A Fool-Proof System to Follow Up with New Students

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You work really hard to attract new students to your ministry.

You challenge your students to invite their friends. You host big events. You try to make your programs better.

And then it happens. New students show up!

And you should be excited about that!

But your job isn’t done at that point. You want them to come back next week too! The way you make that happen is with a follow-up system.

How you follow up determines whether or not you’ll see those new students again.

If you don’t have a follow-up process, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Students will come to your church and you’ll never see them again. Even if they have a good time, most of them still won’t come back.

If you want new students to consistently come back to your church, you need a follow-up system.

The key word is “consistently.”

Every youth pastor can offer an example of an outlier: the student who came back on their own, without follow-up. But that’s the exception, not the rule. You want a high percentage of students consistently coming back to your church. I’ve never seen that happen without a follow-up system.

If you want to see student after student returning to your ministry week after week, you need a follow-up system.

So here’s a question for you:
Do you have a system to follow up with the new students who show up to your ministry?

Here’s the follow-up system we’ve used to triple our attendance in the last 12 months:

1. Check In

There are 2 types of new students:

a) Students who come with their family.

b) Students who come with their friend.

Our students meet upstairs in our building. To create more awareness, we have adult volunteers downstairs to greet new families and let them know that students meet upstairs. If they come with their friend, they’ll know where to go.

Either way, here’s what they see when they come upstairs:

First Time Here Student Ministry

There are 3 things on that table:

  1. About You Form (link to downloadable form you can use)
  2. About Our Ministry (link to downloadable .pages file you can adapt)
  3. My Business Card (for parents)

We ask every new student to fill out the About You Form.

2. Connect New Students with Small Group Leaders

Our model is unique. We meet for large group and small group both on Sunday mornings. Large group lasts for 35 minutes; small group lasts for the remaining 30 minutes. Because of that, it’s important to connect new students with their small group leader right away. A member of our Host Team will take the new student from the table into the room and introduce them to their small group leader.

If your model is different, that’s fine. Your Host Team member would simply escort the new student into your room and introduce them to some students from their school or in their grade.

3. Send a Card

On Monday morning, I take a few minutes and write a card to students who attended for the first time. The card is a basic white card with our logo on the front. It’s blank on the inside. Here’s an example of what I write:

First Time Follow Up Card

I also include 2 things:

1. Social Media Card

Social Media Card

2. Free T-Shirt Card

Free T-Shirt Card (front) Free T-Shirt Card (back)

Some youth ministries will give a t-shirt to every student who attends for the first time. I don’t do that because I don’t want to give a shirt to someone’s cousin who is visiting from 3 hours away. My budget isn’t that big! Plus, I expect students to have a really good experience when they come for the first time. Offering them a free t-shirt when they come back is a great way to entice them to come back again.

4. Email Parents

On the About You Form, I include a space for their parent’s email address. Some students don’t know their parent’s email address, but some do. When I get a parent’s email address, I send them an email like this:

“Hi Mrs. Johnson,
I just wanted to let you know that it was a pleasure having Brandon attend our church last Sunday. He seems like a great young man. If I can ever help your family in any way, please let me know. Would it be alright if I add you to our email list to keep you informed about what we’re teaching and doing in our student ministry? Just let me know. We do a lot of fun things and I don’t want Brandon to miss out. Hopefully we’ll see you again soon!”

I use Mailchimp for our email list because it’s free and simple to understand. It’s important to send regular emails (at least once every month) to parents because it’s a great way to keep them in the loop about what you’ve been teaching or events that are just around the corner.

5. Send a Birthday Card

This is a simple gesture that goes a long way with students. A student’s birthday is a natural time for you to connect with every student who attends or has visited your church. It’s not overbearing, and it doesn’t feel like you have ulterior motives. You’re just saying “Happy Birthday!”

I send a birthday card to every student who has ever visited our church.

They tell you their birthday on the About You Form. It’s not hard for you to jot it down in your calendar with an alert 2 days before. That will give you time to write the card and put it in the mail.

I also include a $5 gift card to the Great American Cookie Company in each birthday card as an added bonus for the student. Depending on your budget, you might not be able to do that, but I think it’s a very small investment that has the potential to go a very long way in their perception of your church.

Here’s an example of what I write in the card:

Birthday Card for Student


Your Move

My guess is that you have several new students coming to your church every month. I developed this system for following up with new students over my last ten years of doing youth ministry. I did the trial and error so you don’t have to.

If you don’t have a system, I encourage you to adopt this one. If you have a system for following up, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

If you need help implementing anything in this system, please let me know. I’ll be glad to help you out.

Leave a Comment

If you have a follow-up system that you already use, I’d love to hear about it! Share it with us in the comments below.

Or, how about this:
In the last 3 months, how many new students have attended your ministry for the first time? How many of those have started to attend regularly since that first visit?

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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9 thoughts on “A Fool-Proof System to Follow Up with New Students

  1. Thanks for the resources Trevor. Where did you get your blank white with logo follow up cards from? Did you print those in house or outsource them?

  2. How effective do you believe phone calls are in a follow up system? I’ve heard of some youth ministries doing it. I’ve tried it but not consistently and haven’t seen strong results. Thanks, this is great information!

    1. Brandon,
      My experience with phone calls is similar to yours: not very good results. I think phone calls to your current students are fine, and can even be beneficial at times. But it feels a bit too forward to call new students, especially when their preferred method of communication is text message.

  3. Thanks Trevor. I am sure glad one of my youth pastor friends forwarded one of your post to me. Do you have any information on a follow up system when students miss a night or two? I am also interested in Darrel Gaines question about getting new students in the door as well.

    Thanks for caring to help.

    1. Jeff,
      If a student misses a night, I wouldn’t follow up. Families are busy and sometimes students have a lot of homework, so I don’t worry about it when they miss a night.

      If you notice that they’re missing for the second night in a row, then I’d ask just ask one of their friends where they’re at. Their friends usually have the inside scoop.

      I had a guy who stopped showing up recently. I asked one of his friends what was up. His friend told me that the guy had started going to his new girlfriend’s church. No big deal. He’ll be back when they break up. 🙂

      I’ll usually just send a short text message: “Hey man, we’ve missed seeing you lately. Let me know if I can help you with anything.”

      If it’s a girl, then I’ll ask their small group leader to send that text.

      If you don’t want to text a student, then you can just write a quick postcard and send it in the mail.

      If they usually come with their parents, then you could send an email to the parent:
      “Hey, I noticed that __________ hasn’t been to church in a couple of weeks. We miss seeing him/her. Is everything alright? Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help out. Thanks!”

      Between the text and an email, you’ll usually figure out the reason they’re missing. If it’s major (their parents are getting divorced), you can help out. If it’s minor (they’re in the band and they’re practicing extra to get ready for a competition in 3 weeks), you can just wait for them to come back.

      As for getting new students to show up, here’s the simplest way:
      When students leave your program, you want them to say, “I’m glad I came.” If they’re saying that when they go home, odds are good that they’ll be saying the same thing at school the next day to their friends. Those conversations turn into invitations for next week. Keep doing it consistently and you’ll have new students showing up every week.

      I’ll be glad to talk with you more about it if you’d like.

      Email me: trevor@betteryouthministry.com

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