Bernadette Jiwa is story telling marketer. She helps businesses tell the right story so they can see more customers, make more money and be sustainable.

In some recent advice to a restaurant owner, she makes some excellent points I’d like to translate for your youth ministry.

“But here’s the thing, people don’t come back for the basics, whatever they say. If they did, $20 hamburgers wouldn’t exist. People come for the experience. People don’t just buy what we serve—they buy how it makes them feel. The fundamentals alone don’t garner loyalty.”

Jiwa point out that the restaurant has good food. That’s fundamental. If you even want a chance to survive in the restaurant business food and service are fundamental.

In youth ministry terms, if you want a chance to succeed, your fundamentals are the message and the relationships. Nope, not the worship. band, not the facilities, not the budget and not the style. Your message and the relationships entrusted to you to build are a youth ministries fundamentals.

The First Fundamental

Your messages, should focus on the gospel, the central truths, but the WHAT of your message should be paired, like a fine wine with fish, with HOW the message is delivered. So many messages are lost to bad execution. Thankfully the Holy Spirit can take our less than best effort and touch hearts.

People responded to John The Baptist’s rough and straight forward approach and over 3,000 responded to the Holy Spirt led, no notes, no powerpoint, message given by Peter on the day of Pentecost. God can use all of our styles, but it is a craft that can be improved.

Your kids appreciate your passion and love but a poorly crafted message is like taking a great meal and plopping in the plate like middle school lunch lady and saying, “Here it this”. Presentation is everything.

Why not do a message audit. Record yourself speaking and look at some ways you can tweak the HOW’s of your message.

  • How long I speak
  • How I introduce the message
  • How I used illustrations
  • How I use humor
  • How I close the message

How we preach is subjective. We have our internal and external measurements so I’m not going to tell you how to preach, only that you can always get better.

The Second Fundamental

Relationships, how you manage the community, are critical to kids coming and coming back. If you don’t make friendliness, love, compassion, empathy and follow up part of your community building, you’re working against your youth ministry’s growth.

In my youth ministries, it was unacceptable for a visitor to be ignored. Some kids were naturally loving and were drawn to guest, in otters cases I assigned a caring adult or challenged a student to get to know new students, but no matter how I did it, it got done, by them or me.

If you do not know or understand the students who are coming to your youth ministry and are figuring out ways to engage them weekly, you are missing a fundamental of youth ministry.

Jiwa continues with her advice to the restaurant owner

“So, it’s not good enough for the waitstaff to plonk a $50 bottle of wine in the middle of the table and walk away. It’s not good enough that the sharing dishes come without serving spoons. It’s not okay for the bill to arrive as a rolled up till receipt in somebody’s hand.”

It is also not good enough for our youth ministries to simply

  • send a card in the mail to a guest
  • preach a message or give a talk and say “good enough”
  • have a youth meeting but no connection to students through the week.

Sloppiness and apathy are a one two knock out punch to your youth ministry. Not caring about how something is done is as wrong as not doing it in the first place.

If Sam wants people to keep coming back, he must work on the experience—the theatre, the rituals and the way he and his team will commit to showing up to serve. They need to start by considering the ‘hows’ of the customer journey because it isn’t just the food in a restaurant that speaks for the brand.

Let’s personalize this, “If I want students to keep coming back, I must work on _________________________” Yes, your “food” must be great but your service must be outstanding.

I know words like theatre can be off putting. Your not putting on broadway show for God, but you are creating an experience for you student to enter into. If you have a team, it matters that they show up, show up on time and show up ready to serve.

As Jiwa says, it’s in the how’s. It is:

How the customers are greeted.
How menus are offered.
How the wine is poured.
How orders are taken.
How the food is served.
How plates are cleared.
How the bill is presented.
How customers are farewelled.

What are your HOW’s? Make a list of some of the elements of your youth ministry that needs the HOW’s looked at

What can you do to align these things with the story you are wanting to tell.

The final piece of Bernadettes article sums it up,

Sam needs to design for the outcome he wants, by aligning the experience he creates with the story he wants customers to tell

Think of your students. Why do they come? What, about this experience is important to them? Your meeting is the story. If you are unhappy with the outcome, it’s time to align your meeting with the kind of story you want to tell about God, Jesus, community and life. The how of telling the story is as important as why you’re telling it.

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