(End of post challenge: Break Instagram with your #lunchraffle pics!)
I’m going to tell everyone a little secret.
There’s one thing that will reflect and communicate a loving, safe, hopeful, helpful, magnetic, transformative Christian youth ministry to the people in your community, including the teenagers who live in it. It’s only one thing. And you’re going to want to quit reading after I tell you what it is.
(Because you know it already.)
It’s easily taken for granted and we (ahem, you know I also mean me ANYTIME I say we) can lose sight of it for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years at a time. I lost sight of it regularly. Until one day I pretty much lost my youth ministry mind and said I’m sick and tired of not getting this right and I’m sick and tired of feeling like I can’t do the thing that I’m supposed to be doing more. This would be one of those times when losing your mind is a good thing. Because there are days when the mind you’ve been living was the mind you should have relocated from years ago.
My ego would like to say that I only need a mind tweak every Monday morning, Wednesday nights at 10Pm, and on bank holidays. But my honest self ( who I would rather shut up in a box placed in that attic sometimes) would say it needs a tweaking more often that that–a few more days that that–pretty much every other day and the days before those ones too.
Nine years into my youth ministry career I started to shutter at a disconnect I was feeling. I realized I needed a big shift in my thinking and consequently in my doing.
I wasn’t hanging out with teenagers.
Somewhere, in our growth and mild success. I had lost sight of the purpose of my job.
The worst decision I ever made in ministry was to let the murmurs of youth ministry (that it’s impossible to get into schools these days) , the challenges with parents (kids have so many, or none at all, or the ones that they have don’t trust us), and negativity get in the way of what I know how to do best, which is to be with teenagers, loving them where they are, and not expecting them to show up where I am to be loved by me or our team.
The best decision I ever made in youth ministry was to get back into places where teenagers are and make a home there.
When I made that decision the level of effort I put into getting into those places grew.
I started with finding a way to eat lunch with kids at school.
Before I share how I did that and offer some advice about how you can do that, let me pause for a minute and comment on why this may have gone wrong in the past.
1) We’re so excited about what we are doing that we forget to tell important people what we are doing. Parents, school leaders, church leadership, volunteers. Every group that I just named needs to know that you are not a creeper. And the way you let them know you’re not a creeper is by making a connection with them before you make too many connections with their kid. This is the first hurdle that we have to clear–but it is possible to clear it. (Please don’t quit reading if you didn’t run track, hate sports metaphors, or are afraid of hurdles. I did run track and I skipped every race I was assigned to run because I was so afraid of what might happen if I tripped up or wet my pants or lost. Now that you know what a wimp I was in the 9th grade (and sometimes in the 30th grade), you can keep reading with a happy heart.
2) We felt defeated, rejected, overwhelmed by the many obstacles that keep us from being in spots to reach out to teenagers. Schools are locked-down, teenagers are hyper-scheduled and stressed out, skate parks make us feel like someone is going to get broken…you can think of other challenges. They exist but they don’t have to rule you.
I recommend showing up where parents show up FIRST. We’re solidifying the fact that you are someone they can grow to trust. You are someone who cares about teenagers enough to take time to do invest in their parents. Places like athletic events, music competitions, awards ceremonies, PTA or PTO meetings. All of these places are great places to say “hi” to a teenager and introduce yourself to the parents or leaders of schools. Maximize those moments.
Keep this in mind.
Showing up goes no less than one million relational miles in youth ministry.
Decide to show up.
How can you create a strategy to do this regularly? I had to put myself on a schedule. If I didn’t I was never going to do it. I decided to implement an idea I thumbed over in a magazine. A youth pastor had published an idea called “lunch raffle” that helped him to be fair about who he would be having visiting for lunch. Every quarter he would draw a name from the teens in the room and he’d go have lunch with that person the next day.
I loved that idea so much that I made it my strategic plan for an entire year.
We are going to have lunch with kids.
I knew it was going to take a lot of work to stay committed to it but I felt like it was the best decision we could make.
And, it turned out to be an incredible multi-level outreach.
FOUR groups of people are influenced when we decide to have lunch with teenagers.
- School Admin and Faculty
- 5 , 10, 15, 100+ closest friends
What we learned in the process of drawing a teens name was that we could influence and connect with so many others in the process. Those interactions develop awesome levels of trust and partnerships with the other most influential people in a teenagers life.
Here are 10 steps that any church could follow to make #lunchraffle (or another weekly visit) a regular part of their ministry.
1) Host a drawing. Choose a venue to draw a name.
2) Decide how you will collect names. We used red raffle tickets. Teens would write their name on the ticket and the school they attend when they arrived every week. This also is a great way for an adult volunteer team to connect with kids while they are signing up.
3) Decide to do a drawing every week that it’s humanly possible. Keep your vacations sacred and don’t go in to school with a viral infection (ew) but once you start it, keep it a priority for a set amount of time. You will want to quit. You will want to make excuses. But you won’t regret it if you stick with it. Every lunch you go to you’ll see the rewards in smiles, high fives, funny conversations, and bonus message illustration material. I really didn’t want to go sometimes. But I was ALWAYS glad that I went anyway.
4) Pick a name and remember who it is. Hold onto the ticket, or text the name to yourself. Do something to protect the name! You. Will. Forget. Even if you’re youth group has 2 teenagers in it. You will, at some point, forget what happened last night. Have a plan to get and save the kids information. You know we’ve all got it together until a parent comes in with all of their camp finances paid to the church in rolled quarters while someone pulls the fire alarm and…. (keep the ticket).
5) Make 2 calls
- Call the school. Boom. You now have a relationship with the school. Find out what their requirements are for eating lunch. Most of the time they will tell you, no one but a parent or grandparent can have lunch. What I found to be true is that there is one piece of paper standing between you and having lunch with a teenager. It’s an emergency contact card. You’ll need to know if adding your name to this card is an option for being able to meet for lunch. If it is, then you know what you’ll need to ask parents next.
- Call the parent(s) and get permission. Then, ask if they would be willing to add you to the emergency card. If they are willing, wait for them to do this (call them to find out if they did a few days later) and confirm the lunch time with them (or with the school)
6) Pray for the teenager and connect with the parent one more time to confirm the lunch time. If you are allowed to and are bringing food in to share, remind them not to send money or pack a lunch.
7) Leave with plenty of time to go honor the motions at each school. Every school has different security. Over time, you’ll learn the ways of each school and you’ll know how to plan you time pretty easily.
8) Show up and find out what area you are allowed eat in and find out if other friends can join you. Some schools let 3 friends join them. Some let zero. Some let me sit in the lunch room with everyone! Some make us go to special tables outside. Some schools don’t allow fast food, so I have to buy Subway to get in. Do what it takes to follow the guidelines and you’ll get far.
9) Be you. Don’t try to be a teenager. Eat lunch, listen tons, look around, be curious. But most of all, just show up and care.
Anne Lamott said in her newest book, Small Victories, that
“it turns out that welcome is solidarity. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re with you. This whole project called you being alive, you finding joy? We’ll we’re in on that.”
That’s what you’re doing. You’re walking with, in the midst of whatever they are stepping in or going through to give them the greatest welcome they have ever seen coming from a mostly stranger. It’s you being in on their being alive journey. It’s my favorite thing to do. Hands down, no competition. Being with teenagers in their most familiar environments.
10) Connect when the bell rings by taking a quick picture. Ask them if you can post it. Capturing the 20 minutes with a fun photos gives them a special moment and a special mention . Your ministry will also get some added online attention with that kids best friends and family. (Build in credibility builder)
I know, it’s a ton of work. I had a lot of help making calls to parents and schools and I am grateful for every person who got the why behind this. You helped make it happen big. I couldn’t do it by myself. Thankful to have practiced this habit for years. The best decisions last longer than all of the other ones. That’s why I feel like everyone should at least try it for a season. Work through the challenges and find a strategy to get out there.
Hashtag your photos #lunchraffle on Instagram. I want to make a big deal about anyone who is heading out to make welcoming spaces for lives to be shared.
Thanks for reading and for giving this a shot!
As a small group leader one of the first order of business I ever took was to email the parents and introduce myself to them, and giving them my contact information. This has worked wonders as the parents would let me know more about their children and I had a better guide to how to approach them and stuff they struggled with. Eventually it made for an easier time for the parents to write letters to school so I could have lunch with their children, some schools are more complicated than others but in the end getting to spend that quality time with the kids and just being there makes it all worth it.