If you’ve listened to your students for any length of time, you might easily feel that you don’t have anything in common with them. You might find connecting with your students difficult. And, as quickly as youth culture is changing, it’s really hard to keep up. I mean, did anyone ever fully explain what the word “yeet” meant? By the time you figured it out, no one was saying it anymore.
If you’re focusing only on cultural trends, then it will feel impossible to keep up. But, fortunately for us, there are lots of different ways to establish connections with our students. Here are 3 big ideas for connecting with your students in meaningful ways.
3 Big Ideas For Connecting With Youth Students
BE WHERE STUDENTS ARE
Your students are definitely going to notice you going out of your way to see them and spend time with them. So, as you plan out your schedule, be intentional to spend time in the spaces that students are already occupying. Here are a few examples.
Depending on school policies in your local area (especially with regards to COVID), this can be a very easy way to connect with students. When students interact with you in their school, it helps them see that you care about them beyond their participation in youth group last week. You are also more likely to meet some of their friends you have not met and gain a better sense of what’s really going on in their lives.
This goes beyond showing up for a lunch because you probably have to take the time out of an evening or weekend to show up at an extra-curricular activity. A lot of students will recognize that and be sure to come talk to you if they know you are there. And make sure they (and their parents) know that you are there. It also gives you an onramp into a future conversation with them – “Hey, your team was great at the game last week! How long have you been playing basketball?”
As an adult, I feel like I spend a lot of time that I’m on social media rolling my eyes. But it is so helpful for me to see what my students are into and how they express themselves. It is also really helpful to be able to send out a reminder about an upcoming event. They are a lot more likely to see it than they would an email. But, be sure that you’re on the right platforms – think Instagram and not Myspace.
You cannot pour into all of your students equally. But you can invest in a few students at a time in very meaningful ways, so it’s a good idea to create a space to do that. Choose some to join your student leadership team (even if you do not have one yet). Take one or two students out to lunch 2-4 times a month to work on discipleship. Form a creative team to help you brainstorm event ideas or set design for an upcoming sermon series. However you do it, invite students to participate in ministry.
Students may not be great at remembering to shut the van door even though you have already told them 8 times, but they can definitely tell when you are not being authentic. So don’t put pressure on yourself to be something you’re not. They do not need you to act like them; they need you to show up and be real with them.
Make sure to talk about some of your struggles when you preach. If you have small groups in your ministry (and you totally should), that is a great place to be a little more vulnerable than you can be in front of the whole group. I’m not telling you to share every struggle you have, but make it clear to students that you don’t have all the answers and need the Lord just like they do.
BE INTENTIONAL TO INVOLVE OTHER ADULTS
You only have so much space in your life to connect with students. But even if you have all the time and space you need, you’re just not going to connect with some students. Odds are, though, that there is another adult in your ministry who might be able to.
A great way to begin creating a culture where your adult leaders connect with students personally is through small groups. This helps adults take ownership of particular groups (middle school boys, high school girls, etc). Having a system in place like this helps naturally connect new students with an adult other than you right away.
Developing positive relationships with your students’ parents will also help you better connect with your students. When you connect with parents, they tend to tell you when their kids are struggling and need prayer in certain areas. They’re also going to be more likely to send you a text message about an upcoming extra-curricular activity in their kids’ lives, or a problem at home.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the idea of connecting with your students. You don’t have to be a cultural expert or even listen to songs in the top 40. Connecting with your students isn’t difficult – just be sure that you are doing some of these things and you’ll definitely see some of your relationships with your students strengthened. And, strong relationships help lay the groundwork for trust and the important kingdom-work you are trying to accomplish in your ministry.
Skylar Jones serves as Youth and Family Minister at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in DeLand, FL. He has worked in many different capacities since he began serving the church nearly 20 years ago. Skylar is married and has a son. He met his wife at Berry College, in Rome, GA, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. He enjoys sports, music, long walks on the beach, and anything made by Reese’s. Click the social links below to engage with Skylar.