by how old you are.
3. Early on, visit the senior citizen program of your church. You would be amazed at how many church senior citizens claim they have never spoken to the new youth director. Aside from being the Christ-like thing to do, it is a wise action to take. One day, you will be fundraising for an event and you will need to address these members by name.
4. Don't be on time--be early. Youth directors are notorious for being disorganized and late. Break the cycle and be early. You will earn the respect of everyone by doing this.
5. Understand the pulse of your church. This can be tricky, but it is incredibly important. Knowing what makes your church "click" will allow you craft a ministry that excites your students and church.
6. Have a parent's meeting and follow it up. Give the parents of your new students the opportunity to get to know you. Cast your vision for the youth program in this meeting. Do not get bogged down in the details! Instead, focus on the big picture as to how you intend to partner with them in raising godly young men and women.
7. Spend time in the office. Believe us: we understand that youth ministry in the local church does not typically happen in your office. It is mobile, public, relational and active. But, you need to prove that you are an adult, and every other adult in that building is sitting at their desk. When you do leave to spend time with students, make sure you let the Administrative Assistant and other staff know (1) where you are going, and (2) when you can be expected back. You don't have to do this forever, but it will earn goodwill and trust down the road.
8. Use Facebook. We know that most students do not use Facebook; but their parents do. Parents love to see what their kids are up to, and parents are on Facebook.
9. Keep your alcohol and tobacco/vape habits secret. We are not saying this to encourage a sneaky, lying relationship with your church. Be honest with them. But, when you are hanging out with students, clear your tobacco/vape products from your car. Be careful when you drink in public. First impressions are important, and students are prone to make rumors.
10. Show up at school sports/extra-curricular events. Surprise both parents and students by showing up in their world outside of the church setting. Do lots of this your first few months. This shows the families that you genuinely care about their kids.
11. Always take suggestions with grace, but don't implement every suggestion. People will always have ideas for you. Be gracious and hear them out in an encouraging way. Then weigh the suggestion against your wisdom, experience, vision, and the input of someone who knows the church well. Be careful and be slow to commit to anything on the spur-of-the-moment.
12. Don't bash the last guy. Look, there is a reason they hired you. Statistics show that the person before you was probably fired. But, in the vast majority of case, there were always people who loved the last youth director. A quick way to make enemies is to take cheap shots at someone who is no longer there to defend him/herself. Always be charitable.
13. Act like and adult, play like a kid. This is pretty self-explanatory. Be fun. Be what middle and high schoolers need. But ALWAYS be above what is happening. Parents want you to play with their students, but they really want to make sure there is an adult present: that adult needs to be you.