As youth pastors, we want to come alongside students and help them take the next step (or first step) on their journey of faith. But sometimes the hardest part is identifying what that step looks like for each student.
Sure, some of the older high school students can articulate their needs and desires in conversation, but they make up only a fraction of my group. Like you, I have the 7th grade girls who pass notes while I’m talking. I have the 9th grade guy who has emotionally shut down because of friction at home. I’ve got the 11th grader who is kicking the tires of Christian faith to see what it’s all about, but wouldn’t know the next step for him if he stubbed his toe on it.
The problem is that students are usually invited to make two kinds of responses at the end of our services: 1) become a Christian, or 2) get serious about being a Christian. But there’s more going on in students’ lives than just those two things. Some of them have prayer requests that weigh heavy on their hearts. Others might be as serious as they can be about being a Christian, but they just need a little something from you – a conversation, a book, a prayer guide – to help them grow.
In my experience, however, students aren’t likely to walk up to you after the service and say any of those things. They just go home, and come back next week as if everything is moving along just fine.
Knowing this to be true, I went to the store, bought a mailbox, and set it up on a stool at the front of the room. Then I printed a few options on a ¼ sheet of paper:
- I want to become a Christian.
- I want to be baptized.
- I want help growing in my faith.
- I want you to pray for me about…
Those sheets are sitting on all the chairs in our Wednesday night student environment. Every week, after the teaching time, I hold up one of those sheets and explain what each of the options means. Then I walk it over to the open mailbox and put it inside. I tell the students that if they want to let me know about their desire for any of these options (or something else altogether), they should mark it on their sheet, write their name on it, and put it in the mailbox at the end of the night.
Before I started using the mailbox, there would usually be one student each week that responded to a message by coming up afterward and telling me about it. Since I set up the mailbox, I’ve had no less than fourteen responses after a message, and those responses range from students requesting prayer for situations at school to students expressing their desire to become Christians.
Now I’m not left guessing what each student’s next step looks like, they’re telling me what it is!
A mailbox is a simple, non-threatening way to help students open up to you and respond to what God is doing in their lives. I encourage you get one, put the flag up, and see how your students respond. It’s the best mail you’ll get all week!
Trevor Hamaker is the Youth Pastor at Palmetto Baptist Church, a 131-year-old church on the south side of Atlanta. When he isn’t hanging out with students, he loses sword fights to his son (Tyson, 4), pretends to drink tea with his daughter (Reagan, 3), and tries to plan fun dates his wife (Kristin, n/a)! He blogs regularly at varsityfaith.com.