Decoding and Mapping Your School


A high school or middle school is much more than meets the eye.

A school is not just a mass of students thrown together on a campus. Rather it is a unique tapestry of friends, social groups, cliques, classes and teams. There are many “tribes” that make up one school. A school is group-oriented.

The trust that students have because of these groups is really what creates the campus culture. Understanding this culture is invaluable in connecting with your school. The friend-to-friend dynamic is what allows information and news to flow rapidly. That information can include the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Identifying the tribes or groups is called decoding and mapping the campus. This is not something new. In the Bible Paul often “decoded” the cities he visited. He observed the groups in a community and the individuals who had influence. He listened to the latest things being talked about and made note of the needs. He would then connect with people and begin his ministry. In the Old Testament Nehemiah did something similar to connect and help the people of Jerusalem. Today missionaries “decode and map” when they enter a new culture.

How to Decode and Map Your School

Suggested steps for both students and youth leaders:

Pray: Ask God to give you His insight and heart for students at your school.

Get to know the culture: For students this is easier because you are at the school daily. Youth leaders take time to visit the campus or attend school events like games, plays, etc. Find out where kids hang out and how they cluster; interact with them.

Gather information, ask questions: Glean all the info you can by talking with students, visit with educators from the campus who may attend your church or other churches. Look through the latest yearbook, the school website and newspapers; Goggle the school. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What is the personality of the school? What are the predominant values and interests? What are the issues and needs on the minds of students?
  2. What are the natural groups at school? What groups make up the tapestry of your campus? Cliques, classes, social groups, sports teams, activities, clubs, gangs? List every group, official groups and organic groups, kids who just hang together.
  3. Who are the influencers in these groups? Who stands out? There are students who are official leaders and unofficial leaders, seen and unseen. Teachers and coaches are also influencers. Identify them and begin to pray for them.
  4. Who are the Christian students in these groups? If you’re a student, which groups are you a part of? Who are the other Christians in your group? Youth leaders identify the school groups where your students are involved.
  5. Is there someone who may be a “person of peace” at the school (Luke 10:1-2 and Acts 16)? This is an individual who could be key in helping you connect with students. They may or may not know Christ. But, “when you meet them, you meet the group.” They open doors and introduce you to others.

Initiating your plan – for students

  • Never stop praying, asking God to direct you.
  • Talk with the other Christian students in your youth group, discuss how you could begin reaching out to a particular group on campus. Team up and choose your group(s), and begin to reach out.
  • Ask your youth leader to help you.
  • Ask a friend(s) to join you in reaching out to a group at school. Talk about how you will reach out demonstrating care and looking for opportunities to share.
  • Pray for each person in your group by name.
  • Get to know them better, look for ways you could help them with a special need they may have.
  • Ask them about the things that seem most important to them. Ask them about their spiritual journey.
  • Share your story and explain how they could also know Christ personally.
  • Invite them to join you at your campus meeting, your church youth group or Bible study.

Initiating your plan – for youth leaders

  • Keep praying.
  • Use the information you have gathered about the campus.
  • Get acquainted with groups at school and their leaders. Extend friendship, build relationships.
  • If you can’t visit campus, continue to reach out and meet students through after school events like games, plays, etc.
  • Look for the Christian students in the different groups and team up with them. In what groups are your students already involved?
  • Take opportunity to serve the school and students. Be alert to needs and make yourself available (as your time allows) as a volunteer, coach, chaplain, counselor or club sponsor, or even an encourager to the administration.
  • Notice where God is working. As you meet students and educators you will pick up on things that tell you if there is a spiritual interest with some students, or a group of students. You will find this with coaches or teachers as well.
  • Start spiritual conversations as you see interest and openness. These conversations may often take place off campus or after school hours. Ask questions and listen.
  • Share your story and explain how to they can also trust and receive Christ personally by explaining the Gospel.
  • Invite students to your church and youth ministry activities.
  • You could also use a special event to reach out to a group, like a dinner, sports team meeting, a party, a seminar on a topic that would interest them. Introduce the gospel in your presentations whenever possible.
  • Communicate and cooperate with other youth leaders and students who are focusing on the campus. Together you can decide who will reach out to which groups, or team up and reach out together.
  • Reaching students takes initiative. Your faith will grow because it will be stretched, and the rewards will be enormous.

Some youth groups have mapped an entire campus with students and leaders taking responsibility to pray, care and share with every identified group.

One of the great advantages of reaching out to groups of students on a campus is that when students from a group respond to Christ, it is much easier to help them grow in Christ. Because of the common trust they have they will tend to stick together and support each other in their new faith.

Remembera school is a tapestry of groups and relationships.

As you respect this important cultural reality, you will see God multiply your ministry efforts.


A recommended book on this subject is God So Loved by Lee Rogers. It can be found on Amazon.

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