Good Friends, Good Food, Good Fun

Any event you host is going to be better if people like being there.

 You probably think that you’ve stumbled upon a blog post from Captain Obvious, but please hear me out. The ultimate goal of every youth pastor and youth leader is for their students to have an encounter with God which spurs a lifelong relationship with Him. We have seen statistically that when the rides from Mom and Dad stop and the student goes off to college, they often don’t come back to church, even sporadically, by the time they’re 30! However, I think that there’s an easy solution: make your events or weekly meetings something that your students actually want to come to. 

In my experience with youth services, it’s either ALL fun or ALL spiritual. I think if you want to achieve that ultimate goal that I mentioned earlier, you need both in every meeting. Making your meeting fun and inviting for students will not hinder the spiritual encounters that we want to see but will actually cause them to be more commonplace in our groups. 

I tend to be a pretty practical person so here are three practical and easily applicable ways to make your meeting and events something that your students will enjoy and will want to continue to attend.

Friendliness

So much of how students feel about your meeting and the other people there is decided in the first few minutes of their arrival. If you don’t have greeters or if your greeters are your most awkward students, I would highly recommend these tips. 

Before/at the beginning of the meeting

  • Look friendly, e.g. smile, make eye contact, use an open stance (don’t cross your arms)
  • Personal hygiene and appropriate attire
    • Check your breath
    • Use mints or gum
    • Brush your hair, check for dandruff
    • By no means do you have to dress up, but don’t look like you just rolled out of bed
  • Greet each person as they enter
    • Introduce yourself and learn their name. A key to remember their name is to say their name right after they tell you it. For example, guest: “Hi, my name is John,” you: “Nice to meet you, John.”
    • When talking with friends, be aware of others who don’t have someone to talk to. Either go talk with them or invite them to join your conversation. 
    • Introduce them to your friends
  • Become a great conversationalist by learning to ask questions, listening and finding common ground
    • Example questions: Where are you from? What year are you? What TV shows do you like?  What do you like to do for fun? 
    • Don’t be afraid to talk to them about your interests too, but don’t hog the whole conversation.
  • If they aren’t sure what is going to happen, give a brief explanation of what is happening or what they should expect.
  • Help them find a seat
    • If you already have a seat, invite the new person to join you. Make sure they don’t sit alone.

During the meeting (Greeters Only)

  • Keep an eye out for anyone who comes in late. Welcome them quietly and help them find a seat.
  • Make sure to connect with them when the meeting ends.

At the end of the meeting

  • Make sure someone collected their contact information.
  • Ask each individual to stay for snacks and make the invitation personal.
  • Invite them to come back next week.

If you, your leaders and your greeters make a habit of making people feel not only welcomed but that you are actually happy that they are there, students will want to come back. 

Food

I recently attended an open house for a friend who purchased a new office building for his business. I thought for sure that it was going to be a total bore. I was going to an event where the only activity was looking at an office building. Yikes. But you know what, it was a huge success and, surprisingly, a lot of fun. What was the secret? Good food. 

 

 

Here’s another example: When I first started attending the University of Buffalo BASIC Chapter, a Christian club on campus, there was a bowl of stale pretzels put out at the end of the meeting each week. When everyone started to leave, the remaining pretzels were poured back into the bowl to be served again next week. 

As a good Italian girl, I was totally disgusted by these nasty pretzels. A few weeks later, I took over the snacks and started doing Taco Night, bringing in my griddle for pancakes made to order, or three different types of homemade sauce and pasta. More than just good food, something essential to a healthy, fun group started happening. During the days of the bowl of pretzels, everyone would leave right after the meeting was over. But good food created the perfect environment for students to talk and get to know each other. Week after week, the meeting lasted another hour or two hours and a tight-knit community was developed. Good food gives your students opportunities to spend more personal time together. If your students enjoy spending time together, they will look forward to your meeting every week. 

I’m sure you hear that story and think, “I don’t have the budget or the people to have good food like that every week.” Don’t worry. There are ways to do good food on a small monetary and time budget. At the bottom of this post are three super easy and cheap recipes and you can find so many more online. I promise that you will see results right away. 

Fun

I would encourage you to be really intentional with balancing your weekly meeting. What do I mean by that? Think about what it would be like to be a student attending your weekly meetings. Would you be bored coming to youth group week after week? If your youth group is mostly middle schoolers with no attention span, maybe a 45 minute sermon on one verse won’t be the best approach. Try to have a good balance of sit-down-and-listen and get-up-and-go activities. One of my most cherished memories of youth group was trying to launch my friends into a garbage can while playing can-can. Don’t overcomplicate it. Again, if your students enjoy spending time together, they will look forward to your meeting every week. 

Again, I leave you with this: Any event you host will be better if people like being there. 


Recipes:
 

Apple Nachos

REQUIRES a MICROWAVE

  • 15 large marshmallows
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 17 caramels
  • 1/2 tbsp. water
  • 2-4 apples, sliced and lemon juice
  • Toppings (peanuts, sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, crushed candy bars, etc.)

Directions:

Slice apples and dip in lemon juice water to prevent browning. Arrange on serving platter.

Melt the marshmallows and butter the microwave in 30 second intervals. Stir periodically until completely melted and smooth. Drizzle over apple slices.

Combine caramels and water in a bowl. Microwave until melted (suggested 45 second intervals, stirring until smooth). 

Drizzle over apple slices.

Add any additional toppings and serve. 

Colorful Fruit Kabobs

  • Wooden or plastic skewers
  • Fruits (peeled, cleaned, cored etc.) i.e. Strawberry, Blueberry, Pineapple, Mandarin Orange

Directions:

Place cleaned fruit onto the skewer in any order or style that you want. Can be served with vanilla or flavored fruit yogurt for dipping.

Topped Churro Popcorn

REQUIRES a MICROWAVE

  • 6 cups popped popcorn
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon chips, melted (available in the chocolate chip section of most major grocery stores)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Drizzle the melted cinnamon chips over the popcorn and toss to coat evenly. In a separate bowl, mix the powdered sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the mixture over the popcorn, then toss to coat again. Cool completely before serving.


 Nicki is a graduate of the University at Buffalo and has been leading worship since she was 12 years old. She served as a youth leader for three years before stepping down to help run the University at Buffalo BASIC Chapter. She and her husband, Jonathan, work for BASIC College Ministries full-time out of Lima, NY. They both frequently travel to the 34 campuses that BASIC is represented on to encourage students to purse God's calling on their life.