Some fear it. Some try to ignore it. Others can't wait for it. But all teenagers know it's inevitable. How could they miss those bold black-and-yellow back-to-school sale signs at the mall?
Fall is a time for new beginnings with your kids and your ministry. So make sure you launch your program with attention-grabbing ideas that'll attract new kids and build deeper ties with your regulars.
1. The Map-Meister
Hang a large city or regional map on your meeting room wall. Print Isaiah 60:4 across the top of the map. Place a pushpin on the map corresponding to where each of your group members lives. (If your group represents multiple schools, color-code the pins based on the schools kids attend.) Use this map as a reminder of how God has called all of you together to represent God to the community you live in. Each week, before you begin your meeting, have a different group member say a prayer for all the people and families represented by the pushpins.
2. Collector Cards
Have group members pair up and create trading cards for their partners. Have an instant-print camera available so they can take photos to attach to the cards. Ask teenagers to include information on the cards such as name, address and phone number, school history, interests, youth group experience, and a brief biography.
Keep these cards in a trading card notebook and use it as your group's phone and address directory. Be sure to add new cards as teenagers join your group. Also, you can give your kids a set of "collector cards" by taking the finished cards to a quick-print shop that has a color copier. Make sets of color copies of the cards by grouping them on one page, copying them, then cutting them out.
3. A Back-to-School Torch Run
On the first day of school lead a "torch run" to your local school or schools. Light a torch (or sturdy candle) at your church, then take it to a group member's home some time before school begins. Have that teenager carry the torch to another home, and so on, until everyone who wants to participate has carried the torch.
Designate a place for all the torchbearers to meet when the torch arrives at school. Give a brief message of encouragement and challenge, then ask volunteers to pray for the coming school year. (Be sure to get approval from the local school and city officials if you choose to do this on school property.)
4. Getting-the-Day-Started-Right Phone Line
Take advantage of an unused (or rarely used) phone line at your church to start an information line for kids to call before school. On the phone message, include an energizing or inspirational "quote for the day," list prayer requests, advertise upcoming group events, offer a humorous story or joke, or introduce a contest. Change the message daily. Publicize this number and encourage kids to call it when they're getting ready for school.
5. Opening Ceremonies Banquet
The week before school begins, plan and host a back-to-school banquet for your group. Have teenagers dream aloud about what they'd like to see happen in their lives spiritually and socially in the coming year and how they feel those dreams might be accomplished. Ask parents or church members without children to provide the meal and entertainment.
6. The Jericho March
Schools are filled with kids who need the freeing power of the good news of Jesus Christ. Help your kids symbolize their mission to share Christ with others by reenacting the Jericho battle recorded in Joshua 6.
Beginning a week or so before school opens, lead your kids on a march around the school. After circling the school, deliver a brief and challenging message to kids about reaching their friends with the good news of God's grace. Repeat this activity each day until your next regular group meeting day. On this day, march around the school seven times. Then have your kids meet with congregation members for a time of prayer for the coming year and kids' efforts to tell others about Jesus.
7. School Sponsors
If your group members come from more than one school, enlist adult sponsors for each of the different schools and give kids from those schools each a small card listing their school's sponsor and telephone number. Encourage kids to call their sponsor when they need help or encouragement in the new school year. Be sure to train your sponsors so they know when to refer teenagers' concerns to you or other authorities.
Jamie Snodgrass is a youth worker and writer in Oregon.
Reprinted by permission, GROUP Magazine, Copyright 1995, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.