RELATIONAL MINISTRY 101
How To Build Stronger Biblical Fellowship
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.
Show Genuine Interest
Everyone wants to know 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.
Show up with a question or two
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?” Personally, 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.
Affirm like crazy
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.
Look for the unconnected
Cliques are ugly! You know this because you’ve been on the outside. No one want’s to be an outsider, so constantly 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 new comers 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, it’s also great leadership.
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.
Avoid Causing Guilt
If a student hasn’t been around for a few weeks or months, NEVER, EVER, EVER say, “Where have you been?” This puts a person on the spot and creates guilt. Instead say, “It’s great you are here.” Work hard to show unconditional acceptance. We don’t need to make people feel guilty, we all accomplish this fine on our own without any “help” from others.
Share personal stories
Don’t make yourself the star of the conversation, but you also don’t want it to be one sided. Be transparent and share about your life. You aren’t interrogating your students, you are having a two-way conversation.
When a student tells you about something that’s coming up next week, ask them about it a week later. Imagine the impact you’ll have when you cared enough to remember an important detail about their life.
Spend time one on one
Great ministry happens outside of youth ministry programs. Show up to a game or take them to lunch. Life is busy and while it may not be possible to spend time with a student every week, but if you can make it a goal to meet with a student once a month, your relationships will go deeper. Remember to only spend one on one time wisely—stick with your gender! A guy leader should NEVER spend time along with a female student…and vise versa.
Pray consistently and specifically
God cares more about our ministry than we do—we’re just stewards of the students entrusted to us. Make the time to talk to Jesus about the your students. He will tell you how to minister to them.
Remember that building friendships take time
There’s no such thing as a microwave for relationships. They take time—a lot of it. I wish there was a formula for instant intimacy, but there isn’t. Make a commitment to last for the long haul. Significant relationships don’t happen overnight.
Know that your conversations make a difference
It may not seem like it at first, but when you engage students on a personal level you are making an investment that does have benefits—even if you don’t see them. Over the years, I’ve had countless parents say, “Thank for taking the time to talk with Chris!” Meanwhile, I’ll replay the conversation with Chris in my head and I would have sworn he was in a coma. Students will appreciate the fact that you are authentically engaging them.
What’s missing from this list? What are some ways you have deepened your relationships with others?
There’s a lot here … pick one or two and put them into practice for a month. Once you feel like you hit a plateau, return to this list and work on a few others. Healthy leaders are learners. As soon as you stop learning, you stop leading.