How to Build Stronger Relationships

I was privileged to minister to students for over two decades. I enjoyed every minute investing in and imparting into the emerging generation. I never saw it as a stepping stone and truly believed my calling was serving students for the rest of my life. Whether it was helping the local church as a youth pastor, traveling full time as a youth evangelist, or serving as the District Youth Director for the Alaska Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God, I cherished every moment.
    I have always said that youth ministry is defined by one word: RELATIONSHIPS! Here is the reality: youth ministry begins when an adult finds a comfortable way of entering a student's world. Youth ministry continues as long as the relationship an adult has with a student leads the student closer to Christ. Youth ministry ceases when the relationship ceases to promote spiritual growth.

Here are several skills I have taught our leaders for years as it came to building stronger relationships with students.

A name is a person’s most valuable possession, and nothing communicates care like remembering a student’s name. It’s easy to say, “I’m not good at names.” Resist the temptation to rest on this excuse! It takes hard work to remember names. When you learn a new name, try to use it immediately in the conversation. Make a mental association and create a visual image and attach it to their name. These may be funny (so don’t share them!). After the conversation, write the name down so you can look it up later. Review your list before you show up to a youth ministry program.  

Everyone desires to know and be known because we were created with a need to be understood by others. Care about the details about their life. Your interest must be real; if it’s fake, everyone can tell that it’s just an act. A great way to show interest is to ask questions.

Making small talk is tough for most of us. Holidays can make questions easier, but still, work to get creative. “What did you do over Christmas?” isn’t a bad question, but it’ll get over-used. Try something different like, “Does your family have any Christmas traditions?” or “Did anyone throw up because they drank too much eggnog?” I’m a little silly, so sometimes I’ll ask, “did you punch anyone in the face this week? ...No? That’s good... did you feel like punching anyone in the face?” Sometimes a silly approach can move into a more serious conversation.

Everyone likes to have fun, but sometimes we think the best ministry happens when we are always serious. You don’t have to be the ultimate extrovert, but you should strive to create a warm, comfortable and inviting atmosphere.  

Be looking for ways to encourage and praise students. Avoid the over-use of superficial encouragements (that’s a nice shirt), but start there if you must. The more you know about a student’s life, the easier this becomes. A student might be bummed on a bad grade, you could affirm them by saying, “At least you care about your grades, that’s a good thing!” Catch students doing something right and tell them how good it is.

Cliques are ugly! You know this because you’ve been on the outside. No one want’s to be an outsider, so always be looking for students on the edges. It’s difficult to be inclusive; we naturally fall into comfortable patterns of talking to the same students. Consistency is great, but not when it blinds us to newcomers who feel like an outsider.

Lead by example. Students are watching and will take their cues from what you are doing. Sing worship songs, actively listen to the message, and jump in and be involved with the games, and speak up during the discussion. It’s not only possible for you to worship during a youth ministry program, but it’s also great leaders.
Healthy youth ministries have adult leaders who spend time with students—not other leaders. I get it! It’s fun (and easier) to spend time with other leaders during a youth ministry program. Do this at another time! When all the leaders are bunched up together, it sends the wrong message to students.
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