Home > Youth Ministry > Youth Ministry How2: 5 Keys to Visiting School Lunch Rooms

Youth Ministry How2: 5 Keys to Visiting School Lunch Rooms

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I am a firm believer that an essential part of youth ministry is getting on students turf.  This post is not about my theology or philosophy behind this belief – maybe another day; but in short, I find the school an important place for us to strengthen our relationship with students while developing relationships with other students who do not have a church home.

When I was a young youth director, I spent too much time in my office thinking that if I built it they would come and 20-30 of them did.  As I grew in my understanding of how to grow a youth ministry, I spent more and more time on campus.  Instead of ministering to 20-30 on Sunday night, I was began to minister to 20-25 each of four lunch periods at each of the local high schools.

Here are the 5 keys to visiting school lunch rooms that I’ve learned over the years.

1. Have Permission

At the beginning of each year whether you are new to the area or been there 10 years, you need to get permission from the administration to visit during lunch.  If the school allows outside visitors during lunch, they will have visitation policies that you need to follow.  If you have to wear a bright yellow visitor sticker, then wear it!  We should set the example for other visitors and keeping students safe.  I recommend setting up a meeting with the principal or an assistant principal, so they can get to know you and trust your presence.

2. Overcome Your Adolescent Fears

One of my interns once told me they hated visiting the lunch room after only two visits.  After pushing a little, I learned that he believed a middle schooler had thrown a french fry at his head.

Now that I run a youth ministry training program (CYMT), I see it several times each year with our students.  Going to the lunch room brings out our adolescent fears.  If you are going to have success visiting students on campus, you have to forget the bullies, the mean girls, and remember you are an adult.  If they throw a french fry, then duck!

3. Know Your Students

You would think this applies more to new youth ministers, but I mean it to apply to both new youth ministers and those who been at their church 7 years.  Almost every church in the country has an active youth ministry that is under 50% of their church role.  Even if students only attend your church once a year, there is a good chance that they know who you are.

A student who is mildly estranged to your church and youth ministry will feel more estranged if you don’t know who they are.  So be familar with your role and get the help of your active students to point out and identify inactive youth group members so that you can meet them.  You don’t have to sit at their table, but you should say hi as you seek to build a relationship with them as their minister.

4. Move Around

I have met a few youth groups that were so tight that their students at lunch together at school, but those are few and far between and I think a little weird.  Your students will be sitting together in pairs and trios intermixed with other students.  My goal in a 25 minute lunch break is to say hi to all the students from my church in the room and then find two or three tables that I can sit with for 5 to 10 minutes to talk about their day.

5. Talk to the Table

I find that effective lunch room work involves getting to know our students friends.  They sit with the same people at lunch every day.  So if you visit the lunch room once a week, you’ll have amply opportunity to talk with them.

Be outgoing and confidently introduce yourself to their friends.  Your students will feel more comfortable with you being involved in the table conversation than what might feel to them like an awkward one on one conversation with their friends excluded.  Remember that lunch time is one of the only free times for them to engage their friends in open conversation so participate don’t dominate.

2 Warnings!

1. Don’t Embarrass Them

Kidding with your kids at church is one thing.  Making them uncomfortable in front of their friends is not cool.  Don’t give into your adolescent fears and don’t act like you are still in middle or high school.

When dealing with kids who are embarrassed you are there, I recommend acknowledging their presence and giving them space.  How will you know if they feel this way?  You’ll know.  They will be the ones who show outward hostility towards your presence and look like they pray you don’t damage their image.  If you respect their space, you are more likely to be invited into it over time.

2. Please do not break the Rule!

Some of you may be reading this hoping I have tricks to get you into schools that no longer allow outside visitors during lunch.  I do have some, but that’s a post for another day.  There are two of seven high schools that we can no longer visit because other youth ministers broke the rule.

What is the rule?  Don’t talk theology and don’t evangelize!  Being able to visit the school is a privilege and not a right.  I’m tired of youth ministers who get into theological arguments with Jewish or Muslim students or who want to talk about “being saved” over mashed potatoes.    It only takes one parent who complains to administration to end it for everyone.  I’ve yet to see a school who just banned that youth minister instead they have to enforce a policy that affects everyone.  Let your kids invite their friends to church.  If their friends know you, they are more likely to come.  Save the rest for appropriate spaces.

Go visit them.  It will make a difference in your ministry to your students, to the school, and to your community.

Categories: Youth Ministry
  1. September 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Lew Kizer – I loved visiting the school lunches while I worked for you.. One of the reasons why is because it allowed me to meet their friends. Then when I was a a football game or a volleyball game their friends would want to talk to me even if my youth was not there. I still do this today as the pastor of the church and many times it gives me a chance to talk to the teachers, staff, and students. Thank you Deech for sharing. Reposted from Facebook

  2. September 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Earle Burkley – Well said, Deech!! At a public middle school I used to visit for lunch, there would be periods that we had no students in the lunch room. I would rotate between tables of students I did not know. The minority students really appreciated it as they rarely had people visit with them. I sometimes run into a young teacher who reminds me that I would sit with her and her friends years ago even though they did not go to my church. Reposted from Facebook.

  1. September 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm

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